Barbados On and Off the Beach
Other Stuff to Do
If you’re into snooping around historic homes, you’ll love the Barbados National Trust’s open houses each Saturday during the season.
Up north in St. Lucy, the Animal Flower Cave, so-called for the oxidized green and brown formations that look like lizards and turtles, is worth exploring. Or, if the only holes you’re interested in are on a golf course, Barbados has several world-class ones, including three at Sandy Lane, where you might spot one of the famous green monkeys.
This being “Little England,” polo remains hugely popular, attracting top international teams from January through May. There are four polo fields on the island, with the Barbados Polo Club in Holders Hill (the former family home of Johnny and Janet Kidd) and the ever-expanding Apes Hill Polo Club in St. James the most popular for lessons and watching world-class events.
Where to Stay
Any conversation about hotels in Barbados inevitably comes back to Sandy Lane, the pink-accented, Happy Ward-designed neo-Palladian grande dame that has defined luxury on the island since 1961.
When I first went there in the early aughts, the place had stumbled a bit, but the sprawling 300-acre estate regained its footing after a renovation and remains the place of myth: the airport transfers in the house Bentley; the opulent rooms; the solicitous service at its four restaurants.
Conjuring the romance of the island’s British past (ceiling fans, wooden balustrades, curated miscellany), the family-owned 88-room Coral Reef Club sits on 12 manicured acres. The beach club is the most pleasant on the coast – everything you need within reach, without the crowds of the bigger hotels.
A little farther up, the 40-room Cobblers Cove is chic and discreet.
I highly recommend staying in Camelot at the Great House, a suite in the former private residence that anchors the property. Another favorite, more geared toward couples and small families, is Little Good Harbour, with its whitewashed stone cottages, top-notch spa, and one of the best restaurants on the island, the Fish Pot. If you’re looking to avoid the hustle of the west coast, the rugged east coast has one iconic mainstay, The Crane, on a world-famous beach. Built in 1887, it’s a little big for some tastes, but it’s hard to fault the rooms or the rambling environs – there’s a reason fashion photographers have used it as a backdrop for decades.
Renting a villa may be the best way to experience life as a local, and there’s never been a better time, as there are a number of empty grand estates that owners are opening up. Sir Paul Altman, of Altman Real Estate, has some of the best options, including historic plantation homes and beachfront properties.