Barbados – so much more than Sun and Sand
Who wouldn’t be enchanted by Barbados? it’s an exotic, colourful vibrant island full of natural beauty and lush landscapes with an idyllic coastline. The weather is warm and sunny all year round with an average daytime high of 30°C, and a wonderful breeze, which means it doesn’t feel unbearably hot. It would be easy to simply enjoy the sun and sea, but in fact, there is so much to do and explore on Barbados, as I quickly found out.
The Welchman Hall Gully
If you want to get close to nature, I would really recommend taking a trip to the centre of the island to Welchman Hall Gully in the parish of St Thomas.
First, we took in the magnificent views of the lush hilly green landscape below.
Then, an enchanting tranquil three-quarters of a mile walking tour through the gully, once part of a network of limestone caves linked to the Harrison Cave until its roof collapsed, forming this spectacular gully. Gullies are generally formed when the land is pushed up and cracked, then developed by rain erosion.
This collapsed cave is now a majestic and densely wooded tropical forest, 200 years ago it was part of a plantation owned by a Welshman called General William Asygell Williams (hence the name) who went on introduce tropical trees and plants.
Along the walk, you’ll see extraordinary ancient stalagmites and stalactites along with rich vegetation and a tremendous variety of plants, flowers and trees. Huge palms, vines, bearded fig trees, bamboo, nutmeg, mahogany, clove, banana vines and many other indigenous species, line the route. This place is reputed to be the birthplace of the grapefruit.
The highlight of our walk was coming face to face with the wonderfully cute Green Monkeys, which are indigenous to Barbados. The monkeys take shelter in the gully and staff feed them each morning with bananas. We were warned they might not appear as feeding time was long over, so I was very excited when they arrived, whole families of monkeys playing at our feet and mischievously following us through the gully. As you can see I took lots of pictures, it was such a wonderful experience.
Now for something completely different….
Rum Shop Tour
We were taken on an authentic local Rum Shop tour where we were able to see how the Bajans socialise over a bottle of rum. The rum shops are often situated in small huts on the roadside or in the towns and villages; some are tucked away in residential areas. They are the equivalent to a British pub, a meeting and drinking place with many also serving food.
We started our tour at Kermit’s Bar, which is one of the most popular rum shops in Barbados; we enjoyed our first taste of Mount Gay dark rum. Our lovely guide Quain taught us the rum shop etiquette, he brought the bottle to the table with some mixers (coke & tonic) he then hit the bottle, poured some into the cap, which he then threw away (one for the soldiers)…. Cheers!
This was washed down with a selection of delicious food – we ate pickled shrimp, breadfruit and mixed seafood with souse with a cucumber pickle.
Next stop was the A&G Sports Bar
This really was off the beaten track, tucked away in a residential area and very much a local’s bar, In reality, it was just a small shed in someone’s backyard with a screen to watch sports, with rum of course. It had a real community feel to it, catering to a small village, like a traditional village pub. We were made to feel very welcome.
We were hitting the white rum now, which is reportedly stronger than the dark rum. We drank it with ginger ale and orange fizz, then the chef joined us with a fabulous offering of some tasty salt fish cakes and deep fried chicken wings marinated down to the bone. All absolutely delicious served with some Bajan pepper sauce…it doesn’t get more authentic than this!
Our final stop was at the Sand Dollar Café
The Sand Dollar Café is in St Lawrence, just down the road from our hotel the Ocean Two Resort and Residencies. This was obviously a very popular destination, as it was full of locals and tourists alike all enjoying the friendly personal service along with proper rum punches and great food. We met with proprietor Ann who is passionate about making great fresh local food and has a reputation for offering one of the best rum punches in Barbados.
Ann’s Rum Punch recipe tips below:
1 portion sour
2 portions sweet
3 portions strong
4 portions weak
Nutmeg to taste
I have come to discover that the Barbadians have a very sweet tooth and love their sugar and add it to everything!
We ate a Sand Dollar Salad – which was wonderfully fresh with 14 different ingredients including cheese (of your choice) olives, cranberries and broccoli with a selection of dressings. Ann is more than happy to make these delicious salads to order.
We also enjoyed beautifully fresh chargrilled Swordfish and Kingfish and some classic spicy grilled jerk chicken which had a real bite to it.
We got a taste of how the Barbadians live it up when a ‘party bus’ stopped outside the rum shop, it was literally bouncing up and down as it spilled into the street, high spirits, music and dancing…my oh my do the Barbadians know how to party!
Talking of parties……,
Next day we set sail on the Jammin’ Catamaran Cruise
One of the highlights of my trip has to be setting sail from Bridgetown on the Jammin’ catamaran.
We spent an idyllic day on this stunning boat sailing the pristine turquoise waters, to the sounds of Reggae and Soca, rum punch in hand, sunbathing on deck and swimming and snorkeling in the sea.
We made a couple of stops out at sea in Carlisle Bay to snorkel; we were supplied with all the equipment and guided towards the best areas to see the turtles, and much to my delight we did see several.
We also swam around a shipwreck and saw lots of tropical fish. There are several shipwrecks in the area, some of which were sunk on purpose to create artificial reefs. Apparently, Carlisle Bay is being turned into conservation area over the next couple of years.
The cruise wasn’t just for tourists by any means; stylish, well-dressed groups of local people were also there to enjoy a great day out and groove to the summer sounds.
I was quite excited when our guide Lennon pointed out Rihanna’s spectacular Barbadian home situated on the seafront.
The atmosphere was vibrant and friendly, fresh juices and cold drinks and the obligatory rum punch, coffee and tea all on tap and the staff were great fun and always on hand to make sure we were well looked after.
Lunch was a traditional Bajan buffet with a delicious array of dishes including macaroni Pie, flying fish, spicy chicken, rice and peas and coleslaw.
By the time we docked, everyone was up and dancing, sun-soaked and full of the joys of sailing the seas. This really was the ultimate day out!
The next day we drove into the centre of the island where the landscape is a lush green to go to one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean.
St Nicholas Abbey
St Nicholas Abbey is a Jacobean-style mansion built in 1658 located in the parish of St Peter. It was once a thriving plantation house and is now one of only three left in the world. It’s set in gorgeous tranquil grounds, which are well worth exploring. We took a tour of the Great House filled with a collection of historical artefacts and antiques and learnt more about its history.
We saw the outhouses, which came in the form of a wooden bench with four different sized holes and buckets below…. clearly you could pick your size!
Interestingly in 1728 it was purchased by Abraham Cumberbatch, who was Benedict Cumberbatch’s seventh-great-grandfather. It stayed in the family until 1830 when slavery was abolished. It’s true to say that slavery built the Cumberbatch fortune.
The original slave records and ledgers are on display in the house. A humbling sight which it reminds us just how appallingly human beings were treated in time gone by.
Barbados is widely credited for being the birthplace of rum. Sugar cane was first planted in Barbados for commercial purposes in 1640, although settlers had already been harvesting small crops and producing a local beverage called ‘Kill-Devil’ or ‘rumbullion’ which was described as ‘….a hot, hellish and terrible liquor”. But this early crude spirit went on to become very popular and over the next century rum distillery improved considerably and ended up being a valuable trading commodity.
St Nicholas Abbey is once again a producing rum distillery; its current owners had the mill restored in 2006 and it’s used to grind sugar cane for their rum production. We were shown around the distillery and were able to sample a few of their fine rums. We tried the 5, 12 and the 18-year-old rum, I found out that, as it gets older it gets smoother and more expensive, really rather delicious and very much like a fine cognac.
When you’ve taken your tour its well worth stopping at the café, which serves light lunches, and beverages and is set upon a platform affording a marvellous view of the lush valley below.
Sadly we were on the last legs of my Barbados trip now, but I had still had a trip to the stunning East Coast to look forward to before heading home.
As we drove to the East side of the island we went through the less developed Scotland district in the parish of St Andrew, a National Park. The expansive hilly green highlands appear as a half bowl with dense, jungle-like vegetation, very different to the rest of the island.
We stopped at the Morgan Lewis Windmill, which sits splendidly upon the hillside; it is the last operational windmill in the Caribbean.
The popular seaside town of Bathsheba is on the East coast in the parish of St Joseph. When we arrived I was struck by its dramatic rugged landscape, huge palm trees line the coast along the beachside and large rock formations stand regally in the sea.
Legend has it that Bathsheba; the wife of King David bathed in milk to keep her skin soft and beautiful. It’s also said that Barbados’s surf, which covered the white waters of Bathsheba, is rich in minerals and life, this is said to have resembled Bathsheba’s bath in both health and appearance.
You can see why the Barbadians and discerning tourists come to this beautiful area; it’s quite intoxicating and perfect for blowing away the cobwebs and breathing in the fresh air. It’s also a great destination for the surfers, with big steady rollers coasting in across the Atlantic Ocean.
Bathsheba is a small fishing community, but you can find a variety of guesthouses, rum shops and restaurants along the coast.
We lunched on the outdoor terrace at the lovely Atlantis Hotel overlooking the rocky and pebbly shoreline of Tent Bay. The hotel dates back to the late 19th century when a railway line used to run from Bridgetown to the East Coast. The railway is now defunct and there are no train lines running on the island. (Barbados is not very well served for transport, there are some buses but I would recommend renting a car).
The hotel has an airy, neo-colonial look, with big shutters and dark wooden floors, with a wonderful large terrace looking out to sea. It would be a perfect place to stay if you fancied a trip to the laid-back East coast, with its beautiful natural landscape, an ideal spot to unwind, read a book and listen to the waves.
We ate a splendid lunch, I enjoyed a fresh juice and the Tent Bay catch of the day, which was a delicious blackened Mahi-mahi, served with a fresh and tangy tomato caper salsa French fries.
I would have loved to stay here at the Atlantis Hotel a little longer, but sadly my trip was coming to an end and I had a plane to catch. I very much hope to be able to return to Barbados before long, it’s been such an extraordinary trip.
Thinking of visiting yourself and want some top tips for what to do in Barbados? Why not pin this post for later
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Gatwick to Barbados and twice a week from Manchester to Barbados with return Economy fares starting from £453 per person return. For further information and to book please visit www.virginatlantic.com
For further information about Barbados visit the Tourist Board Website
For more about the Year of Culinary Experiences check this link.
For more about Ocean Two Resort and Residences check their website.