STEPPING off the plane in Barbados, I’m hit by the warmth. Not just the 30-degree heat, though that’s very welcome when you’ve flown in from rain-battered Britain; it’s the friendliness of the people that really stands out.
Barbados – the easternmost isle of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies – is beautiful from shore to shore, but many agree its west coast is best. Fringed with quiet sandy beaches, it attracts billionaires like Bill Gates, and visitors seeking peace and perfection alike.
I sample a taste of the A-list lifestyle when I stay at one of the island’s most famous and historic hotels, the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, which has recently undergone a refurbishment.
Is this the ultimate Bajan beach bolthole?
Perched right on the beach, in the parish of St James, the property originally opened in the 1940s as the 12-room Miramar Hotel, but the building has changed hands several times and grown in size.
Redeveloped just before laws were introduced requiring hotels to be set further back from the shoreline, all 75 rooms face the sea, and you can be in the water in seconds. The hotel also has a secluded three-bed villa, where shy celebrities sometimes stay.
My room has a king-sized bed and wide balcony overlooking the ocean, along with a circular sofa and a tempting tray for cocktails. The service is exceptional, with friendly, efficient staff, plus a team of butlers to tend to your every need – from ironing your clothes, to bringing delicious canapes to your room every evening.
The hotel’s two main restaurants overlook the white sands and serve international cuisine and traditional local dishes. Run by Bajan executive chef Kirk Kirton, they specialise in seafood; fish like red snapper and mahi mahi are served with vegetables from around the Caribbean. Kirk is happy to show you his kitchen and share his culinary secrets.
There’s also a beach club and a poolside bar overlooking the sea, where colourful cocktails are on offer.
While strolling around the Fairmont’s gardens, festooned with 200-year-old trees – some 100 feet tall, I’m greeted by the smell of lemon bay leaf. These are much bigger than British bay leaves and are great for warding off insects if rubbed on your skin. I also see abundant plantain, Bajan cherries, coconuts and little green tail monkeys playing in the high branches.
There’s no excuse not to get out on the water
The Fairmont offers complimentary activities, such as kayaking, paddleboarding and tennis; or indulge in one of the many spa treatments available, including massage and aromatherapy, in the privacy of your room.
If you want an active day out, take a catamaran cruise (around £75-£120 for a four-hour trip, including lunch and drinks). After being picked up from the beach, we sail along the coconut tree-lined coast, accompanied by flying fish.
Using snorkels and masks provided, we swim in the clear turquoise water with turtles. There’s something very therapeutic about diving down deep, surrounded by rainbow-coloured fish and coming face to face with a serene looking turtle staring at you, as if you’re just another strange sea creature.
Step outside the hotel and just a few minutes walk away, you’ll find golf courses, bars and designer stores in Holetown, a trendy area for visitors attracted by restaurants like Nishi, which offers terrific Asian and Caribbean cuisine, and is also great for parties.
Or drive 10 minutes north to Speightstown, where the lovely beachside restaurant The Orange Street Grocer has its own pizza oven.
Also close by to the hotel is Lancaster Great House, run by John and Rain Chandler, who entertain us with tales of island life and the celebrities they have hosted over the years. I try pan-seared flying fish with green banana puree and sweet potato mash for a main course, followed by a sublime coconut and pineapple creme brulee.
Unlike some holiday islands, you’ll never be bored in Barbados; there are plenty of things to do, and places to visit steeped in history.