Barbados: Golden time found on Treasure island
From snorkelling with fish in turquoise seas to eating them at roadside stalls, Barbados is the place to relax ... especially with a rum or two, says Eleanor Goggin
I couldn't get it out of my head. For weeks before I embarked on my first trip to the Caribbean, I found myself humming: "Woah, I'm going to Barbados." It was a trip I was really looking forward to and it didn't disappoint.
I flew with British Airways from Gatwick to Bridgetown, the capital, and the first thing that hit me when I disembarked was the heat on my sun-starved body. We were staying on the west coast of the island in Paynes Bay, an area of turquoise seas and white, sandy beaches.
Our bolt-hole was the jewel that is Treasure Beach Hotel. An unpretentious but classy boutique hotel, comprising 35 one-bedroom suites surrounding a pool and only 20 paces from the beach.
Jason, the manager from Brisbane, is always on hand to welcome guests -- many are regulars -- and knows everyone by name. His pre-dinner cocktail party on a Friday night is a great way to get to know the other guests. Griffith, an older gentleman with shoes polished to within an inch of their lives, proudly showed me every facility in my suite, down to the postcards in the drawer, assuring me should I run out he would replenish them.
Bajans, in general, are a very courteous and friendly people. They carry themselves in a regal and dignified way, and lots of the older ladies wear hats normally worn in Ireland for weddings. The staff all speak English as their native tongue, and slip into a dialect when chatting amongst themselves.
Given that my slim and sexy days are a thing of the past, I don't normally like people coming anywhere near me when I'm lying on the beach, but when it's the staff bringing me fresh tropical fruit on a skewer or frozen towels to cool down my purple face, I can cope. Locals stroll up and down the beach singing Bob Marley numbers loudly. Why wouldn't they with all-year-round sunshine?
The food at Treasure Beach is wonderful and Jason changes the dinner menu every day. On my first night, I had Caribbean shrimp with garlic and lime, served with mesclun leaves and a warm tomato dressing. My main was fresh grouper, baked in a curried coconut crust and served on a puree of plantain, pumpkin and pineapple, with a tamarind ginger sauce, followed by a Swiss chocolate mousse trio: white with guava gelee; dark with caramelised almonds; and milk with praline caramel. What diet?
On another occasion, I had curried tempura of flying fish, which is a speciality of the island (in fact, while we were there, we saw these creatures flying at a fair old pace across the sea). At breakfast, I dined on my patio and turned into Mary Poppins, with the tame little finches landing on the table to share the croissants and toast.
The island is small and easy to explore, and stretches a mere 21 miles from north to south and 14 miles from east to west. There's plenty to do and the Bajan's cricket prowess is evident by the many cricket grounds filled with local kids in whites.
Bridgetown is a buzzing city, small and easy to explore. Its bay is named after the Earl of Carlisle, the British settler who arrived there along with 63 others in 1628. Almost 40 per cent of the island's population live here. It is worth spending a day exploring the city.
We also saw the island from a different perspective, enjoying a snorkelling trip with Jammin Catamaran Cruises. We sailed around the coastline for five hours, cooled by a gentle sea breeze. Those who wanted to snorkel, and get up close and personal with the turtles, did so and those who didn't -- ie, me -- sat back, drank rum punches and listened to Caribbean music.
After copious rum punches, everyone danced in their swim gear. Some resembled Kate Moss and some resembled Dawn French -- but after the rum punches, nobody really cared. I stayed near the Dawn French lookalikes and felt relatively slim by comparison. My mother always told me to stick with the heavies.
Rum is synonymous with Barbados and there are many rum bars throughout the island. Rum and beer are far cheaper than wine and other spirits, such as vodka and gin. Mount Gay Rum is produced on the island and the distillery is open for tours.
Bajans love to celebrate with festivals, and the fish festival at the fishing town of Oistins is fantastic. The festival takes place in March, but every Friday night there's a food fest, where roadside stalls fry up all the fish you want, served with coleslaw, tartare sauce and grilled potato. As an alternative to fish, there are other stalls with pork, chicken and curries. Grab a drink from one of the many outlets, and take your place among the locals and other tourists at one of the picnic tables provided. With reggae music in surround sound, what could be more atmospheric?
Because of my present dismal pecuniary circumstances, I didn't indulge in my usual shopping therapy, but the boutiques, many of them housed in brightly painted wooden structures, looked wonderfully interesting. It's a tax-free island, so jewellery shops abound. We took a trip to the famous Sandy Lane for a drink overlooking the blue sea and pink sun-loungers, to glimpse how the rich and famous live. I spent my time celeb spotting, but failed to come up with the goods. Thankfully, I was rewarded by a bare-footed Jeremy Clarkson passing within an inch of me in another resort.
Golf is huge on the island and it boasts nine golf courses, including the famous Sandy Lane Course. Many of the guests at Treasure Beach were golfers and Jason plays off an impressive six handicap. When I've improved at the sport, I'll definitely be back to challenge him.
Treasure Beach Hotel, Paynes Bay, St James, BB24009, Barbados. Tel: + 1 246 419 4200. Email: reservations @treasurebeachhotel.com
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