This month we have a special travel feature written by Susan Clifton-Tucker, who’s proving that life begins again after retirement, as she leaves the Rock of the Mediterranean in favour of the jewel of the Caribbean: Barbados.
By Susan Clifton-Tucker
This paradisiacal isle, only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, might be small – but it sure packs a punch. Talking of which, mine and Mr T’s favourite is a mango, pawpaw and coconut rum punch, if you are asking. Quite the most delicious combination, mixed with Mount Gay rum which is distilled on the island. I would advise some water chasers as the concoction is likely to leave you unsteady on your feet. Happily, Barbados water is filtered through coral; very pure and a delight to drink.
Barbados derives its name from ‘Os Barbados’, or ‘The Bearded Ones’. It was christened by early Portuguese settlers, who were apparently fascinated by the appearance of the long, hanging aerial roots of the bearded fig trees.
It’s an island of great contrast, from the gently lapping waters on the west coast, to the thundering surf on the Atlantic eastside. From the plush colonial homes mainly owned by wealthy foreigners, to the Chattels: small moveable wooden homes which populate most of the island. They like their colour here; the brighter the better. Lime green, shocking pink, turquoise and proud purple grace the façade of many of these dwellings. So sunglasses at the ready!
This paradisiacal isle might be small – but it sure packs a punch.
We are staying at The Southern Palms Beach Club on Dover Beach in Christchurch, which forms part of the so-called Platinum coast. Fresh, fluffy pink beach towels are provided on a daily basis, as is the local paper (The Barbados Advocate), which makes for an interesting read. The hotel is well located, just a stone’s throw away from St Lawrence Gap, known simply as ‘The Gap’. Quirky bars, cafes, restaurants and music venues throng this area. It’s vibrant and colourful, providing a great choice of food and entertainment.
Our day starts just after 6 in the morning, as the sun beckons us outdoors. The best time to visit Barbados is between December and April. Although temperatures are in the 30s, the pleasant trade winds ameliorate the heat.
We opted to book hotel only, affording us the freedom to eat anywhere and at any time. You are spoilt for choice in the variety and quality of the food. There are a number of top-class restaurants, best known of which is The Cliff, in the parish of St James. It’s pricey but the food is impeccable and it’s the perfect setting for a celebratory meal. Freshly caught fish is the star catch. King fish – a meaty white fish – is delicious. Don’t panic if you see dolphin on the menu, it’s actually a popular local fish which goes by the name of ‘mahi-mahi’.
With 10 glorious days stretching ahead of us, we meet up with Chrissy, who left England for a holiday in Barbados 25 years ago and never returned. She is a font of knowledge and information which proves invaluable.
“Use white dollar vans to travel around,” she tells us. The fare is two Barbados dollars, about 65p, wherever you go. Apparently these prices have remained static since 1989 and are due to increase slightly in the coming months. Buses are also two dollars and taxis are relatively inexpensive but are not metered, so do negotiate a price before you start your journey. The local currency is pegged at two to one against the American dollar. Both are accepted widely as are credit cards, but forget sterling, it is not legal tender on the island.
A full island tour is the best way to start a holiday here. We opt for an excursion which covers all the island’s 11 parishes. Tour guide Warren fills us in on the island’s history as we wend our way to a sugar cane farm. He outlines the background to the shameful African slave trade, revealing that there was also a large number of white Irish slaves working on the plantations in the 1600s.
Sugar production, which for decades was the backbone of the island’s economy, is now in decline. This is due largely as a result of plummeting world market prices and the continuing upward spiral of manufacturing costs. Diversification into alternative sugar products is already underway and a greater quantity of molasses is being extracted to support the growth in the export of rum.
Sir Cliff Richard, Simon Cowell and the Rooneys all boast eye-wateringly expensive homes here.
It’s worth a visit to the Mount Gay Rum Visitors’ Centre in the island’s capital, Bridgetown, to learn more about the distillation process of what is considered the oldest rum in the world. Entry fee is the equivalent of £5.
Our trip to Bridgetown was held up, as Prince Charles and Camilla were in town as part of a Caribbean Commonwealth tour. Quite unusually in the afternoon, the future King of England was spotted on the beach just up from ours, in a natty pair of bathers, just like any other tourist. Whilst the Duchess of Cornwall walked alongside, towel slung over her shoulder, sporting a blue swimsuit. Away from the beach, a half hours drive inland, Harrison’s Cave is another recommended tour which doesn’t disappoint
The geological formation and history of Barbados is detailed in a film before we enter the amazing labyrinth of underground caves in a trolley bus, wearing hard hats. I am hoping that this is to protect us from the dripping stalactites rather than anything else. Thankfully that proves to be the case.
As the island is small, we are able to pack in plenty of sightseeing and activity before returning and enjoying all the water sports on offer at our beach hotel. On lazy hazy afternoons we find ourselves swimming with turtles and snorkelling around coral reefs. We also walk for miles along the sandy seashore, stopping wherever the mood takes us for a swim and a bite to eat at one of the many beach shacks dotted around the coastline. The Blue Pineapple on Rockley beach in Hastings becomes a particular favourite. Their food is sublime, enhanced by the beach lounge setting.
A visit to Barbados wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famous Oistins Fish Fry. Although Friday is the most popular evening to sample platters of freshly caught fish, we opt to visit on Thursday to avoid the crowds. We seek out ‘The Red Snapper’ cheerfully run by Alicia and Kim. The lobster in garlic butter sauce and the dressed crab are amongst the best we have ever eaten anywhere and reasonably priced. Throw in calypso steel bands and an ubiquitous rum punch or two and it wasn’t just be the palm trees that were swaying that day!
A catamaran tour around the island is also well worth doing. We booked a day excursion with Tiami Catamaran cruises. A really professional outfit. Sailing out from Bridgetown heading towards St James, the houses and condos of household names are pointed out. Sir Cliff Richard, Simon Cowell and the Rooneys all boast eye-wateringly expensive homes here. Singer Rhianna’s childhood home, a modest Chattel, is clearly signposted and stands in the recently renamed Rihanna Drive.
The future King of England was spotted in a natty pair of bathers.
We stop off in front of The Sandy Lane Hotel, to get up close and personal with Green and Hawksbill turtles. Life jackets and snorkels are provided but not flippers. These wonderful creatures are endangered and there is concern for their safety much as there is for the coral reefs. It’s a truly sybaritic day, enhanced by wonderful food and virtually anything you want to drink on tap. The music was uplifting, the weather was perfect and the sea a millpond. We befriend some lovely Canadians, escaping the torturously sub-zero temperatures at home.
This is the Caribbean, so occasionally you can expect a passing shower. Just do as the locals do, ignore it and carry on. The sun is never far behind.
Time, as they say, flies by when you are enjoying yourself. On our last day we sit watching the sun set over our hotel’s beachside restaurant and look wistfully up into the sky. An aircraft flying into Grantley Adams airport reminds us that we are leaving tomorrow. Brilliant weather, food and the friendliest of people, have contributed to a truly magical holiday. We will be leaving the Caribbean with a suitcase full of happy memories.