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Quintessential Caribbean

Bountiful Barbados

Jack Davidson discovers the island’s greatest treasures at Sandals

They look like wind-up toys. Marching one after another, with clockwork regularity, a stream of baby turtles, miniature flippers whirring into life, emerge from their sandy nest.

Nothing draws the crowds quite like these hatchlings. Word spreads quickly among the dinner guests at Sandals Barbados resort, and soon a sizeable gathering is crouched on the beach.

Sadly, it doesn’t quite play out like Planet Earth. As more and more turtles try to escape into the moonless night many lose their bearings and veer towards the hotel lights. There is a lot of cooing among the frocks and the golf shoes, as we all trip over ourselves in the dark trying not to tread on them.

Sandals staff wisely usher the crowds from the beach as the survivors are packed into boxes, ready to be released when the sea is quieter. Ninety-two, someone counted. 'We always know when the babies have hatched,' I was told. 'It’s the only time the buffet is ever empty.'

Escaping to Barbados for a week or two is the stuff of dreams, so excitement levels are understandably high. The attentive all-inclusive service, fabulous food and comprehensive luxury is enough to keep many within the hotel grounds for their entire stay.

The soft sand of the adjoining Dover Beach is a wonderful place to relax and there are innumerable activities to burn off the calories, from yoga at sunrise to lessons with tennis pros.

 

Dining on the soft white sands of Dover Beach

 

COASTAL CRUISE

For those looking to explore the island's platinum west coast, a catamaran is a must.

The boat is crewed by larger-than-life characters such as Brian ‘deAction Man’ Talma, who serve up a sumptuous spread of jerk chicken, flying fish and exquisite rum cake, while doubling up as ocean guides. We stop for a spot of snorkelling with hawksbills and green leatherbacks – fully-grown relatives of the babies I saw hatching at the hotel, and dive down to submerged wrecks moored to the sea bed. 

The shoreline is fanned by palms guarding the palatial villas of the rich and famous.  

There is little rising beyond the tree line: the island is effectively a large slab of coral dangling from the south-eastern tip of the Antiles. The flat topography makes it ideal for agriculture, sugar production in particular, which was especially appealing to the British who colonised Barbados in 1627 and didn’t let it go until independence more than 300 years later. 

Getting around is relatively straightforward – even strapped into the back of a jeep on one of the island’s eccentric safari tours. The mood is certainly buoyant – there’s something about bouncing around uncontrollably that makes people inexplicably happy. 

The tour highlight is Bathsheba on the east coast. Atlantic-facing, the turbulent waters favoured by local surfers have churned up huge coral boulders, which sit shrouded in sea mist like guardians to an ancient kingdom. It is a world away from the raked sands of the west coast villas and offers the luxury of isolation and a landscape of breathtaking beauty.  

 

Lively Friday nights at Oistins Fish Fry are a must for all ages

 

FRIDAY FISH FRY

Friday night and nearby Oistin’s fish market is heaving. The resort runs a free shuttle bus to this island institution, where row upon row of food outlets serve everything from ‘dolphin’ (not the porpoise but a fish called mahi-mahi) to lobster, all grilled or fried in delicious spices. 

Hundreds turn out to eat and dance to the carnivalesque soca music, performed live in the centre of the market.

Barbados is fertile ground for musicians: they crop up here like sugar cane, moving with effortless rhythm, emanating sounds as sweet as molasses. After a rum punch or two I’m soon swaying along awkwardly to the upbeat vocals of raw Rhianna hopefuls.

Next morning, with a sore head, I find myself in the capital Bridgetown, listening to a stout, elderly gentleman and gazing longingly at the shade afforded by his wide-brimmed fedora. 

You are standing, says Maurice Greenidge – eminent local historian and my guide to the city – on sacred ground; 1652 is the year, and on this spot rum was born. Barbados loves rum.

I scan the colourful facades of the old harbour market. Carlisle bay sweeps away to the former British garrison. Bright colours blur with the sound of car horns; music is beating underneath it all, and the heat settling down from above. 

It is easy to while away the time here at a luxury all-inclusive resort. But venture beyond and you will quickly realise that life in Barbados offers so much more, paradise included. 

SEE WHAT TRAVEL WRITERS’ RECOMMEND. WHERE TO STAY AND WHAT TO DO.

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