The Platinum Coast Sets a Caribbean Luxury Standard
The western coastline of Barbados has enduring appeal for the discerning traveler as a base for any visit to the island. There's certainly a kind of visible mystique to this section of its Caribbean side known as the Platinum Coast as you approach the area along Highway 1, the road running north from Bridgetown all the way to Speightstown in the northeast. Nowadays bordered by a mix of high-end resorts, villas and luxury shopping districts, the Platinum Coast during its colonial past was also a popular retreat for British high society; today the remaining traces of that era are the remaining grand architecture of its original hotels and villas largely hidden behind high walls. The town known as Holetown in this mid-coastal area does have history behind it - being the site of the first landing of English settlers on the island in 1625.
While there isn't much left to see of the early settler presence in this area - other than an obelisk monument and the pretty St. James Church along Highway 1 - Holetown has managed the growth of tourism in style. Resorts such as Sandy Lane, Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Royal Westmoreland or The Colony Club all remain an imposing presence on the coastal side of the Highway. Guests here still receive old world service and more updated amenities - golf, spa, outdoor activities, in-room technology. While Highway 1 can be slow at points at the end of a busy weekday, it's certainly worthwhile to explore either on foot or by car to points further north or south that are within easy distance.
What to Do and See:
Shopping - It's clear that for land-based activity, the downtown areas around Holetown are a prime destination for shoppers. Luckily, it's all done in small but stylish malls that are low-density and easy to get in and out of. The interiors feature sit-down casual dining spots and cafes. The major ones are the West Coast Mall - home to duty-free hotspots like Diamonds International, Pages Bookstore, Cave Shepherd, or Madison Boutique. More is coming in 2011 in upscale retail to the Holetown area in the form of another high-end global name shopping center with such names as Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton adding their presence to the Holetown glitter.
Cultural and Historic - One notable local historic/cultural event if you're here in mid-February to early March is the annual Holetown Festival, which marks the arrival of the earliest English presence and features music, dancing, markets, sports and food events.
Aquatic and Outdoors - There are water sport operators and hotel inclusives for just about any interest. For sailing fans, consider Small Cats - which specializes in small, personalized cruises aboard its 30-foot catamaran out of the Colony Club beach. For scuba enthusiasts, locally experienced leader is Lorenzo's Scuba Dreams, a PADI dive shop located on the beach at the Royal Pavilion, Crystal Cove, Glitter Bay & private houses on the West Coast of Barbados. It was established in 1995 For other offshore adventures such as snorkeling, kayaking or turtle watching, or just sailing along the sights of the Platinum Coast, you can do it in comfort onboard the 44-foot luxury catamaran of local operator Ocean Adventures.
About a mile north of Holetown is the Folkestone Marine Park and Visitor Centre, which includes a waterpark for family fun and also a museum and aquarium which displays the marine life surrounding Barbados. For more scuba and snorkeling, there's also an underwater trail routed around the reef. The Marine Reserve runs for a mile from Coral Reef to Sandy Lane. The best beaches to take advantage of nearby may be Paynes Bay - reached through a public entrance at the Coach House restaurant, or Sandy Lane Beach, south of Holetown and accessible from a lane adjacent to the hotel of the same name.
Where to Stay:
Aside from the larger scale elite resorts, you can still luxuriate in style at more intimate sized accommodation - especially in the Holetown area. For instance, there is The Sandpiper, one of the more exclusive of Bajan properties and with guest rooms that combine West Indian chic with modern guest amenities, all within lush garden acreage. Another area landmark property in this range is the Colony Club Hotel, a 4-Star timeless retreat restored from a former private Colonial Club. It has 96 tastefully appointed guestrooms and suites, along with four lagoon style swimming pools among seven acres of tropical gardens. Also noteworthy for combining a great sense of style and inclusive features is Mango Bay, which has 76 guest rooms decorated in warm, muted tones with contemporary accents, a fine dining indoor/outdoor restaurant with wonderful harbor views, a spa and gym; a free-form pool and daily included island activities. Finally, Barbados is known for their luxury villa rentals scattered up and down the northwest coast. Consider Bohemia, located in the Sandy Lane estates. This ultra luxury villa has 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, a large swimming pool and is staffed with a cook, butler and maid.
A Barbados sojourn is incomplete without a taste of Flying Fish, a national dish and island emblem, which can be sampled in almost any restaurant. Other Bajan delicacies include Cou-Cou (a cornmeal and okra dish), Pepperpot (a spicy stew), and Jug-Jug (a mixture of guinea corn and green peas). The Platinum Coast also has an abundance of restaurants offering continental cuisine, and fresh seafood is always a favorite. Whether you are looking for a romantic five-star restaurant, beachfront cafe or Bajan buffet, you can find options to suit your dining taste somewhere along this coastline. Some long-standing local favorites in the Holetown/St. James areas include: The Mews; The Tides; Sassafras; and The Cliff. The area along 2nd Street in Holetown is home to some of the most interesting restaurant dining in town.
- Hal Peat