The English LadyArriving late afternoon at my hotel, The Sandpiper, I’m greeted by balmy breezes and gracious residents on this extremely charismatic Caribbean island. During my “opening night” on Barbados, I learn that as the first outpost west of Africa, as many as 385,000 West African slaves were brought here by the Dutch to work in the sugarcane fields. The island was under British rule from the day of settlement in 1625 until full independence in 1966, and a decidedly English influence remains. You can still go to a polo match and be offered tea and cucumber sandwiches or find willing participants for a game of cricket on the beach. Afro-Caribbean pride — and rhythms celebrated by generations of islanders — are huge here. Before I can say Rihanna (who was born on beautiful Barbados), I find myself, rum cocktail in hand, “wukking it up” with friends at an impromptu seaside soiree (for this cadenced Barbadian dance I’m advised by a local that “it’s all in the hips!”).
Other must-sees are the posh Lion Castle Polo Estate
Armed with this brief history lesson, I’m prepared come morning to see the African and English influences in the grand old homes on the island. I hear the Barbados National Trust offers an Open House Program, allowing visitors to peer inside, but alas, the tours only take place from January through April. I console myself by hiring a limousine from Exquisite Limousine Services and arrange my own driving tour of the most highbrow hotels along the “Platinum Coast,” many of which were built on lands owned by private estates. This worked out quite well and might be a terrific way to achieve an overview tour on your next visit.
Well known as the most prestigious resort in Barbados, with three impeccable golf courses including The Green Monkey, Sandy Lane has hosted countless notables since opening in 1961. As we glide into the driveway, I behold a palatial building of ivory coral stone smack on the shores of the Caribbean. In recent years, Sandy Lane has undergone change of ownership and opulent rebuilding, reopening in 2001. While perhaps more glamorous — and less understated — than ever, the service is top-notch, and the recently updated spa, rooms, and restaurant are extraordinary.
The crisp Coral Reef Club
If your tastes skew to traditional, you’ll like the classic Coral Reef Club, where my driver and I head next. The colonial coral stone house with its stylish lounge is set across 12 acres of tropical gardens. In the club’s still-newish spa, a carefree couple can be pampered in the outdoor pavilion, and each of the spa’s treatment rooms opens to a private garden.
Before moving on to a gorgeous feast on the torch-lit balcony of The Cliff, I stop in for a peek at The House, a haven for the well-heeled where a personal “ambassador” will bring you cold towels and you’ll receive a jet-lag massage on arrival. Tastefully decorated, this boutique hotel is an arrangement of 34 suites around an outdoor courtyard. Brilliant!
On awakening Sunday morning, I happily anticipate lunch at Fisher Pond Great House, known for giving guests a taste of plantation dining the way it used to be. Owner John Chandler invites visitors to this reservations-only Sunday lunch where he regales diners with tales of spirits that are reported to still haunt the old home. After partaking in a five-course meal, I stroll through gardens of bougainvillea and around the 17th-century estate, which is peppered with a collection of art and antiques — some acquired from the film actress Claudette Colbert, who lived on Barbados until her death in 1996.
The House boutique hotel
My fellow diners depart for various venues around the island — one lady is off to the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, a six-acre garden with orchids, palms, and heliconias; one couple is off to Farley Hill National Park, where most of the music festivals take place. I choose to sail away on a sunset cruise with Small Cats Catamaran. Representatives from the company will pick you up from anywhere on the south or west coast and give you an informative tour of Barbados as you snorkel with sea turtles or drink champagne — just name your pleasure!
During an evening out at Scarlet, a swanky pop-art-infused speakeasy in Paynes Bay, I recall that I’m only here a few more days, so I start to inquire about where to find authentic Barbadian keepsakes. The next morning I chart my course to Earthworks Pottery, a working studio and showroom that sells the handiwork of a cluster of Barbadian potters. I’m also told that for custom-designed silver jewelry, caftans, and bikinis, one should call on Beth & Tracie Boutique. The island’s famous Mount Gay Rum can be purchased at Bridgetown’s Mount Gay Distillery.
The reception area of Sandy Lane
My last hurrah: surveying some of the island’s polo fields. In recent years, the sport has skyrocketed in popularity on the island, attracting competitors from across the globe. I make my way over to the private Clifton Polo Field, with views of the sea, and then on to Lion Castle Polo Estate — both vast and impressive. I move on to Highland Adventure Centre, where you can rent bicycles for rides down to the west coast. Along the sandy shore, I can hear the chirping of frogs and a calypso tune chiming from someone’s radio. The beauty of Barbados is alive and well, and already I am plotting the next visit to my new English friend.
Coral Reef Club
Fisher Pond Great House
Beth & Tracie Boutique
Mount Gay Distillery
Andromeda Botanic Gardens
Clifton Polo Field
Exquisite Limousine Services
Farley Hill National Park
Highland Adventure Centre
Lion Castle Polo Estate
Barbados National Trust
Small Cats Catamaran
Barbados Tourism Authority