Travel: Something idyllic for the weekend?

Barbados may be on the other side of the Atlantic but it is still only a short hop away - and has become the most immediately accessible Caribbean hot spot. Hamish McRae takes a perfect short break, swimming among the turtles and dancing to steel bands

Gatwick nil, Barbados 26. The difference in Celsius degrees alone makes the whole outrageous exercise worthwhile.

Barbados is the ultimate glam spot for a winter weekend. It is, for a start, the only place aside from New York which has a scheduled London service by Concorde. But there are plenty of other options that also make Barbados the most immediately accessible Caribbean destination. You simply take a non-stop flight from London and a half-hour taxi-ride later you are greeted with a vast range of hotels, every water sport from scuba to para-gliding on tap, gorgeous seafood restaurants, and unlike some other islands in the region, courteous and hassle-free treatment of visitors.

As people familiar with the Caribbean know, the key thing to understand about the West Indies is that every island is different. There are big ones and tiny ones; English-speaking, French-speaking and Spanish-speaking; mountainous ones and flat ones; developed and undeveloped; calm and frenetic.

From the point of view of the visitor, Barbados is something of a compromise. It is small (22 miles by 14 miles) without being tiny; it has both a rugged Atlantic coast and a calm Caribbean one; it has a strong English (or more accurately, Anglo-Celtic) ambience; it has a complete infrastructure for the tourist who wants just to lie on a beach, but also the cultural interest of its earlier incarnation as a sugar producer.

There are other places that could outbid Barbados for specific attractions: St Lucia and Barbuda have better diving, Trinidad has greater cultural diversity, while if you want to get away from it all you need to do a Branson and go to somewhere like Necker. But nowhere else is there so much variety in such a tight compass - which makes it ideal for the long weekend.

I should confess that my own long weekend last month arose because my spouse was giving a speech there. Since I had a lot of spare Air Miles I tagged along too. As a result of that task, we had the privilege of meeting a number of government ministers as well as leading bankers and industrialists - plus the help of a thoughtful local guide. We also met a number of returnees - people who had spent much of their life in Britain and had moved back to Barbados - and learnt about their perspective on the country. So from the point of view of the journalist, it was a wonderfully interesting experience: for a few hours we saw the world through Caribbean eyes.

But thanks to its variety, the place works very well at a pure tourist level too. I know nowhere else in the world where you can, within the space of three or four hours: snorkel down to a sunken wreck, swim with some turtles, wander round the ruins of an abandoned sugar plantation, eat a gorgeous seafood buffet - and dance to a steel band under a tropical moon. Bliss.

Being in Barbados is also a good history lesson. Walk round an abandoned plantation house and you catch a feeling for the way in which the Caribbean sugar industry brought extraordinary wealth to a few British families, together with the sad realisation of the human misery involved in the generation of that wealth. It is good to be aware of what the tiny huts that the slaves lived in look like, for many of these are still standing, over a century and a half after slavery was abolished.

The abandoned plantation huts make an extraordinary contrast to the grand new houses of the successful local entrepreneurs round the corner.

So you can combine a weekend of pure pleasure with a little education about the country's past, and - in the booming new offices, fast-food outlets and supermarkets - a glimpse of its economic future too.

A practical weekend? You really do need three days and four - which we had - is better. But with only three days (and the regular subsonic flights) you can still do it. Here's how.

On Saturday morning, you catch the 0955 BA flight from Gatwick and, with the four-hour time difference, be in your hotel by 4pm. (The Concorde crowd, meanwhile, arrived in time for a late breakfast.) You then follow the trick of staying as far as possible on British time, so it is early supper and bed. You are up with a cup of tea at 5.30 and back in the sea with the flying fish by 6am.

Then the whole of Sunday and Monday are ahead of you. You can have two complete days doing whatever before turning up at the airport on the Monday evening for the flight back. The next trick is to treat yourself to business class coming home; on Air Miles, Club World "costs" only twice as much as economy, compared with a tenfold difference for paid tickets. So you sleep all night, and seven hours later - at 7am - you are at Gatwick, heading with the commuters back to the office.

A bit tough to go so far for such a short time? Well, not if you stay on GMT, refuse all the food they offer you on the plane on the way back, and instead use the time to sleep. A bit extravagant? Well, yes, a bit. But Barbados itself is not particularly expensive and the shortness of the time there makes the experience all the more memorable: you use every minute. So provided you can get a good deal on the flight (or use Air Miles) it is only a slightly outrageous thing to do. No, come to think of it, it is not out- rageous at all. It is fascinating, and it is gorgeous. Turtles, be warned: I shall be back swimming with you again very soon.

Fact File

Subsonic flights:

British Airways (0345 222111) flies daily from Gatwick and, on Sundays, from Heathrow. British West Indian Airways (0181-577 1100) flies from Heathrow on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747) flies on the same days from Gatwick. It follows that all three airlines can offer the three-day trip that Hamish McRae took.

For travel early next year, going outbound in economy and back in business class, the fare on BA is pounds 1,627; BWIA has a fare of pounds 1,653. On Virgin, using regular economy outbound and premium economy inbound, the fare is pounds 1,110. In this instance, we have been unable to improve on these deals by going through discount agents.

Air Miles: The economy out, business back arrangement "costs" 12,000 Air Miles. If you are able to wait until 11 April, you would "pay" only 6,750. Call 0990 511806.

Supersonic: British Airways (0345 222111) flies on Saturdays only from Heathrow for a fare of pounds 6,138 return.

More information: Barbados Tourism Authority, 263 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 9AA (0171-636 9448)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain