Barbados: Billionaires & beach bums
Cocoon yourself like a pampered celebrity or enjoy the simplicity of local life. Jane Doran found a mix of the two made for the perfect holiday in Barbados
My hands clench the bus's hot metal bars. A large hip slams into me.
My feet temporarily leave the ground, one sweaty hand slips and I swing into a skinny schoolgirl to my left. She is unfazed.
The driver stops, clamours over the back of his seat and starts 'rearranging' passengers so more can cram on. He is victorious in his endeavour, so we take off again, the wind rushing in from open windows a relief against the stifling heat. Lee Perry blares from a speaker.
We are on a 'Reggae bus', one of many bright yellow buses that barrel up and down the coast roads of Barbados depositing people to work, school, everyday life. It's fun, chaotic and costs a mere 50c. But we're not roughing it too much on this holiday: we are staying in five-star luxury.
The Royal Westmoreland Golf Resort is a gloriously verdant oasis of palm trees and shaved lawns. There are plush apartments and villas owned by hedge fund managers, celebrities and the odd British footballer (the Rooneys have a seven-bed villa here, though I suspect Colleen has never taken the Reggae bus).
When we arrive back to our four-bed villa, we head for the infinity pool. After the swim, the wine fridge is raided and we watch the sun set. There is silence except for the cicadas. The madness of the self-designed island tour seems a world away.
We arrived four nights previously to Barbados's Platinum Coast, the western region beloved by celebrities - Rihanna, Simon Cowell and Michael Flatley all own property here - and the super rich. But we're keen to explore, too. For our first full day on the island, the resort arranges a driver, the lovely John Butler, to show us around. "If you really want to zone out in Barbados, the east coast is the place for you," he says. So off we go.
We cut across the lush, mountainous centre of the island. There are churches scattered all around. It's a Sunday so they are packed. Little girls in their finest walk along mountain roads and villages where simple houses are painted blue, green, orange, pink and yellow.
The west coast is one of gentle beaches, Caribbean soft sand and easy-going sea. The east faces the Atlantic with its wild water and gnarly waves. There are no designer boutiques or mansions here; just rum shacks and roadside stalls selling coconuts, or men playing checkers on porches. It's wild, beautiful, agricultural and underdeveloped.
We do two quick stops: at Cherry Tree Drive, 850m above sea level, to take in panoramic views, and a trip to the almost 500-year-old St Nicolas Abbey and its distillery, a major tourist draw. The east coast is a surfer's paradise, especially Bathsheba beach, arguably Barbados's most beautiful. We chill out at a beachside bar, drink a Banks beer and watch the surfers.
We head back to the Platinum Coast for lunch. The Lone Star is where Simon Cowell likes to ring in the New Year. The setting is stunning: right on a beach. Dozens of teak fans whirr above the white-clothed tables and a light breeze blows through. Two English ladies beside us enjoy the Sunday special - roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. A taste of home in 34°C heat. We stick to our yellowfin tuna tartare, classic prawn cocktail and crisp Verdejo.
That evening, we are treated to a barbecue at our villa by a private chef. Vivian Best cooks mahi mahi, chicken in Bajan marinade, and corn on the cob in milk and cinnamon. It's excellent and surprisingly reasonable (€65 an hour for up to six people).
The week of luxury continues: we lunch at the elegant clubhouse, drink rum punches at Mullins Beach Bar while watching models prance and fake-laugh in skimpy bikinis, and visit uber-chic restaurants like The Cliff Beach House, where giant metal sharks hang from the ceiling, waiters wear designer clothes and there is €500-a-glass brandy on the menu. The food and the setting, on the edge of a cliff with lights shimmering in the sea, are superb.
The next day we take a trip on the Silver Moon Catamaran.
Boarding at 9am, we set off for a half-day of snorkelling with turtles and bobbing over shipwrecks. Our charming captain and his crew cook lunch on board as we drink pina coladas with our feet dipping in the sea. It isn't all the high life, though. We stay in five-star opulence, but highlights also include drinking €2 beer with fishermen at John Moore's, a ramshackle beach bar, and swimming in our clothes after getting slightly lost and very sweaty following a lunch of flying fish sandwiches doused in hot sauce.
By the end of the week, we're back on the Reggae bus, this time heading south to Oistins for its famous Fish Fry. There's a large stage with people dancing, and dozens of food vendors. We drink a rum cocktail in the queue for fish before sitting at a communal table to eat blackened mahi mahi and glorious butter-glazed lobster. It's raucous with the chatter of conversation and the boom of reggae. Afterwards, we escape to listen to the swish of waves on the beach, rum punches in our hands.
Barbados: it's an island for both beach bums and billionaires.
What to pack
Light, summer clothes and a couple of chic outfits for the swanky restaurants. Sunscreen is essential: be careful snorkelling. There are no visas needed, but keep a tight hold of your customs departure slip and prepare for a long wait between landing and exiting the airport.
Save a fortune
Consider going off-peak. Mid June to mid November is officially hurricane season, but Barbados’s location means it’s usually spared. We went in October and it was bright and sunny six out of seven days. Accommodation prices drop by up to 50pc, and it’s less crowded with tours and restaurants too.
Play a round of golf
Golfers are spoilt for choice as this tiny island has five top-end courses. The Royal Westmoreland’s golf pro and 20-year tour veteran Bill Longmuir says that while its Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed course is “athletic and challenging”, it’s also is the best in the Caribbean. royalwestmoreland.com/estate/golf
Eat (and party) like a local
The beach town of Oistins gets invaded every Friday for its Fish Fry. Enjoy the chaos at communal tables with excellent street food and cold drinks from dozens of stalls. Afterwards, burn it off dancing to live music that goes on until the early hours. See barbados.org/oistins-fish-fry.htm
Virgin (virginatlantic.com) flies direct from Gatwick (daily), Manchester, and Heathrow (once a week during Christmas and New Year). Prices start from about €450 for economy both ways. Aer Lingus operates up to six flights daily from Dublin to Gatwick with one-way fares starting from €29.99 (aerlingus.com).
Where to stay
Jane was a guest at the Royal Westmoreland, an exclusive resort of 250 homes in St James. The 500-acre resort boasts a private beach club, infinity pools, award-winning golf course, gym and impeccable service. Prices start from around €2,110 for seven nights in a one-bed apartment with complimentary golf. See royalwestmoreland.com.
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