LANDING into Bridgetown after incessantly checking my weather app in the days leading up to my trip to Barbados, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive to clear blue sunny skies. I’ve realised you shouldn’t take notice of the forecast for the Caribbean, it almost always says clouds and showers, but that’s usually only for a few minutes a day. So, expect year-round sunshine and average temperatures of 30 degrees. Barbados is always a good choice.
It might be known as the island Simon Cowell holidays on, but you don’t need a millionaire’s budget to enjoy this Caribbean gem.
After a minor mishap at arrivals (wearing or carrying military colours is illegal, so my oversized camouflage suitcase was not only frowned upon, but very nearly confiscated) we took a transfer to Savannah Beach Hotel about 20 minutes away in Christ Church parish, the only one of 11 parishes in Barbados not named after a saint. Greeted with rum punch (as I would soon become accustomed to) and refreshing cold towels, I got a short tour of the new surroundings en route to my fourth floor room.
The hotel is all inclusive, so you can eat casual buffet style or else book into Chopstix Asian fusion restaurant for an a la carte dinner, which is exactly what we did for our first evening. The restaurant has the best view on the property overlooking the romantically lit pool and gardens which meander down to the sea front, which is where we ended up at Drifter’s bar for a nightcap to get that real Caribbean feel. Steel drums and soulful singers eased us seamlessly into island life.
There’s only a five hour time difference, so staying awake as late as possible on the first night ensured a good night’s sleep and no talk of jet lag in the morning over breakfast (fresh fruit, omelettes and an endless supply of coffee).
To get the most out of our time on the island, we booked a full day Jeep Safari tour which promised to show us the most scenic parts of Barbados with a little adventure thrown in during some off-roading through Joe’s River Forest. Our guide, Ian, rarely stopped for breath in between pointing out the abundance of beautiful flowers and plants (the frangipani and hibiscus were my favourites), banter with the guests (whose names he not only learned in the first few minutes, but also assigned nicknames to) and knowledge of the island’s history and independence, all sprinkled with lots of hilarious innuendos. We weren’t sure if we were laughing at or with them, but either way it made for an enjoyable day and the free-flowing famous ‘Jungle Juice’ cocktail certainly helped.
From the gentle breeze on the Caribbean Sea side of the island, to the rugged Atlantic waves and wind on the other, the tour brought us all over Barbados from Bathsheba to Little Bay and finished with a typical Bajan lunch of fish and chicken with rice and peas before dropping us back to the hotel to catch the last few hours of sunshine on the beach.
The next day, we transferred to Sugar Cane Club for a change of atmosphere. The resort is adults only and the least all inclusive vibe of any all-in hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There’s five acres of land on the property and only 44 rooms, so it never feels crowded even when full. I noticed lots of local accents among the guests at the Bajan BBQ night, and with some probably not very subtle eavesdropping, found out they staycation at the hotel on special occasions. If that’s not a stamp of approval then I don’t know what is.
Sugar Cane is set among lots of lush green foliage and boasts a relaxed spa with tranquil garden and plunge pool. As a former beauty editor, I’ve had my fair share of spa treatments and massages but hands down Nikaie’s Green Monkey massage was the best I’ve ever experienced. The girl is a magician, an absolute must do even if you’re not staying in the hotel.
Nestled on a hillside overlooking Heywoods beach, the resort is only half a mile from the coast at Almond Bay via free shuttle. So, the next morning we decided to sample their breakfast (also included for guests of Sugar Cane as the resort is in the same hotel group) before setting off to swim with the turtles. I’m a massive fan of getting out on the water, so while it was short (one hour), the included trip was a major highlight for me. Nothing beats going out on a boat in my opinion, especially on calm Caribbean waters. There’s no guarantee you’ll see the turtles, but chances are pretty high and we arrived before a big group of boisterous kids, so got to spend some time up close and personal with the friendly green sea turtles and shoals of flitting silver fish before they shied away. I’d easily have stayed on the boat for the entire day but it was time to get back for a quick beer on
the beach before taking the stand up paddle boards out to work off some calories before lunch.
“Stay in the light blue water,” he said, but posing for our underwater camera while trying to balance as jet skies and fishing boats created waves nearby led to two easily distracted girls ending up much further out than anticipated. Remembering the instructor’s words of wisdom to kneel down and continue to paddle if you get tired standing (it’s a major core workout) and the comforting assurance he’d come out to rescue us if we strayed too far, we finally made our way back to shore in time for that well earned lunch.
Enid’s Caribbean restaurant is set just off the beach and whips up fresh rum punch to go with their famous blackened fish, which if you ask for “Mel’s” style, you’ll be served up a massive bowl of pasta cleverly disguised as “salad” on the menu. You’re welcome.
Back at base and scrubbed up for dinner, we head out to Barbados institution, Oistins Fish Fry. There are lots of fish fries on the island, but Oistins on Friday nights is the biggest and most famous gathering of food and music in a street party meets barbecue bonanza. Reserve a table if you can and arrive from 7pm onwards, then grab a bucket of Banks beer before ordering your choice of fish. We ate from Pat’s Place, where you choose your fish main and two sides (about $15/€13.75) from the short but tasty menu. I went for the shrimp with coleslaw and rice and peas and it was easily the best meal I ate during the entire trip. Despite the name, I’d recommend ordering your fish grilled rather than fried and don’t turn up any later than 8pm without expecting to wait for dinner. Crop Over (you know the festival Rihanna attends in nothing but sequins and feathers) tunes are played on the main stage, which gathers a crowd of locals and tourists of all ages for an open air dance party. It reminded me so much of a Braai (BBQ, but mainly meat) in South Africa. That informal outdoor vibe where you bring food, family, friends and music together for a very casual get together on any day of the year.
There was time to squeeze in one more trip before leaving Barbados, so we took the short trip to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve to spend the morning with uncaged animals roaming freely through a mahogany forest.
We saw red-footed tortoises at every corner, lots of cheeky monkeys and beautiful peacocks strolling through the grounds. How do you think the tour ended? You guessed it, a cold rum punch.
You can drive by Sandy Lane to see where Simon Cowell and Rihanna stay, but if you really want an authentic Bajan experience, you can find it without having to remortgage your house.
They say hurricane season is June-November, but Barbados hasn’t been on the receiving end of a bad storm since 1955.
While you can’t fly direct from Ireland, Sir Grantley Adams airport is a relatively short non-stop flight from UK, around eight hours, and with daily flights there are little restrictions on when to go, but you’ll see prices jump during the high season around Christmas and January.
¦Rooms at Savannah Beach Hotel start from €137 per night. For more information visit www.savannahbarbados.com or email reservations@ mwsunhotels.com
¦ Rooms at Sugar Cane Club Hotel & Spa start from €182 per night in a Garden View Suite. For more information visit www.sugarcaneclub.com or email email@example.com
¦ Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways fly direct to Barbados from London Gatwick, prices start at around €600 return
¦ See www.islandsafari.bb for information about jeep safari island tours.