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December 20, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Winter 2019 issue

Barbados… sun, sea and G and Ts

​​Words Jim Dunn

Very late in my travel life I am discovering the palm tree charms, hidden coves and the pristine narrow beaches of idyllic Barbados. It’s that island of hedonistic Caribbean life long favoured by the international elite particularly the British.

They probably don’t like the term ‘elite’ being used to describe Barbados clientele but you don’t go there unless you have a very healthy bank balance… if you want to holiday there is any form of comfort… and that inevitably eliminates a large number of us.  It does however keep the island free in the most part, of cheap tourism which is doing so much damage around the world including Malta.

I’ve passed through the Barbados many times en route to somewhere else in the Caribbean but only recently stopped and stayed for a week and I can’t wait to get back.

The Island has it all. Sun, clear blue seas, excellent swimming, a good foodie scene, perfect beaches, abundant scenery, areas that are still unspoiled particularly in the north of the Island and the spoken language by, on the whole, friendly natives is international English.

On my most recent visit I rested my head at the utterly comfortable and charming Coral Reef Club It is a little bit of England lapped by the warm Caribbean Sea. The estate has over 12 acres of lush, manicured gardens right on a white beach with blue, calm, waters beyond and scattered with some 80 rooms and sumptuous suites all hidden amongst the greenery.

All this is looked after and run highly efficiently, I may say, by three generations of the O’Hara family… led by its matriarch,  the utterly charming, Cynthia, (she has been called The Iron Lady)… so you get my point.

Be warned any staff caught slouching. She makes sure that she visits the restaurants, bars and public areas at least every evening introducing herself to all new guests and many regulars many now old friends. The Barbadian staff seem to be very happy in their work and are all highly trained to anticipate your every need. They have a great sense of humour… not always evident in Caribbean hotels…

The rooms and suites are decorated by British designer Helen Green Design and reminded me very much of an elegant country house somewhere in Europe perhaps Provence or in the depths of the English Shires.

Beautiful fabrics, mountains of fresh white towels, impossibly stuffed cushions and perfect room lighting added to White and Company toiletries… what more could you ask?

The 12 acres of mature gardens are weeded and trimmed within an inch of their lives and by the way, you are instructed, please don’t feed the monkeys. They arrive every day on the lawn and by the pool and they can, at times, be a nuisance.

A morning walk on the beach brings a string of ‘good mornings’ from fellow Brits and other nationalities. It’s all very civilised. Try this at your local Supermarket when next you shop and you are sure to get arrested.

One great touch at the Coral reef Club which I must say is something I had not encountered in all my travels is the house rule that anticipates that you might want a late check out. Usually we all have to ‘beg’ for a late checkout. At Coral Reef a room is set aside so that guests with a late flight can relax on the beach before departing for the airport. I’m sure that the room is not always available but this is certainly a very welcome gesture and it is all handled with great efficiency.

Away from the graceful luxury of the hotel…if you can drag yourself away that is… visit St Nicholas’ Abbey, a Jacobean mansion and artisan rum producer. The island is also home to many delightful Parish churches… St James’ founded in Holetown in 1628 is a short walk from the hotel.

Foodies will find an Island of delight but it may affect your pocket… good restaurants like The Cliff and its informal sister The Cliff Beach Club, The Tides, Cin Cin by the Sea and Hugos are recommended. It also has to be said that you can eat out cheaply… a tasty platter of grilled local fish with macaroni pie cooked at Oistins is worth a try at about €12 and the Village Bar at Lemon Harbour is worth a look in. If you are adventurous in your eating out habits there is plenty of choice. We just couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beachside restaurant at the Coral Reef… after a lazy day by the ocean.

Barbados also has a strong Interior Decorator heritage. There is a wide choice of shops selling fabrics and furniture. One of the most famous decorators of recent years, Oliver Messel, came to live in Barbados to help ease his arthritis and was much in demand to work his magic on the homes of the wealthy jet set who started to buy on the island from the 1950s.

If you want to catch up on all the local Barbadian gossip then a must is your attendance at the weekly Cocktail Party hosted by the O’Hara family in the family home in the grounds of the hotel. It’s usually attended by Cynthia and her three children, Patrick, Mark and Karen who are now all involved in the business. The family are of course the height of discretion but it is well known that not only celebrities and politicians such as Simon Cowell flock to Barbados to their homes but many stay at the hotel such as the late Harold Pinter… who wrote there… Lady Antonia Fraser and Simon Gray.

Everyone who is anyone gets invited along to the weekly Cocktail Party and it is a great event to meet potential new friends and contacts. I usually run a mile from events such as this but I really enjoyed a visit to the Party during my visit… the cocktails pack a punch. Much has changed in Barbados in recent years but it cannot hide it ‘Britishness’. The Brits controlled the Island from 1625 to 1966 so the in influence is very strong. There’s a great concentration of cricket pitches and polo fields and there’s place names like Chancery Lane, Clapham, Hastings and Scarborough… and they make a very good G and T!

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