Caribbean charm: the best of Barbados

by simon.nixon

In Barbados,the people are so friendly, the crime rate so low, the places to stay so incredible and the food so sensational, why waste a week going anywhere else? It couldn't compare

If you're looking for a luxurious week in the sunshine then the west coast of Barbados, known as the Platinum Coast, is the place to head. Here you’ll find resorts like Cobblers Cove (think old, genteel Barbados) and The House (elegant, peaceful and boutiquey, set bang on the beach). And, of course, the rich and sumptuous Sandy Lane, a grand hotel that oozes both glamour and fun, and is a regular haunt of Simon Cowell, Michael Winner, Sir Cliff and other showbiz types. This glorious resort sprawls along a lovely beach, and the 100-plus rooms are big and comfortable with wonderfully lavish bathrooms, large terraces and sea views from all the suites. It has its own big, breezy pool area, tennis courts and running tracks, some famously great golf courses (with stunning coastal views), and a beautifully designed and very well-oiled spa.
The clientele generally have their own businesses, and the majority are understated (more Patek Philippe than diamond-encrusted Rolex). I usually go at the beginning of December, and each year, around a fifth of guests are the same. It can feel a little brash at Christmas, when you have to book for two weeks and even standard rooms are extortionate at upwards of £2,000 a night. It can also get a bit uncomfortable during that fortnight, when everyone wants the same seats at the same tables and the same tennis coach at the same time.
But at other times of year, room rates are far more affordable, especially in the autumn, as this is hurricane season, when prices fall throughout the islands – and Barbados, being so southerly and on the very eastern edge of the Caribbean, is rarely affected by anything more than the odd storm and rain.
While Sandy Lane does have its own restaurant, I almost always head out to eat. Barbados has, in my opinion, some of the best restaurants in the world, serving super quality fresh fish cooked in some of the most innovative ways I have ever known.
My favourite (and Tony Blair’s) is the west coast eaterie The Cliff. Many consider it the best restaurant on the island, but I think the food, ambience, location and position of this place must make it the best in the Caribbean. The place is so posh and the menu so refined that eating here is a real occasion - and one for which you dress up. The waiters themselves are dressed in black Armani, but are attentive and polite without being fawning or arrogant. The restaurant’s set on a cliff-top, so you can hear the waves lapping as you eat – and at certain times, the staff throw food into the water, enabling you to witness the most incredible stingray display. Chef Paul Owen's cuisine is innovative and creative - a wonderful fusion of Caribbean and Asian food - and his sauces are world class. The best tables here are located right at the edge of the restaurant, but everyone wants to sit there, so you may have to book as much as a year in advance to secure one.
Lunch on the beach at The Tides in Holetown also comes highly recommended. Here the chef, Guy Beasley, makes sensational seafood, and there’s a more Caribbean feel. This place is less formal and showy (you can happily wear jeans) and the staff are more casual – but you still need to book three months in advance to get a seaside table.
You'll also need to book ahead to get a table at the Lone Star restaurant, located right by the sand a few miles north of Sandy Lane and reached by speedboat, which zips you up the side of the island, past the homes of the rich and famous. This restaurant is uber-classy, and nothing is too much trouble.
Recently opened on the quiet north-west coast in old Barbados is the Fish Pot restaurant, opposite the new apartments at Little Good Harbour. It’s another one that’s best approached by boat – you’re dropped off just offshore and reach the restaurant by wading through the shallow water. Thoroughly understated, the restaurant is basic and has a rustic feel, but serves truly wonderful fresh fish. Sitting by the sea, listening to the waves, I enjoyed the most fantastic tuna with salad – simple but high quality, and a welcome relief from the gastronomic overload of some of the island's other restaurants. It’s a truly superb lunch venue.
While the loveliest beaches are the great deserted stretches on the Atlantic (east) side of Barbados, this coast remains wild and undeveloped due to the currents. You could take a cab or hire a car to get to this side of the island, but one particularly memorable way to get to see these spectacular beaches – and the surfer's paradise that is Bathsheba – is by taking a helicopter ride around the coast.
If you're keen to explore, Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, is worth a visit for a few hours, to soak up a little culture and satisfy your shopping needs. And for a real change of scene, head to one of the plantations to see how the sugar is made; green fields of sugar cane and cotton still run for miles inland.
One of the things that draws me back to Barbados is the fact the Bajan culture is very English: they drive on the left, they like cricket and horse-racing and they also like the English. And I think that's why for me, this island is a true home from home.