A friend was worried. ‘It will cost an arm and leg,’ he said, when I told him my cunning plan: to whisk my wife off to Barbados in peak season to celebrate a special anniversary.
I knew what he meant. Barbados is pricier than Antigua, St Lucia and other popular Caribbean destinations.
But I love this island. And far from costing an arm and a leg, our five-night break inflicted only minor contusions on the wallet. But then, that is Barbados in a nutshell. It is simultaneously a playground for millionaires and a laid-back, unpretentious island where people on modest incomes can have a ball.
On our very first evening, we rejected a fashionable west coast restaurant on the grounds that a single sirloin steak cost £150, strolled around the corner and came across the popular Surfside bar where the rum punches set us back less than a fiver.
We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and were entertained by a brilliant steel band.
‘Barbados is pricier than Antigua, St Lucia and other popular Caribbean destinations. But I love this island,’ writes Max Davidson. Pictured: Bottom Bay, Barbados
The west coast resort where we stayed, the All Seasons Resort Europa, is inland from the beach and self-catering, which would not suit everyone.
But who minds making breakfast if you can enjoy the local flora and fauna from the balcony? The morning pageant of green monkeys, hummingbirds and brightly coloured bananaquits was a constant delight.
Affordable restaurants within walking distance, in fashionable Holetown, included Zaccios and Spago, both Italian, and the Bearded Rose, a friendly cafe in the swanky Limegrove shopping centre. All were excellent, with most main courses priced the right side of £20.
Max stayed at the All Seasons Resort Europa (above), which he says is inland from the beach and self-catering. ‘But who minds making breakfast if you can enjoy the local flora and fauna from the balcony?’ he muses, recalling the ‘morning pageant of green monkeys, hummingbirds and brightly coloured bananaquits’ being ‘a constant delight’
Seven nights self-catering at the All Seasons Resort Europa from £1,262 pp, based on two sharing, including flights (virginholidays.co.uk). Seven days car hire from £50 a day (stoutescar.com).
Carizma, run by a British couple, is another treasure, whether you are after breakfast, a light lunch or a cocktail. It is in the Chattel Village, a cluster of colourful shops flanked by tropical gardens.
Further up the west coast, Speightstown is more down-at-heel than Holetown, but equally beguiling. We had a cold beer and chargrilled tuna steaks at the Jus’ Chillin’ bar, serenaded by a local band with ear-to-ear grins.
Rather than flopping on the beach all day, we hired a car to explore. But be warned: the roads are so pot-holed they look like pepperoni pizzas.
The east coast of Barbados is pounded by ferocious waves from the Atlantic, so its beaches are unsuitable for swimming. But it is so spectacular that you would be a fool to miss it.
One highlight was a simple lunch at the Round House in Bathsheba, which dates back to the 19th century. It was hard to know which was better: the rugged coast or the rum-soaked baked brie with walnuts. We drove back across the heart of the island, taking in Hunte’s Gardens, the creation of horticulturist Anthony Hunte who has turned a narrow gulley into a place of beauty and tranquillity.
On our last day, we drove to Crane Beach, on the south-east coast, where the Sunday buffet lunch at L’Azure is a Barbados institution. Smartly dressed local families, some of them coming straight from church, lunch in a dramatic cliff-top setting, high above the crashing waves.
A slap-up lunch for two with drinks set us back around £150 — or one sirloin steak, if you are talking silly money.
Don’t let your view of Barbados be coloured by tittle-tattle about which celebrities are wearing which bikinis, or who is staying at which luxury villa and dining at which award-winning restaurant. It is better than that. More relaxed. More varied. And it will give you the warmest of welcomes, whatever your bank balance.
BOOK IN FOR UNDER £200
Sugar Cane Club Hotel & Spa near Speightstown, with 56 rooms and two restaurants. Doubles from £156 per night (sugarcaneclub.com).
Butterfly Beach on the south coast near Oistins, with 93 rooms and two pools, has doubles from £148 per night (butterflybeach.com).
Coral Mist Beach Hotel overlooking Worthing Beach, with 32 rooms and two pools.Doubles from £175 per night (coralmistbarbados.com).
Rostrevor Apartment Hotel near St Lawrence Gap, has 83 rooms and overlooks the beach. Doubles from £154 (rostrevorbarbados.com).