My last visit to this quintessentially Caribbean island was back in the late 90s, but since those days Barbados has gone through a number of significant improvements and changes. My worst fears were of discovering the island I had fallen in love with had succumbed to the blight experienced by other holiday destinations of rampant ‘modernisation’ resulting in ghastly convoluted mazes of concrete monstrosities.
What a relief to find little had changed with this friendly and fun island, and even the Grantley Adams (enlarged and vastly improved) cavernous airport had lost little of its former old-fashioned charm.
THE PLATINUM COAST. This time round my destination was the plush golf resort of Royal Westmoreland on the west coast, known as the ‘Platinum Coast’ because this is where most of the exclusive and expensive hotels and elite villas reside.
Nevertheless, along the narrow coastal roads from the airport the small, quaintly coloured houses remain and while the hotels of my former visits have had vast amounts of money spent on refurbishment, the welcoming Barbadian charm is still in evidence. No wonder that so many enjoy coming back to this little piece of paradise.
PALATIAL VILLA. Large rum punches were waiting for us on our arrival at the villa where we were staying on the Royal Westmoreland estate. I soon discovered from the little black guest book that the owners are a certain Mr and Mrs Rooney, but apparently actual visits are quite rare – they prefer to stay at the even plusher surroundings of the nearby Sandy Lane Hotel.
The combination of an eight-hour flight, the heat and the humidity soon took their toll, but a cooling dip in the villa’s reasonably sized swimming pool took priority over an afternoon nap and proved a perfect antidote to sagging energies. My cosy downstairs bedroom was conveniently a few yards from the pool and perfectly located for early morning swims. That evening, the club’s in-house chef Silvan turned up to cook us a delicious barbeque, but bed soon beckoned and the moment my head hit the pillow I was sound asleep.
FUN IN THE SUN. It’s not all sun, sea and sand in Barbados, there’s a compelling range of scenic surprises, fascinating historic stories and rich architecture to discover. The island is slightly bigger than the Isle of Wight but has two very contrasting coastlines.
The west coast is where the calm seas, endless sandy beaches and plenty of swimming, snorkelling and sailing can be found, while the east side is more rugged, far less populated and features wild Atlantic winds and choppy seas. This is where itinerant windsurfers spend time hoping to catch their ultimate wave and where, with the help of a chauffeur-driven car, we spent a day exploring this beautiful but slightly less accessible side.
We drove across the island through stunning verdant green hills similar to the English countryside, before stopping off at the historic St Nicholas Abbey with its fascinating Jacobean structure and panoramic views overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. From here we meandered along the pretty coastal road to the quaint seaside village of Bethsheba for a light lunch at the popular Round House before returning via a different route to our villa late afternoon.
SPAS, MASSAGES AND HAIRDRESSERS. The Indulgence Spa, across the road from Mullins restaurant, is now part of Royal Westmoreland. Here I had one of the best full-body deep tissue massages ever – it left me totally relaxed and ready to play my first round of golf.
Should the need arise, there is also an extensive range of beauty treatments and a small gym for workouts. A mobile masseuse or hairdresser can also make a home visit to your villa. Some provide a wide a range of other beauty treatments, including manicures and pedicures.
GOLFING PARADISE. For such a small island, Barbados is truly blessed with an incredible variety of golfing opportunities. On the south coast is the Barbados Golf Club; providing an enjoyable 18-hole championship course or a 9-hole course, both are open to the public. On the west coast, the plethora of PGA courses in the area presents a remarkable golfing paradise.
Royal Westmoreland’s 18-hole, Par-72 championship course is a firm favourite. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, the world-renowned golf architect, he has skilfully incorporated local natural features into the course’s overall design. It is consistently rated as one of the top courses in the Caribbean, and is surrounded by beautiful scenery, with stunning views of the ocean from most holes.
There are an astonishing number of bunkers carved out of the lush green turf which makes for a decidedly ‘thinking man’s’ course and the need for every club in the bag to be used. Roger Beale, the club’s knowledgeable Director of Golf, drove me around and gave me a personal guided tour of the entire site, pointing out its many challenges, idiosyncrasies and the undulating shape of the greens. For our sins, we played a few holes but the highlight of my day was definitely the one-hour lesson from Roger, which I found tremendously helpful and inspirational.
APES HILL Apes Hill Club is a mere 10 minutes drive from Royal Westmoreland, and has a stunning Par 72 course, which opened six years ago. Ben Hatch, the head pro (who once worked for Wentworth), thoughtfully arranged an early 8.30 tee time and agreed to play the back nine with me.
Ben’s intimate knowledge of the course proved very useful, particularly on the 12th par-4 hole. Somehow I managed to par when my ball conveniently bounced off a bump and rolled directly onto the green within four feet of the flag and, much to Ben’s amazement, followed this with a perfect putt to finish in four.
This course is a joy to play. It has generous fairways and requires considerable accuracy to avoid the many strategically placed bunkers, but with the help of Ben’s knowledgeable input my confidence soared, especially on the 12th green. Interestingly, ladies tees are referred to only as ‘forward tees’ and the others ‘backward tees’.
For nine holes we almost had the course entirely to ourselves, bar many black-faced, shy monkeys – the only spectators to witness me paring the 12th hole. They peered curiously at us and watched us briefly play from a distance and then leaped off through branches and disappeared into the dense vegetation surrounding the course.
SANDY LANE. Sandy Lane’s two championship courses are mostly for the exclusivity of hotel guests, although tee times are available between nine and 10am. What’s appealing is that the 15 minutes that separate the groups allows you the luxury of playing without having anyone in view. The mystical Green Monkey is another Tom Fazio design and is regarded as the ‘millionaire’s golfing experience’.
The Country Club is renowned as another challenging course, but it is the original ‘old’ nine course that meanders through the magnificent estate that is the most charming, even though the fairways are tight and greens vastly smaller, which makes the course challenging in its own right.
SMOOTH SAILING. Sailing on Cool Runnings, a 60-foot catamaran (probably named after the famous Jamaican bobsleigh team), was a wonderful way to spend a day. We left Bridgetown’s historic harbour at 10am, fully equipped with sun hats, sun lotion, towels and even seasick pills, although catamarans are notorious for their smooth sailing. Fortunately, the boat was only half full which left plenty of space for sunbathing and lounging on deck.
With favourable light winds, sails and spinnaker were unfurled. As soon as the harbour had disappeared behind us, we headed north before anchoring in a small bay to snorkel and swim alongside dolphins.
After another stop for turtles, we remained anchored for a leisurely lunch of a delicious mixture of local dishes, served with a variety of fresh salads and all kinds of drinks from rum punches to wine. And if snorkelling is not your thing, then there’s always the Atlantic submarine to take you 40 feet below sea level. Here you can view a fascinating collection of marine life through large lighted windows.
FINE DINING. Something that has unquestionably changed for the better since my last visit is the number and quality of restaurants available, ranging from fine dining to friendly beach bars and bistros. The beachside restaurants were wonderful, all serving delicious gourmet food with nearby lapping waves part of the romantic setting.
The popular Cliff Restaurant is one the most sought after in the Caribbean. Paul Owens is its creative head chef and now has a worldwide following. That evening we started off with a selection of exotic rum punches in the cosy bar upstairs, overlooking a lit-up sandy beach, and then descended to a beachside table for a memorable gourmet experience.
For my main course I chose the popular fillet of dolphin (known locally as mahi-mahi) with mushroom duxelle, wilted spinach, Parmesan melted cheese sauce and creamed potatoes – a truly delicious dish that comes highly recommended.
LONE STAR. Our next gourmet experience came by way of the Lone Star restaurant. Its name conjures up burgers and fries, but how wrong I was. This is another gourmet beachside restaurant, where the sound of the sea harmoniously mingles with the background music. This time I enjoyed another popular local dish, Blackened Chicken Breast, as my main course.
Mullins beachside restaurant has changed little since I used to hang out there many years ago. It is part of the Royal Westmoreland resort and has a private beach and dining area for owners and guests’ exclusive use. We enjoyed a splendid lunch of coconut shrimp, served with julienne vegetables and a coconut curry sauce. Finally, if you like fish, you must head to the Fish Pot. It’s further up the coast, near Speightstown, and has several delectable fresh dishes available.
With so many delightful restaurants, stunning courses and luxury hotels on this island, it definitely won’t be another 20 years before I return to this delightful golfer’s paradise.
Good to know
We flew Virgin Airways who has daily flights from Gatwick to Barbados.
WHERE TO STAY & PLAY
Royal Westmoreland Resort
Barbados Golf Club
TRANSPORT, TRIPS AND RESTAURANTS
Chauffeur Transport: Derreck Morgan – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cool Runnings Catamaran – www.coolrunnings.com
The Cliff – www.thecliffbarbados.com
The Lone Star www.lonestarbarbados.com
Round House – www.roundhousebarbados.com
Fish Pot Restaurant – www.littleharbourbarbados.com