By Dwight Brown
New York-based Dwight is a passionate travel writer who specializes in the Caribbean Islands and Brazil, writing about upscale hotels, resorts, dining venues, sports and cultural tours. He is a frequent contributor to Sleeping Around.
Exploring Barbados by car is an enjoyable way to discover the best parts
of this balmy, eastern-most Caribbean island that is only 21 miles long
and 14 miles wide.
The British came to Barbados in 1627 and used slave labor to work the
sugar plantations that produced world-class rum. From 1834, when slavery
was abolished, through the 20th century, the island's economy was
dependent on sugar, rum, and molasses production. After Barbados won
independence from the UK in 1966, tourism and manufacturing gradually
surpassed the sugar industry in economic prominence.
Today Barbados is a multi-racial country governed by people of African
descent and a vacationer's mecca. This tropical island is divided into 11
parishes. Surfers find the rough Atlantic waters on the east coast ideal
for riding waves. However, most tourists flock to the western side, where
the tranquil Caribbean shore is lined with swank hotels and
price-conscious all-inclusive resorts.
AAA Four Diamond Accommodations
I lodged at the AAA Four Diamond Awarded Fairmont Royal Pavilion
, a salmon-hued, Moorish style 72-suite
hotel on a pink/beige crescent-shaped beach in St. James Parish. My suite,
with marble bathroom, free high-speed Internet access and a spacious
balcony, faced the clear Caribbean waters. I waded 20 yards into the sea,
where the waves were still just chest high.
Buffet breakfast at the beachside bistro Café Taboras featured fresh
fruit, made-to-order omelets, assorted breakfast pastries and tasty Bajan
cherry juice. Dinner at the Palm Terrace Restaurant-Caribbean lobster
ravioli with garlic prawns, lightly blackened snapper with garlic sautéed
spinach and local mango sherbet- was delectable.
For fun, I played tennis with the resident pro, Sydney, who took me to an
International Junior Tennis tournament at the Barbados Tennis Center,
where a local named Damian King won Barbados's first International
Junior's Tennis title. Sailing on a catamaran and water-skiing are just
two of the many free activities available at the quiet, intimate, elegant
Fairmont (adults-only November through April).
Out On Island
Lion Castle, one of Barbados's four polo fields, hosts an annual polo
match that's highlighted by a men-versus-women polo match. Players on
horseback charge up and down the expansive lawn, pushing, shoving and
intimidating-all integral parts of polo-to hit the ball and score a goal.
In fact, the game inspired me to take a polo lesson at the Rugby
, which is taught by noted equestrian
and polo player Jeff Evelyn. Evelyn taught me how to hold the long-stemmed
mallet; it's similar to one used for croquet, except you hit the ball with
the side instead of the front. In just one afternoon, I learned how to
ride, swing, and hit the ball with accuracy. My polo pony, Jack, was once
a racehorse and one of the most intuitive, responsive horses I've ever
Other cool diversions include: the Aerial Trek Zipline (gliding across the
top of a forest hooked up on a rope); private surfing lessons; or golf at
the Barbados Golf Club, on a PGA European tour course that has hosted the
Barbados Open at Durants in the southern parish of Christ Church.
The Tyrol Cot Museum is as noted for its art and furniture as it is for
its chattel houses, mobile cottages that workers set up on farmlands for
seasonal work. When job opportunities took them elsewhere, the workers
folded up their houses and moved on. Another unique Barbadian housing
trait is how they build their homes. Driving around the island, I
frequently saw cinder block foundations on a number of properties; by
American standards it was an odd occurrence. In fact, Bajans, like
Jamaicans, don't believe in mortgages. If they want to own a home, first
they buy land. When they have more funds, they build a foundation. Later
they'll add walls, then a roof, and when they can afford it, they'll
finish the home and move in-owing no debt. During this current credit
crunch, with banks holding many of us hostage, Bajan chattel houses and
methodically financing and building one's home seems prescient. Also of
note: All neighborhoods-from the poorest to the richest-are neat and tidy;
there is no trash on the streets anywhere.
Plantation mansions, or great houses, some of which date back to when
George Washington visited Barbados, have become tourist attractions.
Lancaster Great House
, in St. James
Parish, is a gallery. On my visit it featured a collection of Barbadian
furniture from the 1600s to the present, along with an array of outdoor
sculpture. St. Nicholas Abbey, in St. Peter Parish, built in 1660, and is
believed to be the oldest building in Barbados; rum is still refined here,
and they sell their own aged brand that is as smooth as expensive Cognac.
Fisherpond Great House, in St. Thomas Parish, is owned by the very
charming John Chandler and his lovely wife Rain who serve homemade
cuisine, such as fried flying fish, broccoli salad and guava bread
pudding, on Thursdays for lunch and at Sunday Brunch.
If you can have only one meal in Barbados and money is no object, the
ambience and scenery at The Cliff
be beat. The restaurant lobby/bar descends to a level just above the beach
and sea where all of the tables in the open-air V-shaped room sit on
limestone tiers facing the ocean; the room is lit like it could be the
main attraction in a film. The dress here is island elegant. For starters,
the snow crab cake with coriander cream and vinaigrette and red curry oil
was delicious. My filet of prime beef tenderloin with roquefort sauce,
leek and potato mash, asparagus, grilled tomatoes and crisp links was
excellent; as was my dessert: a fresh raspberry crème brûlée tart with
Or you can head over to Oistins in Christ Church Parish for a more casual
experience. A fishing village by day and a hot party place by night,
hungry tourists and locals line up at Oistins' fish shacks for fried or
grilled catch-of-the-day with an ice-cold Banks, the local beer. In this
party-hearty neighborhood, foreigners and Bajans alike hit the bars,
mingle, dance and people-watch. I enjoyed the grilled dolphin fish (also
known as mahi mahi) served with potatoes and a small salad from Uncle
Georges. However I shared a table with a few customers from nearby
Roslin's Fish Fry, where patrons stand in line for 45 minutes to get their
fried king fish, cooked outdoors on two deep iron skillets over a
wood-burning fire. The smell was tempting, and it looked delicious.
Near the downtown shopping district of St. Michael, on the Carlisle Bay
beach, is a local restaurant called Lobster Alive. Large Caribbean spiny
lobsters, caught by scuba divers in the Grenadine Islands, are flown live
to Barbados and held in a tank until patrons pick them for their meal. I
opted for the delicately fried dolphin fish, seasoned with Bajan spices,
dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, then quickly fried in canola oil. Yum!
The Night Life is the Right Life
Oistins is as boisterous as the trendy, upscale bistro Scarlet is calm,
hip and modern. Located in Paynes Bay, the décor is impressive: bright
scarlet red walls adorned with Andy Warhol posters of Marilyn Monroe and
Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis. The patrons, Barbados' most chic-black, white,
brown and tan-looked flown in from London or New York. The menu features a
mix of modern comfort food and Bajan specialties. Come for the food; stay
for the fancy cocktails: the Ibiz, made with Hendricks gin, melon liqueur,
mango puree elderflower cordial, litchi juice and Champagne; or one of the
"Tinis" as in martinis, like Scarlet's signature drink, the Scarlet Rocks,
made with vodka, black raspberry liqueur, strawberry, basil, cranberry
juice and black pepper.
Barbados has something for everyone: rich history and culture, elegant
accommodations, lively sports, tourist attractions, people-watching, a
dazzling array of fine dining venues and an exciting nightlife. It's easy
to enjoy the best of Barbados.