So I’m finally catching up with all my travel notes and can’t wait to tell you about my TRIP OF A LIFETIME, visiting Barbados to get involved in Crop Over festival. The festival celebrates the end of the sugar cane harvest, and it’s a fabulous time to be in Barbados, with parties, dancing, incredible costumes and lots and lots of rum punch, but more of this later! Here’s the first part of my visit to Barbados – a little about our lovely hotel, and a few recommendations of things to see and do. Ready, steady….
Our home for the week was the Sea Breeze Beach Hotel in Oistins, a relatively small beachfront property with a really warm welcome – a great place to base ourselves to explore the island. The hotel is spread across a couple of different blocks, some clustered around the adults only pool, with a view out to sea, and others nearer the children’s pool, again with balconies looking out to sea. My room was crisp and clean, with a real colonial feel: a HUGE bed, wicker and dark wood, a gorgeous marble bathroom, crisp white linens and fluffy towels.
The adults only area, dotted with the most comfy sunbeds I’ve ever known, has cheery yellow sunshades and towels. Friendly staff are on duty offering cold drinks, ice creams and even a nice, cooling spritz of foot spray! It’s lovely and quiet and a great idea to place it the other side of the main restaurant and bar areas, so it’s nice and secluded.
The beach is wide, and private, with lots of loungers. While we were there, they were struggling with a bit of a seaweed problem, but usually the water is cool, clear and a beautiful shade of blue. The kids’ pool is near the beach entrance and hidden away in a shady location by another couple of accommodation blocks. It was never particularly busy, or noisy, and I was often tempted to have a dip there rather than walk to the adults pool.
The main restaurant is housed in a lovely, dark wooden-clad building with one side open to the sea, making for a really wonderful, tropical dining experience. We thought the food at the hotel was really good, and although the menu was small, it was very varied with a good mix of local and international cuisine. We always found something delicious to eat. There’s also a beachside café called the Fish Pot which does the most delicious chicken Caesar salad (we got a bit addicted and ate the same thing nearly every lunchtime), but they also do barbecued meat and fish and lots of lovely salads and sides.
We vowed to spend our time really wisely and visit as much of Barbados as we possibly could while we were there. There’s so much more to see and do on Barbados than just lazing on the beaches sipping cocktails (although that’s definitely right up there on my holiday to do list) and our first day was spent on the most beautiful catamaran, slicing through the clear blue water and stopping for yummy food and to snorkel over a shipwreck. The Jammin’ Catamaran trip (www.jammincats.com) costs $175 BBD (£55) and includes all food and drinks onboard plus equipment for shipwreck and turtle snorkelling:
The mega friendly crew feed the fish while you’re snorkelling, and all of a sudden, a greedy turtle came along, wanting to join in the feast:
The hotel is very close to the legendary Oistins Fish Fry and we visited one night (in the pouring rain). If you’re ever in Barbados, this is one place not to be missed. We scoffed steaming hot piles of crispy shrimp, with the most amazing home made coleslaw and piles of fluffy-centered chips. Just be careful with the hot sauce – it packs a punch!
The next day, we decided to immerse ourselves in a bit of culture. Barbados has the most incredibly interesting military history. It was a very well defended strategic British outpost and huge trading port. At one stage, Carlisle bay would accommodate 300-400 ships at a time. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Barbados Historic Garrison is a great place to visit, and a morning tour costs $48 US (£30). George Washington visited Barbados in 1751 at the age of 19 and the house where he lived has been fully restored to look like it would have done at the time. It’s a fascinating place:
There are slightly terrifying tunnels running to thousands of feet that were build underneath the garrison. They’re still being discovered all the time, but have only been open to the public for about 6 months. They’re not for the claustrophobic (apparently there were bodies found down here too):
Charles Fort, another part of the garrison, overlooks Carlisle Bay at the end of Needhams Point, and the cannons that once fired upon Cromwell’s fleet still stand there, facing out to sea:
The Garrison still puts on a symbolic ‘changing of the guard’ which is actually incredibly moving to watch:
Of course, another massive part of Barbados’ heritage (and closely associated with the maritime trade) is rum! Mount Gay Rum was the first commercial rum distillery in the world, established over three centuries ago. Molasses from the sugar cane industry was put to good use and there are now over 1800 Mount Gay Rum shops dotted across the island. Of course, we had to have a bit of a tasting session while we were there, and head mixologist, Ryan, was very happy to create a perfect rum punch for us to try. The signature tour of Mount Gay Rum includes rum punch on arrival and a tasting session and costs just US$10 (£6.40 – what a bargain!).
Mount Gay Eclipse is the distillery’s flagship rum and I was really impressed with the flavour. It’s rich and complex with caramel and vanilla, and even some banana notes. I smuggled a little bit home too – just for research purposes.
Our last bit of culture for the day was a trip to Harrison’s Cave. The lush vegetation of this incredible place made me thing of Jurassic Park:
Visitors descend into the incredible natural caves on a tram. Inside, the place is otherworldly, with huge stalactites and stalagmites, shimmering mirror pools and glittering natural rock formations that look just like clusters of diamonds. The photos just don’t do it justice.
Next up: Crop Over, Grand Kadooment Day and an island safari!
Visiting Barbados (www.visitbarbados.org):
Virgin Atlantic flies once a day to Barbados from London Gatwick, and once a week from Manchester. Economy fares start from £457 including tax. For more information call 0844 2092770 or visit www.virgin-atlantic.com.
We stayed at the Sea Breeze Beach Hotel on an all-inclusive basis (www.sea-breeze.com). Rooms cost from $326 US (£208) per night based on two sharing a standard room.