Rihanna isn’t the only one crazy about her hometown of Barbados, the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles. Simon Cowell has been spotted on the beaches, Prince Harry frequents the polo fields and Mick Jagger is rumoured to own property here. After visiting this former British colony, which is surrounded by the calm Caribbean Sea to the west and rough Atlantic Ocean to the east, its appeal is obvious. You’ll be hard-pressed to spot any American fast-food chains, sprawling all-inclusive properties or rowdy spring break vacationers. In Barbados, it’s all about mingling with the residents and participating in the island’s local traditions. Here are five tips to get you immersed in the Bajan culture:
#1 BE A HOUSE GUEST
Owned by George Clarke, a former North Palm Beach stockbroker with Bajan roots, and his real estate agent-turned-author wife Anni, Sweetfield Manor is a former plantation house that has been transformed into a bed and breakfast. Sure, it has a gorgeous lagoon-style pool worthy of a Cribs episode and banana tree–filled gardens that attract local green monkeys, but the real draw is revealed in the morning when a breakfast bell, rung by George, wakens you. Wander into the main dining room to find gourmet creations such as prosciutto-wrapped eggs and lemon ricotta pancakes whipped up by Anni—a curly haired, feistier Martha Stewart. When it comes to island storytellers, horticulturist Anthony Hunte takes the cake. Pop by his sprawling gardens (huntesgardensbarbados.com)—which are tucked away in a secluded rain-forest gully—and this self-professed chatterbox will invite you in for a tour, followed by a slice of fresh-out-of-the-oven rum carrot cake (with raisins soaked in booze for a year) and a glass or two of rum punch. You’ll get the A to Z on all the latest island happenings. Psst: it won’t take you long to discover that Bajans love their Mount Gay rum—not surprising since it’s the oldest rum company in the world.
#2 EXPLORE NATURE WONDERS ON LAND AND SEA
Barbados is divided into 11 parishes. Bathsheba, in the Parish of Saint Joseph, is famous for its limestone boulders that sprout from the ocean like giant mushrooms. Grab a seat by the water at Atlantis Hotel Restaurant and try Bajan staples such as pumpkin fritters, flying fish and macaroni pie (mac and cheese with a Bajan twist). You might even catch some surf champs in action. Kelly Slater recently told the NY Times that the Soup Bowl— the nickname for the largest wave here—is one of the top three swells in the world. On the east side of the island, one of the most popular attractions is Harrison’s Cave. Hop on a tram that will take you past massive crystal limestone formations, giant pools and streams of water— you’ll feel like you’re on the set of an Indiana Jones flick. Don’t forget to have your camera ready; these tours clip along at a steady pace. If you’re a sun worshipper looking for a day trip, sign up for a Tiami Catamaran lunch cruise and spend an afternoon snorkeling and sailing around the Platinum Coast. This area is named after the highrolling credit card holders who frequent its five-star hotels. Jump off the edge of the boat, however, and you’ll discover the real lure—sea turtles gliding past so close you can give them a smooch on the cheek.
#3 RELAX, UNWIND, SPOT A PRINCE
Located on a cliff overlooking Crane Beach—and voted one of the 10 best beaches in the world—the Canadian-owned Crane Residential Resort is one of the best places on the island to watch sunsets. With decked-out suites, several restaurants, pools, a grocery store and shops, the resort feels like a Caribbean version of Whistler Village. You don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the property; all of the beaches in Barbados are public. Channel Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and check out a polo match at Apes Hill (December to May). England’s Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho were spotted playing here earlier this year. Traveling with a group of friends? Their three-bedroom luxury villas with full kitchens and plunge pools range from $600–$900 per night. Looking for a small boutique hotel? The Colony Club is a favourite with traditional British Colonial decor and ground-floor rooms with private walkouts to lagoon pools. Its sister property, the House, has a more modern South Beach aesthetic. Complimentary welcome massages, homemade sorbets and lemongrass-scented towels handed out poolside are some of the perks included. It also happens to have an outpost of London’s famed Daphne’s Restaurant. For big spenders, Sandy Lane is the island’s most exclusive property. It’s where Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren had their doomed nuptials. But it’s so over-the-top luxe, it could fool anyone into saying “I do.”
#4 SHOP LOCALLY FOR TREASURES AND TREATS
Chattel Village in Holetown, the first area to be settled by the English in 1625, is a must-stop for retail therapy. It’s named for the colourful moveable homes that plantation workers traditionally lived in. Highlights include: i-Candy for jewelry handcrafted by locals; Beth and Tracie’s for designer beachwear; and the Gourmet shop, a mini Whole Foods stashed with cured meats, aged cheese and Illy espresso. Swing by a Super Centre, the island’s grocery chain, for traditional snacks to enjoy beach side or in your hotel room at night. Mango cheese, tamarind balls and sugar cakes are some of the most popular munchies.
#5 EAT, DRINK, PLAY
The takeout king in Barbados is Chefette, and it’s deserving of the crown. Their potato roti could take down most home-cooked meals. FYI : there’s one at the airport, so grab one for the plane ride home. For a romantic waterfront dinner, head to Mango’s By the Sea in Speightstown and try the stuffed ocean crêpes filled with freshly caught seafood. Craving something sweet? Order the Malabar bread pudding with rum and raisin ice cream at The Fish Pot in Sherman’s fishing village. On the weekend, Oistins fish fry in the parish of Christ Church is the place to be. Hundreds of locals and tourists gather here to listen to live music and grab a bite. Several vendors sell grilled fish, macaroni pie and sweet potatoes—Uncle George’s seems to attract the largest lines. Looking to keep the party going? The Reggae Lounge in St. Lawrence Gap is a packed open-air club that plays R&B, reggae and calypso music. For live DJs and bands, try The Ship Inn. Don’t forget to finish off the night by toasting the island with a glass of that famous rum punch. To whip up the Bajan’s signature sip on your own, mix: one part sour (lime juice), two parts sweet (simple syrup), three parts strong (rum), and four parts weak (ice chips). Add a dash of bitters, sprinkle nutmeg on top, and voilà!