| -2.4°C Dublin

TRAVEL DREAMS Barbados is rum kind of wonderful

Boasting an array of delicious eateries, a plethora of rum shops, and teeming with marine life, a trip to this sun-kissed Caribbean island is the perfect tonic, writes Melanie May

Close

Melanie enjoys the sunset in Barbados

Melanie enjoys the sunset in Barbados

Paradise: The fabulous views of the beach

Paradise: The fabulous views of the beach

Melanie at the Old Brigand Rum shop

Melanie at the Old Brigand Rum shop

The capital Bridgetown

The capital Bridgetown

A tour guide adds a touch of Caribbean flavour

A tour guide adds a touch of Caribbean flavour

The Mount Gay Distillery

The Mount Gay Distillery

Seas the day: Sunset on the beach

Seas the day: Sunset on the beach

The Chattel Village, Holetown

The Chattel Village, Holetown

/

Melanie enjoys the sunset in Barbados

A vibrant, kaleidoscope of coral life starbursts in front of me as I loll languidly face down in the warm, gin-clear water. Seahorses bob by. Frogfish and parrotfish flash past. Through tendrils of colourful coral, I spy sea anemones, lilies and sponges. Snorkelling in Barbados is like being in a Pixar film, I'm mesmerised.

Then, I see a dark mass approaching. I freeze and hold my breath as its distinctive shape comes into focus. Suddenly, I'm face to face with a glorious, giant sea turtle.

For a few seconds, the world stops as I admire its wise, old face with its intricate markings and watch the sunbeams bounce off its colourful carapace. I am David Attenborough. Then, my nonplussed pal glides gracefully alongside me and starts biting my arm. I'm shell-shocked.

Safely back on board our chartered luxury yacht, medicinal rum punch in hand, the Captain tells me the turtles are hungry. Donatello down there clearly thought my pale, plump body was a piece of bread. Seems like I'm more Mr Brennan than Mr Attenborough.

Close encounters of the turtle kind are magical moments, but they are a regular occurrence in Barbados, home to an abundance of marine life and some of the healthiest reefs in the region.

Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island and lies where the Caribbean and Atlantic collide. Due to this, its 97km of coastline is incredibly varied and incredibly beautiful.

Close

Paradise: The fabulous views of the beach

Paradise: The fabulous views of the beach

Paradise: The fabulous views of the beach

The west coast has blindingly bright beaches lapped by the gentle warm waters of the Caribbean sea and is an idyllic place for swimming and snorkelling.

The east coast, bashed by Atlantic waves, is rugged and more suited to surfing rather than swimming. Breathtaking Bathsheba is the best place to hang ten. The southern shore offers the best of both worlds while the northern side of the island is dramatic with weathered cliffs, pounding Atlantic surf and lots of little bays.

The best way to explore the island is to hire a car. They drive on the same side as we do but have much better road manners, so driving is a very pleasant way of getting off the beaten track.

Don't fancy getting behind the wheel on holiday? Hire a driver, take a Bajan bus tour or ride the yellow and blue public buses and minibuses. Bus stops are marked 'out of city' and 'to city' and are dotted all over the island. Of course, you can just hail a cab, but be warned, taxis are expensive here.

For many people, though, Barbados is a bucket-list destination and taxi prices aren't a concern. And after the rollercoaster year we've had we could all do with a dream holiday.

Close

Melanie at the Old Brigand Rum shop

Melanie at the Old Brigand Rum shop

Melanie at the Old Brigand Rum shop

Not sure if you should book, yet? Research shows that looking forward to travelling substantially increases happiness, so now is the perfect time to contact a travel agent.Counting down the days to splashing in the warm sea and sinking into the soft sand is mood-boosting. The scientists say so.

I'm staying on the west side of the island on the Platinum Coast, which is paradise personified. My hotel is the elegant, five-star Coral Reef Club and for the first 48 hours of my trip, I'm confined to the frangipani-filled hotel grounds as part of the Government's safety protocols. Barbados has had a low number of Covid-19 cases and, unsurprisingly, they are keen to keep it that way. As I'm coming from a 'high-risk' country, I'm required to take a Covid-19 PCR test three days before my arrival and must restrict my movements until retested four to five days after my first.

As I relax in my private pool on my terrace, sipping a cocktail, watching the blazing sunset I conclude that, mandatory or not, restricting movements is a marvellous start to any holiday. After two days marooned in my luxury beachfront hotel, every part of my body has unclenched and I'm buzzing to uncover the beauty of Barbados.

That said, I spend an awful lot of time succumbing to tropical cliches. I lounge on the beach between loved-up honeymooners and blissed-out families. I explore the reef mere metres from the hotel and when I tire of finding Nemo, I flop on the icing-sugar sand, finding shade beneath obliging palm trees. Everything looks like a Bounty advert - the taste of paradise.

Speaking of which, Barbados is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean and my word it lives up to its reputation. Like the overall culture, Bajan cuisine is a mix of African, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, Creole and British influences. From fine dining to street food Barbados has a huge variety of places to eat but the place to be on Friday is Oistins for the Friday Night Fish Fry. Here, you'll meet and mingle with all types - young and old, locals and tourists, have-nots and have yachts - who all get caught up in the heady good mood of this weekly, outdoor shindig. Bring your appetite and your dancing shoes, flip-flops will suffice.

Top tip - seek out Uncle George's bbq station and order the kingfish. A true taste of Barbados.

Close

The Mount Gay Distillery

The Mount Gay Distillery

The Mount Gay Distillery

If you think the food options are impressive, wait till you discover the rum shops. Barbados is the birthplace of this sugarcane spirit and home to roughly 1,500 rum shops. For a more formal introduction to rum, take a tour of the Mount Gay Distillery. But to really get into the spirit of Barbados take a rum shack safari. At these local watering holes, sip XO mixed with coconut water and play a game or two of dominoes with the old-timers. Bajans are born hosts and the welcome you receive is as warm as the weather. Highly recommended is a round at Nigel Benn Aunty Bar, run by, you guessed it, boxer Nigel Benn's proud aunty Lucille. She's a knockout.

We explore the British connection more on a historic walking tour of the capital Bridgetown. Dressed as a traditional Mother Sally figure, our tour guide Dawn-Lisa Smith tells the unique and fascinating story of the former British colony and how, for more than a century, Barbados served as the Royal African Company's slave-trading hub for the entire Americas. And of course, there's an Irish connection - Oliver Cromwell banished an estimated 50,000 Irish indentured servants to Barbados to work on the plantations. The descendants of these are known as the Red Legs. Peeping down at my pink pins, you can tell I'm from the same stock.

As Dawn-Lisa says, slavery is part of our past, "We can't change that sad history, but we can learn from it". This historic tour feels very important as issues of racial legacy dominate conversations at home. It gave me a lot to think about.

Bridgetown breaks the idyllic island stereotype with its characteristically Caribbean chaos and clutter. Fruit and veg stalls bulge with their colourful bounty and perfume the air. Historic landmarks tell the story of sugar and slavery. Locals smile behind their masks and wish you a good day. It is a city with a lot of heritage, and heart. But the lure of those Caribbean cliches is too much to resist and a sunset cruise is a quintessential holiday activity to be savoured. Watching the sky turn to fire and morphing into inky darkness, I'm bedazzled by the brilliance of Barbados. Diving into the warm water, I float under a canopy of stars.

Close

Seas the day: Sunset on the beach

Seas the day: Sunset on the beach

Seas the day: Sunset on the beach

As the sea washes over me, so too does a calm that I haven't felt in a long time. The torpor is therapy, the tranquillity a tonic. Barbados is a balm for 2020.

● Melanie travelled to Barbados with British Airways. The airline flies from Dublin to Bridgetown via London Heathrow or Gatwick. Prices from €792 per person, return. britishairways.com

● Stay - Melanie was a guest of the Coral Reef Club, St James. Prices from USD$565 (€466) for two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. coralreefbarbados.com

● Testing - At the moment, if coming from Ireland, a Covid-19 PCR test with travel clearance certificate is required three days before arrival. €120 from Tropical Medical Bureau. tmb.ie. Private retests at your hotel or villa cost around €200. Retests at public health facilities are free. For up-to-date Barbados travel protocols see the Visit Barbados website. visitbarbados.org

Twitter: @_MelanieMay

Sunday World


Privacy