Paradise … Just a Few Hours Away
Ah …… Barbados. How do you describe this little slice of heaven? An island that’s only 21 miles from stem to stern, and only 14 miles across, that’s the eastern- and southernmost in the Caribbean, that hovers above 70 degrees all year, and has an ocean view pretty much wherever one looks? That about sums it up.
If pressed to choose the premiere luxury resort in Barbados, The Crane Resort and Residences would be it. As the oldest operating hotel in the Caribbean, the casually elegant resort is exquisite, set on a cliff overlooking the private Crane Beach on the island’s southeastern tip. It almost goes without saying that the sweeping views here take one’s breath away; the locale also has the advantage of the Easterly trade winds, stimulating climate, and beneficial sea bathing, the latter of which is known for its recuperative qualities. Built as a private mansion, Crane House, in 1790, the Crane was expanded and established as a hotel in 1887. The original building still stands, and a new all-suite development is being undertaken by present owner Paul Doyle. It includes the Crane Village, with a state-of-the-art conference facility to accommodate 150; duty-free shopping (including the popular Cave Sheperd); art galleries; and restaurants; a spa is planned for construction in the coconut grove on Crane Beach. Executive Chef and native Barbadian Michael Hinds has joined the resort to head the culinary operation, which includes Zen, for Thai and Japanese cuisine, and L’Azure, which overlooks the beach and serves a combination of traditional fare and classic Caribbean dishes (both were rated in the top four hotel dining experiences in the 2007 Zagat Guide to Barbados); three more dining spots, as well as a jazz and tapas bar, are in the works. And the accommodations are just lovely: all contain kitchen and laundry, antique furnishings, four-poster king-sized beds, and floor-to-ceiling marble bathrooms with expansive closet space. Ground floor suites have infinity-edge private pools and the two-bedroom corner residences on the upper floors feature individual plunge pools (!!). One can even become an owner here, with fractional ownership and condominiums available for purchase. The resort does of course have its own magnificent pool, set on top of a cliff and framed by Doric columns overlooking the Crane Beach; there is also the Lagoon Pool, a multi-pool complex of four pools with waterfalls, and tennis courts are of course on the property as well. If the beach is more your style, take the elevator down to it (that’s my idea of luxury). Best of all, the Crane is just six minutes from the airport. How can you even think of not booking your trip?
Even if you’re one of those with scant knowledge of the island, you’ll still recall that it’s known for its rum—indeed, the biggest producer in the world, since much of the island is covered with sugar cane crop. The very celebrated distillery Mount Gay, established in 1703, is easily the most recognizable name. A visit there gave us the chance to taste their incredible product-four types of it, actually, from silver to traditional to extra old to their “brandy”, a ten-year aged product. It is super pure and delicious, to say the least ….
St. Nicholas Abbey is a 350-year old Jacobean manor built by planters Benjamin Berringer and John Yeamans as a private residence and plantation (with no religious affiliation), the house is set on the original 400 acres of rolling sugar cane fields, tropical brush, mahogany forests, and formal gardens. Still in private hands, it functions as both a hugely popular tourist attraction and fully operating rum distillery, specializing in high-end, 10-year-old aged rum which has been made in the same manner since the plantation’s inception: Through a steam mill, fed by hand, in the stables on the property, using a centuries-old recipe. The result is an unblended rum that is bottled in unique French decanters each of which is individually etched with an image of the St. Nicholas Abbey, sealed with a mahogany cork, topped with hand-embossed leather, and engraved with both a number and a date—and a personalized message can be added as well.
If you have never ziplined through any jungle, let alone the Caribbean one, I highly recommend it. Aerial Trek Zipline Adventures offers the chance to swing like Tarzan, 150 to 200 feet above the lush Barbadian floor—with two guides, to be sure, or full redundancy, as they put it. One is strapped in at every turn, wearing a full harness, helmet, gloves, and double straps onto the lines as one zips. Ziplining on a crystal clear Barbadian Saturday morning is, at the risk of sounding cliché, a great way to start off one’s day. Seven separate lines are set up through the trees and two guides (ask for Ryan and Nicholas) zip with you from tree to tree-or from platform attached to tree, to platform attached to tree. They go, you go, and the next goes, and before you know it, you’ll want to go all over again.
Barbados is filled with hugely memorable restaurants, for two reasons: Many of them sit on the ocean, so the view during your meal is beyond compare, with much of what’s on the menu caught in that ocean (mind you too, Barbados is the only island in the Caribbean that has its own Zagat guide. Tells you something about how seriously they take their cuisine). For an excellent, very memorable meal, make your way to Champers Wine Bar, one of the island's most popular, on the south coast in the parish of Christ Church. It is indeed on the water, tempting one to take a dip before the meal. Kingfish, Sea bass, and Barracuda (!) are a mere sampling of the fish on order. Although billed as a wine bar, Champers serves some of the best cocktails around (it seemed that all the restaurants had a huge cocktail list. How odd for a resort area …. ). Having a tough time choosing between the PAMA Cosmopolitan and the Banana Jammer, I ended up with a good old Mojito, figuring that a place like Champers could do it really right. They did. For dinner, one of the most romantic spots on the island is Pisces, tucked onto a charming street in the St. Lawrence Gap, also on the south coast. There was a hurricane during dinner—well, there were a few, the cocktail, and boy was it good (I had two). Order the crab cakes or the kingfish here; you will not be disappointed.
And if you live in the New York area, it is now a hop, skip, and a jump to get there: Jet Blue has started daily nonstop flights, a mere four-and-one-half-hours from John F. Kennedy International Airport. The low-cost carrier filled all 150 seats, offering their usual fabulous service, in-flight snacks and drinks, and a taste of the pride of Barbados: rum, Mount Gay Rum, of course. Flights to the island destination go on sale often too; the carrier just offered tickets for $99 each way. They were on sale only through October 6, but look for further fab discounts on jetblue.com.