A luxury guide to Barbados: Where to stay, where to eat and what to see and do
Pina Colada Scallops, Reggae on the Beach, getting lost in the space between the sky and the sea: luxury travel writer Amira Arasteh discovers why Barbados has to be on your bucket list.
You know how on most flights you hope that the airline has budget to secure a tunnel passage from the plane doors into the airport terminal? We’ve all been there, dragging our suitcases, woodenly, down the steps as we battle drafts from being just off the runway.
But as I landed in Barbados, this was a feeling I did not have. As the doors opened, I was met with pouring sunshine and a blast of heat that – unlike that of the Bakerloo Line on TFL – made me close my eyes and smile – in complete bliss. And I was still on the plane steps.
The Bajan people are kind and hospitable. That was shown immediately as we were greeted, before entering the airport building, with tamarind-flavoured drinks to pass the time through passport control.
Arriving at my accommodation for my time on the island, I could see the sea as soon as I walked up to the lobby. The great thing about Sea Breeze Beach House is the way it was built; almost every spot on the grounds has a sea view because the hotel site was built horizontally, instead of vertically, as is the case with most hotels. I tell you, there is no more beautiful sight than the line where the sky meets the sea and the bright turquoise of the ocean merges with the deep blue ceiling.
The hotel had recently been refurbished, after being closed for seven months. A 4.5* establishment, I was in awe as I walked into my suite. I’ve never stayed in a hotel room this close to the ocean before and I’m so looking forward to falling asleep listening to the sound of the waves. I make a note to leave my curtains open so that I can awake naturally to a soft pink sky and the view of the sea.
On the agenda for the evening is Oistins Bay Gardens; the Friday night hot spot and I’m excited. We had passed this place on the way to the hotel and my driver had pointed it out to me. As we arrived, the smell of grilled and fried fish hit us like a wave of holy goodness. Everything smelled so good that I knew I was drooling as I walked to our table. No shame, just eager anticipation for my meal. We were recommended the Mahi-Mahi but I was also tempted by the fried Flying Fish.
Thankfully another girl was keen to share and try both so this solved a whole load of food FOMO problems. Sides of macaroni pie, rice and beans, plantain and coleslaw were also ordered and I clinked ‘cheers’ with the rest of my group, taking a sip of a Banks beer, the local lager. Both fish were incredible – so full of flavour – and the sides were damn good too. Macaroni pie is, you guessed it, a pie-sized portion of macaroni ‘cake’. When in Barbados…
It is not just Oistin’s that awakened my tastebuds. One of our stops for lunch was to eat more rice and beans, plantain and macaroni pie. You’d think one would tire of the same food but oh, no. Not possible. This isn’t some average, stale cafeteria meal. The beef stew and barbecued chicken at this hidden lunch spot gem were delicious; so soft and tender. Where’s a reusable container when you need one?
Dinner one night was at a restaurant called Tapas, which caused me a chuckle as the portions were anything but similar to the Spanish small plates with which one associates the word. Fried whitebait was moreish and watermelon cocktails were on tap – a perfect dinner in my eyes.
Does anyone’s jaw not drop when they read the words ‘Parmesan glazed red snapper with basil mash and spinach and cheese sauce’? I won’t even apologise should I have drooled a tiny bit. Even the food at the hotel’s Mahogany Lounge sat on par with the rest of the food on the island; these Bajans know how to grill, eh? Fish, steak, ribs – you name it and they’ll grill it – and they’ll grill it good.
Another memorable eating spot was Cocktail Kitchen – trendy and cool with delicious rum cocktails – because how could they not? The food was equally as incredible. I tried my first breadfruit (from the same family as jackfruit); roasted with lobster, saltfish, tobiko and Bajan pepper aioli. It was as much of a treat for the mouth as you’d expect.
Writing about what came next genuinely causes salivation on my tongue. Is that too graphic? No, you need to know. Pina Colada jumbo scallops. With a pineapple and cilantro (coriander for us Brits) CRUMBLE. Vanilla. Braised. Plantain. Puree. Ginger scented sweet potato mash, coconut, picked pineapple and beets and more cilantro. Sorry, coriander. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this dish. I don’t think I ever could.
Barbados is a small island and you’d be tempted to spend the duration of your visit on the beach with a daiquiri permanently attached to your hand – who would blame you? But Sea Breeze Beach House organised a tour of the island with Island Safari, a jeep tour company which showed us the beauty and culture of Barbados. Driving next to the sugar canes was incredible – they grow to up to 10 to 15 ft tall! But it was so sad to hear that the sugar we had in our morning coffees was not local.
According to Mervin, our safari guide, the Bajans entered into an agreement with other countries to export a certain amount of sugar each year. Over the years, the amount of sugar has lessened but how much they have to sell has not, meaning that the Bajan people have to import their own sugar. The rest of the tour was beautiful, as we explored all corners of the island; sunbathing on palm tree trunks and off-road driving as if we were on a roller-coaster.
We also were able to tour Harrison’s Caves, driving through the shafts and tunnels, exploring the 27-degree heat caverns (it’s worth a few drops of sweat, I promise you) and learning all about the limestone that gives Barbados some of the cleanest drinking water in the world.
No island trip would be complete without a lazy day sailing a catamaran and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew than those aboard the Tiami Catamaran Cruise; such humorous and friendly staff that really made the day exceptional. That and the fact that they kept giving me first choice of the macaroni pie, of course. Snorkelling led us to see turtles, as well as shipwrecks and we even tried to negotiate a mortgage on Rihanna’s One Sandy Lane property (unsuccessfully).
If you come at the right time of year (end of April), you can even catch the renowned Reggae Festival. Breathing the same air as Rihanna, the festival puts on a show of the best reggae beats the Caribbean has to offer, featuring the vocal stylings of artsits such as Buju Banton, Busy Signal, Sizzla and Dr. Puffy.
Have you ever been to a reggae festival or concert? I encourage you to go. It’s an amazing feeling when you realise there’s no mosh pit and that no one’s arm is pressed up against your neck and you don’t have to count down how long it will be before you volunteer yourself to be crowd surfed to safety.
Everyone is chilled, as is the nature of the music being made; everyone is feeling the rhythm, rather than jumping up and down so aggressively you have a hard time understanding what is being felt in that moment.
I have to hand it to the Bajans, they kept me fed and watered through the long hours at Kensington Oval and Pirate’s Cove but my biggest thanks goes to Joanna from Baje Spa; my saviour, who heard my cry at 4am when my feet were sore and tired and my sorry, jet-lagged self stumbled out of the arena and over to the foot massage tent in a daze. Pizza in hand, pressure perfect and sat in a relaxing lull. So rock and roll, I know, but I’d been up for 24 hours at this point, I shall remind you.
Is it bad to say the best thing about my trip to Barbados were the pillows in my hotel room? Probably. And it’s definitely untrue as I don’t think I could pick out a favourite point in this paradise island. But a huge congratulations to the Sea Breeze Beach House for stellar bedlinen as these were definitely something I could not stop thinking about during my entire trip and a while afterwards.
If you’re planning a holiday to Barbados, head over to Visit Barbados for all the best spots to go on your trip.