Walking off the plane at Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport, the scents of ocean and sweet frangipani waft through the tropical afternoon air. Dwayne of Platinum Services, holding a sign calling my name, welcomes me to the front of what is essentially a VIP counter and whisks me through immigration and customs in about five minutes. I don’t know it yet but I am going to be the rare American here as the UK and Canada make up the bulk of tourists, with direct flights from London Gatwick, they’re at eight hours travel time and six time zones away, while I’m only four from Miami and don’t have to adjust my watch.
Curbside, I’m introduced to Karon, who steps from the Mercedes sedan, bottled water and cool scented towelettes in hand, she informs our route will avoid the center of town as school has just let out and traffic at this time, passes for rush hour. Minding the UK Driving Rule, we keep left at the roundabouts, passing through small residential neighborhoods and sugar cane fields. Gone are the days when sugar cane cultivation and its exportation was the island’s primary revenue generator, as the younger generation’s sights on the easier, more lucrative tourism industry, made its choice.
During our short drive Karon proudly fills me in on cricket, Barbados’ national sport and the “The Three Ws” Sir Everton Weekes who, along with Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, formed what is known as “The Three Ws” of West Indian cricket, a big deal throughout the English speaking Caribbean.
Thirty minutes and several roundabouts later, I arrive at my first Elegant Hotels stay, the all-inclusive Crystal Cove, warmly welcomed by the manager, Sophia and some of her gracious staff, I accept their offered fruit punch and sip it on the breezy veranda, overlooking the calm Caribbean Sea. I’m in the town of Appleby, St James Parish, on the island’s legendarily calm western side, understandably called the Platinum Coast because sometimes, the ocean really does look platinum against the deliciously soft golden sand beaches and azure skies. The northernmost point of this island separates the Caribbean Sea from the much rougher Atlantic Ocean where Mother Nature has thousands of miles of open ocean to create her waves.
Fruit punch finished, I walk the lush tropical gardens, the guest rooms look like pastel colored chalets nestled six together, sprinkled along the beach and hillside. They remind me of a tropical ocean-side village. With it’s own walk up entrance and balcony doors that open onto the beach, revealing even more sweetly scented trees, my room’s contemporary furnishings add to the bungalow feel.
Off with the travel clothes and into my swimsuit, I head for the center of the property and two boulder-lined irregularly shaped swimming pools whose novelty has an all-age appeal, enticing children and Bond villains alike. Ordering another fruit punch from the bartender Cedric at the swim-up side of the bar, I peer behind him into the grotto-like Cave Bar, rated one of the top ten swim-up bars in the Caribbean. My back against the counter I look left at the manmade rock formations, to my right are waterfalls and a bridge that give these pools a naturalistic organic feel. Musing I could spend all day here, because as a child you couldn’t have gotten me out, I realize I’m an adult and I have some serious four-day vacationing to do. This is the first part of my stay in two of Elegant Hotels five properties on the western coast. Turtle Beach, their sixth all suite, adults only property is located on the south shore. I’m eager to take advantage of Elegant Hotels “stay in one and play in many” feature which means that while staying at any of the all-inclusive properties, I can explore and take advantage of the amenities and facilities of the sister locations.
After another wardrobe change, it’s almost dinnertime and I find myself poolside, dining al fresco at Reflections restaurant where I’m eager to try the chef’s suggestions. Overlooking the beach and gardens Chef Susan prepares a delicious juicy and tender oven roasted chicken in a Demi glacé white wine reduction, accompanied by locally sourced fresh roasted squash and yard-long beans. At my table she is generous in sharing suggestions how to prepare vegetables when I’m back home.
Getting my feet wet in the ocean has been tempting me since my arrival so after dinner I take late night stroll down the beach and watch the moon and stars. The waters are so calm and breezes so gentle, it’s a perfect way to end the day. I’m surely going to sleep very well, serenaded by the sound of the gentle waves lapping on the shore just outside my windows.
After an excellent night’s rest I’m eager to see what the day has to offer. Fortified by the generous breakfast buffet of tropical fruits, made to order omelets, waffles, scrumptious pastries and breads, I’m fit to tackle any of Crystal Cove’s complementary water activities offered: tube rides, banana boating, waterskiing, standup paddle boarding, etc. Keeping my carbon footprint in mind with the notion of letting the wind do the work, I opt to refresh my sailing skills on a Hobie where Ryan hooks me up with a refresher lesson to help with my sea legs. We sail up and down the coast and as the winds pick up, I really feel the catamaran start to fly. In his trusted care I feel we could even fly a hull.
Back at Crystal Cove lunch is buffet style at the seaside Drifters restaurant with the daily offering of salads, hamburgers, locally caught fish sandwiches, pizza, sweets and more. There are dishes to delight both young and old.
I deliberately under eat at lunch because everyone has been raving about the island’s long-standing Friday night tradition: Oistin’s fish fry at St. Lawrence Gap. As my cab heads out, the manager, Sophie warns me not to be put off by the long line at Pat’s Place because it’s proof of how good her food is, especially the local fried flying fish. Arriving at Oistin’s, I have no trouble finding Pat’s, as the line is obvious, but it moves surprisingly quickly and I spend my time in line hoping for a place to sit. Luckily I do. The meal served in Styrofoam containers and eaten with plastic utensils which is typical of this on the beach fair, with its many densely packed food stands, and picnic benches where diners sit shoulder to shoulder making new friends, as music blasts and the smell of cooking fish fills the evening air. The whirl of activity includes eating, drinking, and dancing on the main stage, which is fun and wiping my mouth, I salute Sophie’s advice with a tip of my Dixie cup. I’m glad I can ease my way back to the serenity of my ocean side room by moving from this din to the quieter domino tents where about 25 enthusiastic men are engaged in that timeless contest. While the pieces are no longer made of ivory, the players’ will to win is as strong as it was when the game was invented. From there I peruse some arts and crafts stands before meeting my cab for the 30 minute ride back for my last night at Crystal Cove, because tomorrow it’s off to another Elegant Hotels property.
Awakened by the waves and not an alarm clock, I hop the convenient Off the Hook water taxi servicing the five Elegant Hotels’ west coast properties, for lunch at the Waves Hotel and Spa, a particularly eco-friendly property, designed for an all-inclusive, more adult pampering experience. The most recent of the Elegant Hotels, which opened in August 2016, is an eco-chic, bright and breezy location with a costal moderne flair and has 72 rooms, 18 of which are designated adults only. For the pampering and serene full spa-experience, from Aquafit pool classes, yoga and Pilates in the Serenity Gardens, and extensive spa facilities, to the locally sourced, organic health-conscious cuisine at the two restaurants Seascape and Shiso Asian fusion, everything is designed to provide guests with relaxation, restoration and revitalization.
For my ocean view lunch at Seascape I start “nice” with a medley of roasted organic vegetables and quinoa, but finish “naughty” with the freshly baked key lime pie and almond milk cappuccino across the lobby at Kyma’s coffee shop.
Today’s second water taxi ride is 45 minutes, heading north along the beach bringing me to Colony Cove, one of the most beautiful, all-inclusive Elegant Hotels properties. Nestled between Holetown and Speightstown, originally known as “The Clouds” this plantation style private residence was built in the 30s on seven acres purchased from the Trent Plantations. By the 40’s this unique property, renamed “The Colony”, was turned into one of the island’s first residential clubs with lush tropical gardens and elegant appointments. Many additions and improvements have been made since to transform this gorgeous property into Elegant Hotels expansive 96-room stylish Colony Cove Hotel. Guests can be as active or passive as they like. The complementary motorized water sports, sailing, boogie and paddle boarding, water-skiing, kayaking, and windsurfing are some of the water-based options. Colony Cove also has two floodlit tennis courts, full spa services, a beauty salon, organic cooking lessons, bait-to-plate fishing trips, and complementary yoga, Pilates and Zumba in their Fitness centre. While February is Adults only month, family and children oriented activities exist the other eleven months.
But for my purposes, I appreciate the architecture which provides each graciously appointed guest room and suite with a private patio or balcony that opens either to one of the four winding lagoon-style pools and waterfalls, the beach or the luscious tropical gardens. Imagine vaulted ceilings, open verandas, Bajan-style thick coral stonewalls, a lovely lily pad filled coy pond, and the most modern amenities in every guestroom, marble showers and oversized tubs, high thread-count sheets, Nespresso machines and of course flat screen TVs and wifi throughout. Daytime maid-services replenish the minibar, flowers and treats and turndown service includes bottled water on my nightstand and comfy slippers at my bedside.
Since Holetown is just a short walk south from here, with its 1st & 2nd streets good for restaurants and nightlife, I venture to the artsy and bohemian boutiques at Chattel Village as well as the Limegrove Lifestyle Centre shopping mall offering the usual exclusive high-end labels. After some fun shopping I hear a blast of fun upbeat music rolling up behind me and realise it’s the Reggae bus approaching. For $1 US ($2 BBD) you can go all around as it’s one of two public bus systems that services the whole island. On the way home with my shopping in the left hand I wave back with my right at some uniform-clad school kids who’ve clearly identified me as a tourist, as they pass St James Parish church, built in 1627 and the oldest on Barbados.
With a half days shopping behind me, it’s time for dinner at the walk up side of the appropriately named Sunset Bar. As I enjoy a blended tropical fruit and coconut punch watching the sunset, I think tomorrow I’ll have to try the swim-up side, for another refreshing drink and chat with the engaging bartenders.
After sunset it’s a 20-yard walk to my gourmet dinner on the beachside torch-lit Sunset Deck. The mood is festive and I’m struck by the enchantment of this private paradise’s beauty and serenity. The perfectly seared bait-to plate mahi mahi is served with mashed sweet potatoes, tender kale, in a light coconut mango sauce. For dessert the tarte tatin a la mode is the perfect finish.
A true highlight in the midst of my dinner is the arrival of a huge hawksbill turtle, which comes within 10 yards of my table and starts digging a nest to lay her eggs. According to a volunteer from the Barbados sea turtle project, which works in conjunction with Crystal Cove, this a rare occurrence as the ancient hawksbill is one of the most endangered species due to the over poaching for her tortoise-shell carapace, the infrequent breeding habits and long maturation periods of this animal (only 1 of 1000 or so of her eggs will reach breeding maturity which takes up to 20-25 years). What a privilege to see this beautiful creature (the species is over 100 million years old) come so close. The whole event takes just over an hour before the giant covers her nest and heads back to the moonlit sea.
After a superb night’s sleep in my beautiful suite, lullabied by the tiny whistling frogs me outside my balcony, I start my third day on the island with a healthy breakfast from the extensive Laguna Restaurant breakfast buffet, which includes all kinds of health conscious and indulgent options. I only have to walk a few yards to my lounge chair by the water’s edge to enjoy the tranquillity of the morning. Throughout the day cheerful ‘beach ambassadors’ bring me little refreshing seasonal canapés like frozen grapes, salmon bites and frozen drinks to keep me cool, happy and hydrated.
Having heard that the Folkestone Marine Park, which is right next to the property, features some of the best and widest variety of marine life of the island, I get my fins and mask (complements of the beach activities hut) and snorkel within the huge cordoned off safe swimming area to the shipwreck. The marine life is amazing and the variety of brightly techno-colored fish is so surprising. I never knew that fish came in so many eye-popping hues, from pale blues, bright violets and turquoise, pink and yellows, silver and gold, to black fish with orange fins,
On my forth and final night in Barbados I reflect on the wide range of my experiences and the variety Elegant Hotels has to offer. I’ve sampled an assortment of fish, from the gourmet mahi mahi meal at Colony Cove, to flying fish eaten roadside from a Styrofoam container. I’ve taken a Mercedes taxis on land, water taxis, a Hobie Cat and public transport for a buck. I think regardless of your preference this hotel chain has something you’ll love, whether it’s the charming, light and breezy family friendly amenities of Crystal Cove; the modern eco-chic, partially adults-only, pampering spa philosophy at Waves Hotel and Spa; or the palpably colonial elegance whose individualised attention is lavished on guests from check-in to departure at Colony Cove, there is something for everyone and thanks to the water taxi you can “stay in one and enjoy many.”