Rihanna’s home turf has recently come into its own as one of the Caribbean’s premiere luxury destinations. Ready to take off for the ultimate island escape?
If you were stranded on a tropical island, you’d want it to be Barbados. Just a three-hour flight from Miami, this 24-mile-long island embodies the spirit of sun-soaked paradise. Between the calm, turquoise waters of the island’s west coast and the wild surf on the east, travelers discover hillside farms, verdant gardens, colorful colonial cottages known as chattel houses and the occasional game of cricket, the island’s national sport. Though now independent, the island was under British rule for years, so expect traditional afternoon tea service and the sound of British accents, even among locals.
Where to stay: Most resorts on Barbados are found on the west coast. Elegant Hotels offers guests its fleet of sailboats, paddleboards, kayaks and more water sports and activities free of charge.
For those who love lush landscapes and the feeling of being tucked into a sultry oasis, Elegant Hotels’ Colony Club is a perfect fit. Pick up snorkel gear at the surf shop on the resort’s pink sand beach and explore the Folkstone Marine Park just offshore. Spend the afternoon learning how to mix and muddle a perfect rum sour at the hotel’s Laguna Bar, or take the Garden to Plate tour of its organic garden. The property itself is lush with palm trees and colorful plants surrounding its courtyards and pools — perfect for lounging. Accommodations are roomy, with balconies wrapped in foliage for privacy and sunken sitting rooms ideal for curling up with a good book.
Romantics will love The House, Elegant Hotels’ adults-only, boutique beachfront property. In addition to water sports and activities, guests also receive complimentary massages in outdoor cabanas, afternoon tea service, evening canapés and an impressive champagne brunch. Most rooms have balconies with water views, and public spaces are lush with greenery, making the hotel feel more like a lavish conservatory. eleganthotels.com
Mingle with the locals: The Oistins Friday Night Fish Fry is a fun fete featuring live reggae and dancing. This is where local fishermen unload their daily catch, which usually includes flying fish, a Bajan specialty, as well as wahoo and mahi. Restaurants tucked into tiny cottages beckon with nearly identical menus (flying fish and more seafood are on virtually every menu throughout Barbados) while artisans sell handmade wares under thatched roof huts and people dance in the streets. Elegant Hotels offers shuttle service to this Bajan bash every Friday.
Where to dine fine: For a romantic hilltop meal with views that will be engraved in your mind forever, the Round House is a must. More than 100 years old, this architectural gem in the Bathsheba parish is nestled at the top of a steep hill commanding views of foamy waves, natural tidal pools and what’s known as the “Soup Bowl,” a premier surfing spot. Ask for a table on the outdoor terrace and enjoy continental Caribbean cuisine such as baked rum-nut Brie and blackened fresh catch with breadfruit. Closer to the hotel district, Daphne’s Barbados next to the House offers modern takes on classic Italian dishes in a relaxed and romantic beachside setting. roundhousebarbados.com
Island spirits: Barbados is home to Mount Gay Rum, considered one of the world’s oldest and finest. Take a tour of the distillery and enjoy tastings and colorful storytelling of the spirit’s rich heritage, including how they age and blend the rum to produce just the right flavor. mountgayrum.com
Natural attractions: On the northern tip of the island in the rugged parish of St. Lucy, the Animal Flower Cave is famous for the sea anemones found inside the tidal pools that give the cave its name. (Gently poke one with your finger, and it will immediately shut its stalk.) Guides lead you down stone steps where you can dive into narrow, deep natural pools and carefully step across coral believed to be hundreds of thousands of years old. The big reward is a collection of picture-perfect coral openings framing breathtaking sea views at the northernmost end of the cave. Perch on the edge of the coral near these openings and you can’t help be in awe of the natural beauty before you as waves crash on rocks and ripples of blue-green water move swiftly across the sea. animalflowercave.com
Historic treasures: Perched high on a hill in St. Peter’s parish, the 350-year-old St. Nicholas Abbey is surrounded by hundreds of acres of sugarcane fields. Drive the winding Cherry Tree Hill avenue lined with mahogany trees that seem to brush the sky to this 17th-century plantation for a tour of the main house filled with antiques. In recent years the owners have begun producing their own rum, thus tours end with a tasting of the sweet and tangy St. Nicholas Abbey Rum. stnicholasabbey.com
Private guide: You’ll need a car to get around Barbados, and what could be better than having your own driver? The minute your plane lands, call Kay, Barbados’ premiere private guide. Not only does Kay know everyone on the island, often waving at locals as she drives you around, she knows all the hidden spots, too. Her magnetic personality is a major bonus. 1.246.266.5087; firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to shop: Walking distance from the House, Holetown in St. James parish is home to the Limegrove Lifestyle Centre and Chattel Village, where you can find everything from designer clothes to fine jewelry and locally made pottery. There also are a handful of excellent antiques stores and linen shops nearby. visitbarbados.org