Travel

Where to stay in Barbados

Barbados’a traditional landmark hotels have been welcoming visitors for over a century, but this Caribbean island idyll is also home to a crop of chic boutique boltholes, smart self-catering cottages and eco-lodges. Wednesday, 17 April

By Nigel Tisdall

Barbados has long typified the picture-postcard Caribbean escape — its tricolour of golden sands, lush greenery and turquoise waters has been enchanting visitors since the 19th century. Today the island’s renowned for its bevy of well-established, high-class hotels centred around Holetown and Speightstown, where guests are pampered silly with sea views, fluffy towels and fruity cocktails. Many of these fill up during the peak season (mid-December to late April), after which room rates drop by a third. Bridgetown and the south coast are more congested, home to karaoke bars and sprawling resorts, but the wave-lashed Atlantic coast remains rugged and pleasingly underdeveloped. Many travellers opt for great-value, all-inclusive deals, but Barbados also does a fine line in discreetly chic, small hotels dotted across the island — perfect for that unspoilt spot of paradise.

For a touch of class: Coral Reef Club (£££)

Opened in 1952, this distinguished west coast resort is a leafy beachfront sanctuary set in 12 acres of mature gardens. It’s been run with great dedication by the O’Hara family for more than six decades and attracts many regulars, but is far from stuffy. The 88 rooms are generously sized with a chic, country house style — only the grand Plantation Suites have a TV while the entry-level Garden Rooms are a good choice for parents with young children. There’s an elegant spa, two pools, tennis and watersports. Menus veer towards the traditional, with plenty more dining options in nearby Holetown.

Rooms: Doubles from $505 (£386), B&B

For a taste of the wild east: The Atlantic Historic Inn (££)

This characterful seven-room boutique hotel in Tent Bay is a good place to enjoy the wind and waves of the island’s less-developed Atlantic coast. Vintage photographs of the Barbados Light Railway that once ran past here adorn its walls and while the hotel dates from the late 19th century, its buildings received a stylish colonial-look makeover in 2009. Four rooms have a direct ocean view, and all are large with a four-poster bed, wooden floors, period furnishings, air conditioning and TV.

Rooms: Doubles from $340 (£260), B&B

For beach bums: Fairmont Royal Pavilion (£££)

This luxury, family-friendly beach resort in St James couldn’t get much closer to the sea. Its 72 rooms and suites are set in two three-storey blocks and recently benefited from a multimillion-dollar upgrade that introduced a light, contemporary feel featuring natural woods and the vibrant work of Bajan artist Sheena Rose. The top-floor Signature Oceanfront Rooms promise superb views and privacy, the ground-level Beachfront Suites have an extended patio and butler service, while in between lie the more affordable Luxury Oceanfront Rooms. Every morning there’s a free trip to see the local turtles, and there’s a spa and tennis courts. 

Rooms: Doubles from $648 (£495), B&B

For added value: Colony Club by Elegant Hotels

In 2018, the Colony Club celebrated its 70th anniversary by replacing its business centre with a Rum Vault boasting a global collection of 150 rums. That’s typical of the go-ahead style of this warm-hearted beach resort just north of Holetown, notable for offering its guests numerous complimentary activities including an island tour, fishing trips and water-taxi service. The 96 rooms come in a smart, well-appointed style and are set in a narrow ribbon of pools and gardens covering seven acres. Shaded by tall casuarina trees, the beach can feel congested, but this remains one of the most inviting stops on the west coast.

Rooms: Doubles from $539 (£412), B&B

For all-inclusive indulgence: Sea Breeze Beach House (££)

The Bajan owners and cheerful staff at this four-star, all-inclusive beach resort in Christ Church clearly want their guests to have a good time: think bubbling hot tubs, a rum shop, two beaches, three pools, four restaurants and sparkling wine at sunset. While the three-acre site has a disjointed feel, with 122 rooms spread across three buildings, these now include 44 Luxury Collection suites unveiled in May 2018 that fill a six-storey block with terrific views. If you like your resort busy and sociable with plenty of treats, look no further. 

Rooms: Doubles from $761 (£581), all-inclusive

For country house comforts: Sweetfield Manor (££)

Not fussed about staying by the beach? This elegant 1900s mansion rests on a rise overlooking Bridgetown, with three acres of gardens, a jungle-wrapped pool and some 30 peacocks. Now converted into a high-end boutique hotel, Sweetfield Manor has 10 rooms — some are in the main building with antiques and four-poster beds, while others are in an adjacent building.

Rooms: Doubles from $266 (£203), B&B

For a family affair: Coconut Court Beach Hotel (£)

The south coast of Barbados may be heavily developed, but one of its main joys is its crop of independently-owned resorts. Coconut Court Beach Hotel is a fine example, run by the Blades family for over 40 years. Set beside Hastings Beach, it has 112 sea view rooms, each with a balcony and mini-kitchen. Avoid the dated Standard rooms in favour of the refurbished Superiors.

Rooms: Doubles from $186 (£142), room only

For seafood & surf: Ecolifestyle & Lodge (£)

In February last year, this white wooden guesthouse on a hillside overlooking Tent Bay was taken over by a couple from New York who are slowly transforming it into an eco-sensitive east coast getaway. They’ve started with the tiny Eco Restaurant, which now serves a meat-free menu. Nearly all the 10 rooms have a king-size bed and kitchenette.

Rooms: Doubles from $142 (£108), room only

For a gourmet getatway: Little Good Harbour (£££)

Tucked away in the far north west of the island at Shermans, this well-established family-run resort offers the best of both worlds for food lovers. Cooks will appreciate the full kitchen facilities in its 20 plushly-furnished cottages and suites, which have up to three bedrooms, and you can pick up freshly caught fish in nearby Six Men’s Bay. The hotel, which welcomes families, also has an acclaimed waterfront restaurant, Fish Pot, set in a former 17th-century fort. The menu includes curries, fresh fish and interesting salads. There are two pools and a small spa, and the abiding mood is civilised and tranquil. 

Rooms: Doubles from $325 (£248), room only

For a chic bolthole: Gibbs Glade Cottage & Garden Studios

Just across the road from the golden sands of Mullins Beach, this ensemble of one cottage and three studios suits independent-minded travellers who prefer to steer clear of the big resorts. Assiduously maintained by its helpful British owners, the compact site includes a 35ft pool, and a barbecue. There’s not much privacy, but the friendly welcome, decent wi-fi, air conditioning and proximity to Holetown and Speightstown make this an appealing stop. Rates include daily cleaning and a complimentary welcome kit with fresh milk, coffee, beer and rum.

Rooms: Doubles from $77 (£59), room only

Published in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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