Every job has its drawbacks, I once worked on a garlic farm and wafted a 20 yard garlicky exclusion-zone everywhere I went, putting off girls and vampires in equal measure. Another student job saw me hand-wrapping chocolates for an upmarket chocolatier, a role that saw me outgrow every pair of trousers I owned and very nearly gave me diabetes. As Travel Editor at The Handbook I now find myself lumped with the unenviable task of having to jump on a plane to the Caribbean island of Barbados to review 5 star hotels and some of the most luxurious restaurants on the island. Don’t send flowers. But do check out our ten reasons why you should also take one for the team and reluctantly board that flight to paradise, I promise you won’t regret it.
Checking into The Sandpiper Hotel, in fashionable St James’s, you know you’re somewhere special; the cases are whisked to your room, a complimentary cocktail appears out of nowhere and finally, after a long flight and transfer, it’s time to relax.
Which is what the Sandpiper’s perfect for, my suite came with a kitchen (which I never entered, obviously) a comfortable sitting room and a sizeable room with a bed about the size of a squash court.
There are smarter hotels in Barbados, the Sandy Lane just up the coast has considerably more cachet, while the Sandpiper’s sister hotel, the Coral Reef Club, right next door has more magnificent suites, but for simple understated luxury I would wholeheartedly recommend The Sandpiper.
It’s dead simple to get to Barbados, Virgin Atlantic fly direct out of Gatwick or *jazzhands* take the newly inaugurated Heathrow to Bridgetown route. It’s always hard not to be won over by Virgin, if you’re lucky-slash-rich enough to be in the cabins at the front then it’s significantly cheaper than the primary competition from BA, and arguably more fun with the bar, pampering, an excellent lounge and Virgin’s usual irreverence.
If you’re down the back then you won’t really be able to tell the difference between Virgin and its competitors, the food is fine but the real sell right now is the wifi. You have to pay around £3 (it’s unclear why this isn’t provided for free, it’d hardly affect the ticket price and would be a much better marketing sell) but it means that you can keep in touch while cruising at 35,000 feet. Instagram pics of your ketchup and cheese sandwich (seemingly an economy delicacy), sext Tinder swipes or scroll the ‘sidebar of shame’ to your heart’s content. It also means that your boss can Whatsapp you at-will and gives and you the dubious opportunity to be the first person to live-tweet an air disaster should something go very wrong, but all-in-all this is a major step forward and is more than enough to make me choose Virgin every time.
Islands have a distinct relationship with the sea, and Barbados is no exception. Local fishermen represent a pivotal sector of the economy so expect to enjoy deilcious flying fish or the local delicacy ‘dolphin’ (before you call the Greenpeace hotline, dolphin is local shorthand for the entirely uncontroversial mahi mahi).
All restaurants serve fish so fresh it might as well flap its way onto your plate and you can enjoy mahi mahi in the most salubrious surroundings of the smartest Barbados eateries, but for the real fresh fish experience head to Oistins Fish Fry. That’s where the locals go.
Oistins is like Borough Market meets Oktoberfest, throngs crowd onto long trestle tables to tuck into fried fish served with peas and rice or chips. This was probably the most authentic experience I had on Barbados and it was awesome.
The beaches: Chilling The Chill Out
This is the Caribbean, after all, so turn your iPhone onto so-called ‘airplane’ mode and embrace the distinctly chilled out vibe of the island. This is a place where you can wake up at 11am and spend the rest of the day reading your Jilly Cooper on a sun lounger. Actual Jilly Cooper may well be on the lounger next to yours. It’s the perfect place to remember that you’re on holiday, the office can just wait for that spreadsheet.
Barbados has designated 2018 as the Year Of Culinary Experience, and they should know about culinary experiences. Aside from the myriad of fishy options, Barbados has plenty to offer to visitor who considers themselves a quote-unquote ‘foodie’.
For a start, you need to go to Lone Star. This former garage-turned-boutique-hotel located on the beach has a fantastic atmosphere. Decked out like a Ralph Lauren outlet, the decor is superb. All the staff wear pristine white dungarees, which I think is meant to hark back to the mechanic heritage of the building but in fact comes over as distinctly Oumpa Loumpa, but it’s the food that will have you doompety doo. The steak here was some of the best I’ve tasted, while the fish was superb.
If you want to dispense with the illusion of informality then head to The Coral Reef Club (order from the curry menu for something a little different).
Cin Cin By The Sea, on the West coast provides a helpful inbetween point, self consciously upmarket it’s pitted against the likes of Lone Star but has a distinct feel that sets it apart. The view from the terrace the sea is second-to-none, as is the menu and a wine list that’s longer than your arm.
Weather You'll Want To Bring Back In Your Suitcase
If you’re glancing at the mercury here and wondering when the temperature in the UK is going to shift away from ‘impending snowstorm’ then spare a thought for the poor inhabitants of Barbados, the average temperature is 30 degrees centigrade pretty much all year round. Unlike Europe, there’s no real fluctuation in temperature, just a slightly wetter season and a slightly dryer season.
As my squelching shoes will attest, this morning in South London it very much felt that we experience the opposite: a wet season and a wetter one. Barbados, I wish I’d never left you!
Barbados was designed to be enjoyed from the back of a yacht with a rum punch in-hand. And as my 51ft luxury catamaran glided up to the quay, there was nothing for it than to hop aboard, sit back and sip.
If you thought that a fry-up in the canteen aboard your cross-channel P&O was the pinnacle, then think again. The crew of ‘Tide Dancer’ cooked up a restaurant standard lunch, and when not driving (sailing?) the boat they were on hand to make infinite amounts of punch or supervising snorkelling with actual turtles. There’s even wifi!
Roll-on-roll-off ferries will never be the same again.
You could quite easily while away your entire stay in Barbados by the hotel pool, occasionally breaking for meals and alcohol. And so miss the island completely. Barbados is more than a sun lounger, and Island Safaris is able to bring the country alive with a ‘safari’ taking in the island’s 60 mile coastline and varied scenery.
Bumping around seated on the back of a pick-up gives you the perfect chance to take in the beauty and diversity of the island, from lush forests to coral reefs.
En-route make sure to stop off at Hunte’s Garden. Created by have-a-go horticulturist Anthony Hunte in what’s basically a sink hole, visitors descend into a dense jungle including all sorts of rare plants and curios. The biggest curio being octogenarian Hunte himself, who will ply you with rum and stories from his verandah if you’re lucky.
While we’re being all out-of-doorsy, anyone for polo? Even if the closest you’ve come to life in the saddle is an annual flutter on the Grand National, have no fear. Apes Hill Polo Club will have you cantering around waving your polo mallet in the vague direction of a ball in no time.
Or why not try flyboarding? Effectively a hosepipe strapped onto your feet propelling you high above the water. Terrifying and enjoyable in equal parts, though perhaps leaning toward the former. Barbados specialists Blu Isles is able to facilitate.
Yo ho ho and as many bottles of rum as you possibly drink, Barbados is the home of the most delicious of spirits, rum. Take a stroll round historic St Nicholas Abbey, home to Benedict Cumberbatch’s slave-owning ancestors, and see how rum’s really made and maybe buy one of their beautifully engraved bottles. Or else just make sure you stock up on bottles of Mount Gay XO at the airport duty free, after all by the end of a week or two in Barbados you’ll probably be medically addicted to the stuff.
At the risk of sounding spoilt, a big part of my job is traveling to glamorous places and writing about exciting adventures, amazing restaurants and staying in luxurious hotels. Nice work if you can get it, I realise. The reality is that you quickly divide destinations into two lists, places you loved visiting and places you’d love to visit again. Unless you’re willing, and rich enough, to constantly retrace your steps, family in-tow, necessity dictates the latter list will be significantly shorter. And Barbados not only makes the cut, it’s vying for one of the top spots.
Barbados has always been a classic holiday destination, it’s easily accessible and sublimely comfortable. The island isn’t cheap and, with the exception of all-inclusive deals, I would possibly head elsewhere if you’re counting the pennies, but otherwise this should be at the top of your holiday schedule for 2018. Fabulous hotels, fantastic restaurants and a million things to do earns the island a place on everyone’s bucket list. So with those turquoise waters beckoning you in, what are you waiting for?