Escape To Barbados: A Heavenly Island Stay
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Escape To Barbados: A Heavenly Island Stay

Francis Glover escapes to Barbados to stay at two of the finest hotels on the island

It was just after sunset when my husband and I looked at each other, feeling a little weary, clinked glasses and, from the comfort of our incredible private balcony overlooking a restful dark blue sea, realised that we’d done it. We’d got away, slightly out of season, without the children and without responsibility. It was like being in our 20s again. It was liberating.

The time spent flying out to Barbados, the packing, the sorting of a dog sitter… It was all worth it to leave the grey skies behind and reboost that Vitamin D.

Our week was not all luxury suites and long lunches, however; you can’t visit Barbados – one of the Caribbean’s most legendary islands – without exploring its unique history and attractions.

The Sandpiper beach

The Sandpiper beach

Barbados is a melange of a country: it has been home to waves of setters from the Kalinago or Caribs from South America, to Portuguese, Spanish and British colonists, even several thousand Irish immigrants – not all of whom came willingly – and each nationality has left a cultural imprint on the island. Nowadays, the government and traditions are rooted in British democracy – Barbados transitioned to a republic within the Commonwealth in 2021 – but the population is predominantly of African ancestry, due to the slave trade initiated by Dutch sugar cane traders in the 1600s.

You see this mixture of cultures everywhere from architecture to art, music festivals such as Crop Over to sport – umm, cricket, anyone?

Most visitors will find it in the Bajan cuisine first: the national dish of Barbados is cou-cou (a mixture of cornmeal and okra) and flying fish with spicy gravy plus pickled cucumber on the side. Not for you? It wasn’t for me either but everywhere traditional dishes are seasoned with fresh lime juice, thyme, chili peppers and parsley.

You can drink local too: Mauby is a curious soft drink made from tree bark, but most visitors will head straight for a local Banks beer or the island’s legendary rum punch.

We had our first glass of punch when we arrived at hotel number one, The Sandpiper, a stunning small luxury hotel on St James Beach, on Barbados’s west coast. The hotel is set among orchid and coconut trees and huge displays of purple bougainvillea.

The Sandpiper, Barbados, swimming pool

The Sandpiper pool

We were shown by the very charming General Manager, Ken Flockhart – punch in hand,  to our suite: an absolutely beautiful apartment on the sea with chic rattan furniture, an outside kitchen, a freestanding bath and a vast shower. It was heavenly. Outside, the lap pool was just big and sparkly enough to distract from the private beach, itself a mere footstep away, and the morning location for freshly made fruit sorbets – a hotel tradition.

The Sandpiper is also known for its fine dining. Executive Chef, Andrew Jean, offers an ever changing menu including dishes such as The Sandpiper’s Frutti di Mare or a very refined West Indian Curry – but Harold’s Bar, with possibly the best views in the Caribbean, offers a more casual, though equally delicious, experience. Here we ate Bajan Fish wraps, whilst playing backgammon.

One of the advantages of travelling a deux (sorry kids!) is that you don’t worry about moving around – it’s so easy without all that extra baggage; we changed hotel half way through the week to stay for a few nights at the legendary Coral Reef Club, The Sandpiper’s big sister hotel, which is literally a hop and skip away.

Coral Reef Club has been a destination hotel since the 1950s, attracting the famous and beautiful with its discreet but idyllic location, its glorious service and stylish interiors. You’ll probably want to stay in a Luxury Plantation Suite which features a four poster or canopied bed, a huge bathroom,  a covered terrace complete with wet bar plus open sundeck with a plunge pool. And no need to feel guilty about the children stuck in drizzly old England – these rooms are off limits to under 12s anyway until 28 February. Sorry, not sorry.

Relax on the beach at Coral Reef Club

Relax on the beach at Coral Reef Club

But you can’t just stay in your luxury hotel with its stunning beach, great service, beautiful pools, and very luxe spa (check out the amazing treatments and massages).

No, of course not. There are sights to be seen such as the George Washington House and Museum, a traditional plantation house which was home to the future first President of the USA in 1751. And rum to be tasted at the famous Mount Gay distillery, plus catamaran cruises to be taken for secluded beaches and snorkelling.

Our favourite activity was swimming in the mosaic-tiled pool, which was beautiful and quiet with fabulous service.

Barbados also offers some charming shopping opportunities; take a trip to Limegrove Shopping Centre in Holetown, a five-minute walk from The Sandpiper for American fashion such as Ralph Lauren and myriad diamond and kaftan shops; outside you will also find traditional, brightly painted wooden shops, set in tropical gardens. I came home from the island with a pearl bracelet, little jewelled sea turtles for the teens and a few beautiful kaftans (which I could have bought in London but still…).

Coral Reef Club in Barbados, located on the beach and offers luxury accommodation for families

Coral Reef Club, located on the beach and offers luxury accommodation for families

Back at Coral Reef Club, don’t miss barbecue night on a Thursday, where you can enjoy fresh seafood or steak straight from the grill while listening to live calypso, steel band, jazz, piano, or reggae music.

Both hotels were absolutely fabulous and we enjoyed them equally, but they are different. The Sandpiper felt more like a club with returners passionate about the hotel who have been visiting it for more than 20 years. Coral Reef Club is larger, and extremely beautiful with amazing fabrics and prints with extreme attention to detail, curated over the years by the very glamorous O’Hara family.

Would your children also approve? They definitely would, should they get the chance – thanks to the many beach bars along the coast, lots of fabulous music every night and wonderful water sports for all. Still it was nice to go this first time as a couple. But I’m sure we will be back.

Book it: Rates at The Sandpiper start at $590 (approx £465) per night for a Garden View Room, including breakfast, taxes & fees. sandpiperbarbados.com. Rates at Coral Reef Club start at $590 (approx £465) per night for a Garden Room or Cottage, including breakfast, taxes & fees. coralreefbarbados.com