Known as ‘Little England’, Barbados is celebrating 50 years of independence but you’ll discover a culture that is worlds away from ‘Brits abroad’, says Blossom Green
Why go? While winter sun tempts many to this colourful Caribbean island, Barbados’s rich history and local culture shines bright this month. The culmination of a year filled with events celebrating 50 years of independence from Britain 50barbados.com visitors to the island’s capital can expect a taste of the best in Bajan heritage, with events showcasing regional art, native ingredients and calypso music. The crescendo is on 30 November, when a parade will wind its way through St Michael, ending with a concert at Garrison Savannah racecourse. It also hosts its annual Food Festival foodwinerum.com from 17-20 November, with local chefs, wine connoisseurs and mixologists heading up a party that criss-crosses the whole country.
What to do On the south-west coast, Bridgetown is easily navigated. It starts at Wickham Lewis Boardwalk, with pretty parks and beaches, and runs through the old colonial buildings, while side streets swell with rum shops occupying old chattel houses. It’s ideally set up for people-watching, so tear yourself away from the sunlounger and join the casual vibe, synchronising watches to ‘island time’, as this is no place to rush. The south side of the Constitution River is the best spot for café culture, while the fish market on the outskirts is a great place to soak up some local colour. Get an insight into Barbados’s best-loved tipple at Mount Gay Rum’s visitor centre mountgayrum.com and cricket-lovers should head straight to Kensington Oval kensingtonoval.org to catch a game or take a tour. End your day with a Calabaza sunset cruise sailcalabaza.com from the harbour.
Where to stay With more gorgeous hotels than you can shake a coconut at, Barbados is top of its game. Follow the coast north to find chic, family run The Sandpiper sandpiperbarbados.com – our favourite of the lot. Enveloped by tropical gardens and the fluttering of hummingbirds, it’s a peaceful, intimate affair. Closer to the action, boutique hotel Little Arches littlearches.com offers a sleepy old-school West-Indies-meets-the-Med charm. Nestled alongside Enterprise Beach, it’s a far cry from the brassy excess of some bigger resorts. Nearby, stalwart Sandals sandals.co.uk is sprawled across three luxury ‘villages’ offering privacy, excellent all-inclusive service and food. Waves Hotel & Spa eleganthotels.com – the new kid on the block – is set to become the place for hedonists.
Where to eat and drink As with most islands, fish is at the heart of Bajan cuisine – and the locals know exactly where to get it. We were lucky to stumble across Cuz’s Fish Shack (00 1 246 425 3474) at Needham’s Point. Look for the bright blue cart and order up a ‘cutter’, the tastiest sandwich around. Expect crusty bread and freshly fried flying fish (the national fish) smothered in a sweet pink pepper sauce. To the south, Oistins Fish Fry is an institution. It springs to life every Friday evening, with an eclectic clientele queuing at beachfront stalls for grilled or fried mahi-mahi, swordfish and tuna served simply with cou-cou (okra and cornmeal). Get there early to catch the sunset and watch the crowd build. As expected from the home of rum, there’s fun-filled nightlife aplenty. Close to Independence Square, The Waterfront Café waterfrontcafe.com.bb has been on the scene for more than 30 years. Make ours a Waterfront Connection (rum, Galliano, white Crème de Cacao and orange). During the day, it’s worth splashing out on a visit to Coral Reef Club coralreefbarbados.com for its superb daily changing lunch buffet where Caribbean and international flavours provide the best of both worlds.
Time running out? Experience the wild Atlantic on the east coast of the island with a trip to the Andromeda Botanic Gardens andromedabarbados.com where you can spot native green monkeys traversing the palms with a superb view.
Trip tip Leave the camouflage swimwear at home. It’s illegal to wear camo unless you’re a member of the Barbados Defence Force and it’s certainly not worth missing a day in the sun over.
Currency is the bajan dollar. Time is five hours behind GMT. Flight time from London is just under nine hours. The cost to carbon-offset is $34.06. For more details visit climatecare.org
Emirates Airlines from Dubai to Grantley Adams International airport via London daily emirates.com
Air Canada flies from Dubai to Grantley Adams International airport via Toronto daily aircanada.com
Visit Barbados is the tourist board’s official island resource. Its website is bursting with travel tips and inspiration for experiences in Bridgetown and further afield. visitbarbados.org
A History of Barbados by Hilary Beckles (Cambridge University Press, $22) will put this month’s celebrations into context.