Into the Blue.
Enticed by the promise of pristine sandy beaches, gleaming turquoise bays, a UNESCO World Heritage listed capital and friendly locals, Barbados proves perfect for a virgin voyage to the Caribbean.
White breakers buffet the turquoise sea at Crane Beach and wild waves lash the pink tinged sands. A few hardy swimmers brave the water, but we are content to wander along the shoreline and paddle in the shallows. Picture a Caribbean beach and you probably imagine something a little more serene, but there is nothing disappointing about this breathtakingly beautiful vista. After a week spent exploring the island’s offerings, I’d wager it is probably the most photogenic of all of Barbados’ beaches.
We’ve chosen The Crane, a 5* hotel in the parish of St. Philip on the east coast of the island, for our first ever visit to Barbados. Established in 1887, it claims to be the Caribbean’s oldest continuously running hotel – with history like that, they must be doing something right, we reason. And first impressions are good; colonial-style, low-rise buildings, set on winding pathways lush with tropical vegetation, are arranged around a pretty ‘village’ centre featuring shops, bars and restaurants. Our suite is huge with a separate sitting area, fully-equipped kitchen and a bathroom with Jacuzzi bath. There’s also a private plunge pool on the terrace, overlooking the resort’s pools and that stunning ocean view.
After a glorious breakfast, eaten gazing out to sea, we spend our first day lazily adjusting to the time difference, happily beachcombing, relaxing by the pool and sampling the various bars on site. By sundowner time I am sun-flushed, but it is nothing that a calming facial in the Serenity Spa cannot rectify. We choose to dine at Zen, The Crane’s Asian restaurant, and enjoy a very special evening. The sushi is delicious, but the highlights of our meal are the boneless duckling and the teriyaki chicken and beef: both are an absolute triumph.
By day two we are ready to explore, and the hotel’s concierge team are only too happy to find us a taxi driver. Think chauffeur crossed with tour guide: Big D not only knows everything that’s worth knowing about Barbados, he also seemingly knows all of its inhabitants personally. Better yet, he’s happy to take us anywhere we want to go, and wait indefinitely to bring us back to the hotel afterwards. We are firm friends by the end of the week.
And what a lot we pack in – with its British history very much evident, Barbados is an intriguing mix of the familiar and the exotic. The Anglican churches and cricket greens contrast starkly with the plantation houses and the sugar cane fields. It is the beaches that really take our breath away though – from the surf of the south and the wave battered Atlantic coasts of the east to the calm, turquoise seas of the west, there is one for every mood.
We are also enamoured with Harrison’s Cave, named after Thomas Harrison who owned much of the surrounding land in the early 1700s. Tours allow you to don a hard-hat and jump on a tram to explore the startling crystallized limestone cavern, complete with flowing streams, deep pools of clear water and towering columns of the living cave. It is truly spectacular, though perhaps not one for the claustrophobic.
But the real highlight of Big D’s island tour has to be the fantastic Oistins Fish Fry on the Friday evening. It is a fish market with a clever sideline in delicious dinners, which are as popular with locals as they are with tourists. As the sun sets, we wander up the pier to spot turtles swimming in the crystal clear waters, and to feed them with fish guts that D buys for us from a local fisherman. We then tuck into a delicious supper of red snapper, marlin and flying fish. It’s the freshest fish we have ever eaten and the atmosphere is electric, with bars, dancing and copious quantities of rum punch.
Our lunch the next day at The Tides in Holetown is a very different affair, but equally memorable. Entering through a charming courtyard we are led to a table right by the ocean, which is dotted with pretty sailboats and buzzing jet-skis: it is a pretty spectacular view. And the food – exquisite in both presentation and taste – easily lives up to the location. The highlight is gorgeously crispy pork belly served atop a smoked sweet corn risotto. Service is faultless, too – oh-so British, we get a little overheated as the sun moves around, but the attentive waiter shifts our table into the shade, and then eventually moves us into the blissfully air-conditioned section of the restaurant.
Lunch finished, we head up the road to Nikki Beach Barbados. Upscale glamour in an amazing location, the club is just a short drive from Holetown. Part of the ever-growing Nikki Beach portfolio, this glamorous hot-spot is set on 1.4 acres of pristine beachfront, and boasts a pool with luxury loungers and cabanas, a swim up bar with DJ, in-house saxophonist, percussionist and violinist, and an extensive menu of delicious cocktails and food. Watching the sunset here, we really are in Instagram heaven.
On our final day we get up early in anticipation of an excursion that promises the perfect mix of sightseeing and fun. Cool Runnings offer glamorous catamaran cruises with opportunities to stop and swim in some of the island’s best snorkelling spots. The water is so clear and inviting, and the team on board so encouraging and supportive, that I overcome my usual nerves and manage to swim in the sea. I am rewarded by coming up close and personal with turtles, all manner of exotic fish and a sting ray, and find a whole new confidence in the water. With a free bar serving the ubiquitous rum cocktails, the Captain spinning some excellent tunes, and a feast served up at lunchtime, spirits are high, and we spend a very happy day dancing on the decks. If you’re lucky enough to visit Barbados this is definitely one for the to-do list.
We’ve never felt as sad about heading home from a holiday as we do when the time comes to leave The Crane. The hotel has been the perfect home from home – with a large dose of luxury pampering thrown in – and Barbados has taken hold of our hearts in a way we never imagined possible.
Prices for a week’s holiday (between 1 October and 15 November 2019) start at £1,289 per person, based on two adults staying in a Junior Garden View Suite on a bed and breakfast basis. Price includes flights from LGW with Virgin Atlantic and return private car transfers between the hotel and the airport in Barbados. Visit destinology.co.uk or call 01204 806341 for more details (thecrane.com). www.visitbarbados.org