A Barbados guide – the restaurant Gary Lineker likes, the festival Rihanna loves and the best hotels

The island of Barbados has been beloved of the British since Captain Henry Powell first occupied it in 1625. 

The intrepid adventurer claimed the island on behalf of King James I. It remained British for almost 350 years. Although independent since 1966, it is still a member of the Commonwealth.

The origin of the name Barbados reputedly comes from the Portuguese explorer, Pedro A Campos, who used the phrase ‘Los Barbados’ meaning ‘bearded ones’.

The stunning Bottom Bay in Barbados. The island has been beloved of the British since Captain Henry Powell first occupied it in 1625

It is thought that he was referring to the roots of the bearded fig-tree indigenous to the island, or the bearded Caribs or, most improbably, to the foam spraying over the reefs, which somewhat resembles a beard. 

No one is quite certain.

Barbados has always had a distinctly British heritage and it is not hard to see why it is such a popular holiday destination. 

The Bajans are the friendliest people in the Caribbean, and the island is the safest and cleanest. Cricket and polo are fixtures on the Bajan social diary, with high tea served in several hotels.

Barbados has always had a distinctly British heritage. Pictured is the promenade of the marina in the capital, Bridgetown

Barbados has always had a distinctly British heritage. Pictured is the promenade of the marina in the capital, Bridgetown 

Place names will seem familiar – I spotted Windsor, Cambridge, Sussex and Buckingham Hill.

Cricket is played at the Kensington Oval. Even the forested highlands in the north of the island are somewhat euphemistically called Scotland. 

Polo has been played in St James Parish since 1884 – Prince Harry once fell off his polo horse here. While Barbados does have strong British roots, the charming Bajans give it a local twist.

WHERE TO STAY

The Sandpiper 

The Sandpiper is one of the most exclusive and discreet boutique hotels in the Caribbean. It opened in 1970

The Sandpiper is one of the most exclusive and discreet boutique hotels in the Caribbean. It opened in 1970 

The piece de resistance at The Sandpiper is the Curlew Tree Top Suite, pictured, which is the most luxurious holiday suite in all of Barbados

The piece de resistance at The Sandpiper is the Curlew Tree Top Suite, pictured, which is the most luxurious holiday suite in all of Barbados

The Sandpiper is one of the most exclusive and discreet boutique hotels in the Caribbean. Its 47 rooms and luxurious suites are discreetly set in seven acres of lush gardens filled with tropical flora, giving it a wonderful sense of tranquillity. 

The hotel, which opened in 1970, is situated on a stunning sandy coral beach on the platinum west coast, gently lapped by turquoise waters.

Much of the Sandpiper’s charm and panache can be attributed to the owners Wayne and Karen Capaldi and general manager, Russell Croney, who run it with meticulous attention to detail without sacrificing the relaxed manner of the Caribbean. 

The bamboo-fronted Harold's Bar at The Sandpiper. Frank says it is a wonderful place for a sundowner, after a dip in one of the two pools

The bamboo-fronted Harold’s Bar at The Sandpiper. Frank says it is a wonderful place for a sundowner, after a dip in one of the two pools

The restaurant at The Sandpiper, pictured, is 'one of the best on the island', according to Frank

The restaurant at The Sandpiper, pictured, is ‘one of the best on the island’, according to Frank

Together with the desire of their incredibly well-trained staff to pamper their guests, it was not surprising on my visit here to meet several distinguished British guests who return here year after year.

The restaurant is one of the best on the island, and is reasonably priced, with dishes prepared with a unique Caribbean flair, and with exquisite presentation. The bamboo-fronted Harold’s Bar is a wonderful place for a sundowner, after a dip in one of the Sandpiper’s two pools.

The piece de resistance is the Curlew Tree Top Suite, which is the most luxurious holiday suite in all of Barbados. As well as having an uninterrupted view of the sea, it has a long terrace complete with a complimentary wet bar and an open sundeck with its very own glamorous plunge pool. 

Thoughtful details such as personalised headed note-paper and even a powder room for guests visiting the suite will ensure that a stay at the Sandpiper will live long in the memory.

TRANSPORT

The brightly coloured blue and yellow government buses in Barbados can take you from Bridgetown all the way to Speightstown, pictured

The brightly coloured blue and yellow government buses in Barbados can take you from Bridgetown all the way to Speightstown, pictured 

It only takes three hours to drive around the whole island. But why rent a car when you can take one of the ZR or maxi taxis, the brightly coloured blue or yellow government buses that will take you from the capital, Bridgetown, all the way up to Speightstown. 

On board the fun-loving conductor and passengers revel in the reggae music being played at top volume. 

It’s the easiest and most enjoyable way to get around the island, passing the historic wooden Chattel Houses, Holetown and many five-star resorts, including the Sandy Lane Resort, beloved of Simon Cowell and Gary Lineker. The bus will leave you yards from the next enchanting destination, Cobblers Cove.

Cobblers Cove – a tropical country club

Cobblers Cove is a former holiday home that now advertises itself as offering 'English elegance with Caribbean character'

Cobblers Cove is a former holiday home that now advertises itself as offering ‘English elegance with Caribbean character’

The pool area at Cobbler's Cove. Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop website describes the hotel as a 'tropical country club'

The pool area at Cobbler’s Cove. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website describes the hotel as a ‘tropical country club’ 

Cobblers Cove, with its 40 colonial style suites, was once the private home of Joss Haynes, a wealthy sugar cane planter and politician, who built it in the 1940s as a holiday home for the family to escape the windy, rugged east coast.

It advertises itself as offering ‘English elegance with Caribbean character’ and reminded Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website of a ‘tropical country club’.

The first impression on arrival at the sun-washed coral pink stone frontage is of the striking view through the Great House out to the azure waters of the sea beyond. 

The house is home to the terraced Camelot Restaurant and Bar, which overlooks the palm-fringed beach and the poolside deck. A refreshing balmy tropical breeze floats through the terrace.

Camelot Restaurant, right on the edge of the Caribbean Sea at Cobblers Cove, has held five stars from Relais & Châteaux since 1990

Camelot Restaurant, right on the edge of the Caribbean Sea at Cobblers Cove, has held five stars from Relais & Châteaux since 1990

Renowned for its island-inspired dishes that reflect the changing seasons, Camelot Restaurant, right on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, has held five stars from Relais & Châteaux since 1990, and was the first restaurant in the Caribbean to hold this honour. 

Barker, the hotel fisherman, delights guests by bringing freshly caught barracuda, wahoo and dolphin to the restaurant each day.

The recently renovated suites all offer air-conditioned bedrooms and gorgeous private terraces that look out over the fabulous gardens. 

The charming general manager, William Oakley, formerly of the The Cadogan in London and Firmdale Group, ensures that this remains a much-loved hotel where guests of all nations return year after year.

DAY TRIPS 

Rum for your lives 

The main house at St. Nicholas Abbey Great House Plantation and Distillery, a marvellous Jacobean mansion

The main house at St. Nicholas Abbey Great House Plantation and Distillery, a marvellous Jacobean mansion

The living room inside the main house. The plantation was once owned by Abraham Cumberbatch - the seventh great grandfather of Benedict Cumberbatch

The living room inside the main house. The plantation was once owned by Abraham Cumberbatch – the seventh great grandfather of Benedict Cumberbatch

Barbados produces not only the oldest rum in the world, but one of the best – Mount Gay Rum. It dates back to 1703 and is sold in 110 countries around the globe. 

A trip to the distillery is well worth it to try the ‘rum that invented rum’ or ‘Kill Devil’, as the Bajans originally called it, crafted from sugar cane and coral-filled water native to this island paradise.

Another distillery worth visiting is St. Nicholas Abbey Great House Plantation and Distillery, a marvellous Jacobean mansion, dating back to 1660. 

The newly introduced beautiful steam locomotive, The St. Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway

The newly introduced beautiful steam locomotive, The St. Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway

The breathtaking view across Cherry Tree Hill towards the island's rugged east coast on the Atlantic Ocean

The breathtaking view across Cherry Tree Hill towards the island’s rugged east coast on the Atlantic Ocean 

The plantation’s peaceful surroundings make for a most enjoyable afternoon, and kids will love the newly introduced beautiful steam locomotive, The St. Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway.

The train tour will pass the historic Great House itself, around the lake, home to wild water fowl, orchards and through a lovely mahogany woodland, finishing at Cherry Tree Hill where there is a breathtaking highland view of the island’s rugged east coast.

There is a complimentary guided tour of the great house and visitors can gaze at a portrait of Abraham Cumberbatch, the one-time owner of this plantation. He was none other than Benedict Cumberbatch’s seventh great grandfather!

The Kid Friendly Fairmont Royal Pavilion

The newly refurbished Fairmont Royal Pavilion. It borders half a mile of a deserted coral beach on the island's platinum west coast

The newly refurbished Fairmont Royal Pavilion. It borders half a mile of a deserted coral beach on the island’s platinum west coast

The Fairmont Royal Pavilion is the only hotel in Barbados where all 72 rooms enjoy a stunning view of the ocean

The Fairmont Royal Pavilion is the only hotel in Barbados where all 72 rooms enjoy a stunning view of the ocean 

The newly refurbished Fairmont Royal Pavilion borders half a mile of a deserted coral beach on the platinum west coast. It is the only hotel in Barbados where all 72 rooms enjoy a stunning ocean view.

Nestled in 11 acres of tropical gardens, the setting is one of gently swaying palms and colourful bougainvillea and hibiscus. Every elegantly appointed room offers luxurious accommodation, spacious bathrooms and some of the most gorgeous sweeping sea views on the island. 

Each beachfront junior suite is spectacular and offers a private and expansive decked terrace with an outdoor living area that is perfect for sunbathing or a sundowner.

All guests receive one complimentary afternoon high tea during a seven-night stay. It is served with great aplomb, worthy of the Ritz.

The beach-fronted Taboras Restaurant at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion. Frank says it is the ideal spot for an informal lunch

The beach-fronted Taboras Restaurant at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion. Frank says it is the ideal spot for an informal lunch 

The beach-fronted Taboras Restaurant, with its pizza oven, is the ideal spot for an informal lunch, while the oceanfront Palm Restaurant offers fine dining in a romantic setting.

Sporting activities include wind-surfing, snorkelling, sailing and tennis while golf can be easily arranged at the nearby Royal Westmoreland golf course. The hotel concierge can even arrange a swim with turtles! 

The Fairmont truly is the place to go for a kids-friendly holiday, and the multi-million dollar renovation ensures that the stunning location of the resort is matched by five star service and design.

WHERE TO EAT 

Have dinner with Sir Cliff at The Cliff 

The Cliff has been widely acclaimed as one of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean. It opened in 1995 and has won multiple accolades and awards

The Cliff has been widely acclaimed as one of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean. It opened in 1995 and has won multiple accolades and awards

Since first opening its doors in 1995, The Cliff has been widely acclaimed as one of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean. Winner of multiple accolades and awards, The Cliff is often justifiably listed as one of the top restaurants in the world. Paul Owens, the long time chef here, is originally from Liverpool. 

He is modest about his achievements, saying that ‘by far the best award we can ever get is a happy customer who keeps coming back’. One such customer is appropriately Sir Cliff Richard, who has owned a villa on the island for over 20 years.

The Cliff is a magical place in an enchanting setting. Cleverly designed as a series of gentle terraces that descend elegantly towards an extended patio above the sea with black coral candelabras, the coral-stone walls of the restaurant are decorated with some locally designed artworks and hand crafted mirrors. 

At night the flaming torches add a lovely touch of drama to the theatrical atmosphere of the restaurant. All the tables are candlelit and each one has a stunning view of the waves crashing below. The food is divine and the service is impeccable.

The best place for Sunday lunch on the island is the beach-fronted The Lone Star restaurant. It offers a mix of European fare with a Caribbean influence, and some refreshing salads.

The Little Stars Menu and fresh pizzas from the wood stone fire oven will win over kids in this family-friendly restaurant. Gary Lineker, Michael Caine and Simon Cowell have been spotted here, albeit not at the same time.

WHAT TO DO

Pop singer Rihanna hails from Barbados. She says the best thing to on the island is attend the annual Crop Over festival in August. She is pictured enjoying this year's festival wearing a spectacular pink dress

Pop singer Rihanna hails from Barbados. She says the best thing to on the island is attend the annual Crop Over festival in August. She is pictured enjoying this year’s festival wearing a spectacular pink dress 

Barbados is often referred to as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean so the Barbados Food and Rum Festival, enjoying its 10th year, is worth exploring in October. 

The annual Crop Over festival takes place each summer. It’s the traditional harvest festival that traces its origins to the local sugar cane plantations during slavery times. Local girl Rihanna was seen partying in a spectacular pink feathered dress this year.

She lived in Barbados until she was 16, and in 2017 the street she grew up in, St Michael, was renamed ‘Rihanna Drive’ in her honour. 

As she once told a journalist: ‘If you can be there for Kadooment Day (the first Monday in August) you will experience the most amazing carnival ever. There are party trucks coming down the street, incredible live music and DJs. It’s one of those things everybody should try to experience.’

Barbados can be enjoyed anytime of the year. And if you time it right (February to April being the most dry months) to paraphrase Rihanna, you might not need an umbrella, ella, ella…

  • Frank Mannion is a film producer. His latest film, about organic wine producers, is Wine Calling. 

 


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