Avert your eyes now if a bit of tropical sun is too painful to comprehend at this point of winter! Last week we scooted back out to Barbados for a little escape from January blues. (In case you’re wondering, the villa is in my mum’s side of the family so we’re lucky enough to get free use of it every so often.) I posted a lot about Barbados two years ago when we last went, so I’ll keep it short this time! Mainly because we actually did do less as well – having visited before it was good to not feel pressured into dashing around seeing all there was to offer on the island. We hit a couple of favourite places from last time and a few new things, but also had a lot of down-time just relaxing at the beach or pool.
We spent a bit of time at a few beaches on the south coast, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. It’s noticeably rougher than the west coat (where our villa was) due to stronger winds and tides, so not so good for swimming but you can still go catamaran sailing, try surfing, or go turtle-spotting. Or you know, just sit around eating chips and drinking rum punch.
We went to the north coast again as well, which is definitely the most wild part of the island – all craggy rocks and dramatic crashing waves.
The Animal Flower Cave is a must-visit around here: a semi-submerged cave under the cliffs which takes its name from the sea anemones living in the shallow waters inside. You can really appreciate the coral construction of the island from the cave’s walls and ceiling. Fortunately it was a relatively calm day on our visit (some days it can’t be accessed at all) so we could even have a paddle in the glassy pool inside.
Another fun thing we did was a chocolate factory visit and tasting on the outskirts of Bridgetown. Agapey‘s owner Derek painstakingly assembled an array of vintage chocolate-making machines from Europe and sources all his sugar from Barbados and cocoa beans from nearby Caribbean islands. The factory is tiny and has a staff of only three, so the tour was intimate and fascinating. We tasted most of Agapey’s delicious gourmet chocolate range and some of the raw ingredients that go into it, before admiring the vintage machines in action and of course buying some to bring home. (He requested no photos to be put on the internet, so you’ll have to visit to see the awesome machines!)
Just up the road from Agapey is the Mount Gay rum visitor centre. Admittedly one of the highlights of visiting Barbados for me is this good stuff: making frozen daiquiris in the villa, sipping rum punches from a beach bar as the sun sets, and bringing home a few bottles of cheap duty-free. The visitor centre here only contains the bottling facility so it’s not as interesting as Saint Nicholas Abbey, but you get a generous amount of samples thrown in and there’s a nice bar and restaurant on site.
We went back to Oistins like last time for a good cheap(ish) meal. Everything is eye-wateringly expensive in Barbados, especially food, and it’s risen even more so since our last visit. Oistins represents good value at around $40 Bajan (about £13) a head including beers for a heaped plate of fresh blackened catch of the day or your choice of carb, veg and salads. Don’t talk about the rather run-of-the-mill Italian meal we had another night that ended up costing just shy of £50 a head. We cooked in the villa most other nights to save money, even though just buying fresh food is expensive as well.
One highlight that escaped us last time was an adventure to Sam Lord’s castle, an actual abandoned pirate’s mansion set on the south-east point of the island. Lord was a 19th-century buccaneer who alleged lured in cargo ships by hanging lights in the trees, making the captains think they were sailing into Bridgetown port. The ships would then crash on the rocks and be plundered by Lord, the proceeds of which he used to build this sprawling mansion in 1820. The building was later turned into a hotel but shut down amidst bankruptcy and was then torched by fire in 2010, where it’s been sitting derelict ever since. Apparently a Chinese consortium has now bought the site from the Barbados government with plans to redevelop it, but I’m glad we were able to get a scramble around the ruins before it’s spruced up again.
It’s incredible how much nature has taken back over the site in less than a decade of it lying empty.
There is nothing to stop you scrambling right inside the old walls and walking between the rooms, imagining how they’d once have been. You can even spot scraps of wallpaper, chipped tiles and an old iron oven.
There’s a beautiful stretch of coast behind the castle, though the wind is brisk and sea choppy as it’s on the Atlantic side.
The grounds contain a swimming pool, poolside bar and tennis courts, all absolutely wrecked by fire and time. You can only imagine how fantastic it would have been in it heyday as a grand hotel. A few photos here hint at its majesty.
Finally, we all took another full-day catamaran trip for some snorkelling and sailing. It wasn’t quite as successful as last time.. the turtles were being coy and it started absolutely pouring with rain halfway through, so we were huddled in our towels under the covered part of the boat for an hour before we could move on! Ah well, can’t win them all.