Barbados is a magical mélange of hustle, bustle, charm, and class. Beneath a turquoise sky, and surrounded by aquamarine waters, this idyllic island is a solace for relaxation and a virtual mecca for active lifestyles and cultural pursuits. It is endless sun-washed, sugary, sand beaches and craggy, dark, underground caves. It is green monkeys and flying fish; reggae and karaoke; booze cruises and rum tours; beachfront hair braiders and spa-tacular hot stone massages.
BEAUTIFUL BARBADOS BEACH
Though tourists flock to Barbados for its sandy beaches, coral reefs and rum swizzles, it is the frequency of names like Trafalgar Square, and Yorkshire, along with left-hand driving and roundabouts, that are constant reminders of the island's British heritage.
The farthest east of the Caribbean islands, this "Little England" has smatterings of the old country everywhere. Cricket is the favorite sport; Trafalgar is the square of squares; and Lord Nelson is the pigeon's favorite. You can lunch on fish and chips at an open-air café, wash it down with a warm beer, or have a spot of tea and scones at a stately country home.In 1627, the first English setters landed on the island and, in 1966, Barbados was awarded Independence within the Commonwealth.
The plethora of attractions to explore on the island include the following:
- Sunbury Plantation House, a charming residence situated in the tranquil St. Philip countryside. Reminiscent of bygone days, this beautiful family home, dating back to 1650 is crafted of flint and other stones imported from England.
- Barbados Museum: Based in a former British military prison, this distinctive museum traces the island's evolution from 16th century time to the present. It features natural history exhibits, historic maps and art installations.
- The Nidhe Israel Synagogue (1654) was built by Jews migrating from Portugal (via Recife, Brazil) at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1831 a hurricane destroyed most of the original Synagogue and by March 1833, a new synagogue was dedicated. The synagogue is either the first, or second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The answer depends on whether you ask someone from Curacao or from Barbados.
INTERIOR OF NIDHE ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE
The epitaphs in the adjacent cemetery became commemorative odes, love poems, and even warnings to visitors. The Nidhe Israel Museum was built in an abandoned school building (circa 1750) adjacent to the cemetery
Orchid World: This magnificent floral park has more than 30,000 orchids on display. You can get up close and personal with these precious blooms.
Andromeda Gardens: This beautiful garden has an astonishing array of plants from all over the tropical world. A bubbling stream winds through the garden forming pools and waterfalls.
Harrison's Cave: This sensitively developed natural phenomenon is a series of beautiful underground caverns complete with stalactites and stalagmites and underground streams and waterfalls. Visitors are taken through the cave in an electric tram and accompanied by an official guide.
ENTRANCE TO HARRISON'S CAVE
Atlantis Submarine: This space age machine transports you on a voyage of discovery through the final frontier of inner space. Diving to depths of 150 feet, the unique submarine enables you to experience the wonders of the world beneath the sea.
Dining in Barbados runs the gamut from moderately priced casual to over the top expensive. You must try Waterfront Café's signature Flying Fish served with cornmeal Cou-Cou, fried plantain & pickled cucumber. It's a traditional Bajan favorite. One Sundays there is a grand Barbadian buffet brunch at the magnificent Crane Resort's L'Azure Restaurant.
FRESH FISH BEING PREPARED IN FRONT OF WATERFRONT CAFE
Accommodations in Barbados also run the gamut from moderately priced casual to over the top expensive. On one visit to Barbados, I discovered Treasure Beach, a small hidden gem of a hotel with an eclectic mix of clientele from both Europe and America. Located on Paynes Bay on the island's West (Gold) Coast, this 35-suite boutique hotel, with 3 premium suites sporting private plunge pools on verandas, opens to a vista of sand, sea and sunsets.
If you have deep pockets, consider a lunch or a stay at Sandy Lane Hotel. This exclusive hotel, on the sheltered west coast of Barbados, is located on the site of the old Sandy Lane Sugar Plantation. Originally built in 1961, Sandy Lane Hotel firmly established itself as the premier address in the Caribbean. Having closed for several years for a major rebuilding and expansion, the hotel reopened in March 2001.
POOL AT SANDY LANE HOTEL
Over the years, Sandy Lane has hosted a veritable "Who's Who" of famous, glamorous, wealthy, and royal guests. That list included such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Luciano Pavarotti, Sir Elton John, Michael Caine, Maria Callas, and Frank Sinatra. It was the place where Tiger Woods held his wedding.
Set amidst luxurious tropical gardens and a mahogany grove, the hotel is edged with a half mile of the whitest sand on the island. Built of white coral stone, the hotel offers spectacular views of the Caribbean. The fabulous Tom Fazio-designed, Green Monkey golf course, carved out of a former quarry, is available only to Sandy Lane Hotel guests. The signature sand trap of this dramatic course is a green grass monkey in a snow-white sand trap. The 47,000-square-foot Spa at Sandy Lane is something to behold. Even if you don't opt for a treatment, do what ever it takes to get a tour of the place. I guarantee you, you've never seen anything like it.
ENTRANCE TO SANDY LANE SPA
If you stay at Sandy Lane, be prepared for sticker shock when you receive your bill. It is not for the faint of heart.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY.