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A girls-only holiday in Barbados: Swimming with turtles? Nah, let's get room service

  • @lisamarkwell

What does a teenage girl want most on a fabulous holiday to the Caribbean? A tan? A chance to drive a jet-ski? The possibility of a Rihanna sighting? Well, some might, but my daughter was most excited about ordering room service.

Last summer we didn't have a blow-out holiday, and what we saved was put towards some winter sun – Barbados in the October half-term. Flights booked, we looked forward to escaping Britain in the doldrums. But then child one got ill, and he and my husband (at the very last moment) had to stay in the UK. I was inadvertently on a girls-only holiday, with my 13-year-old daughter.

Of her many fabulous attributes, being utterly fearless is prominent. On this holiday she taught me the joy of speaking up and plunging in.

Our hotel, the charming Cobbler's Cove, took our change of plan in its stride. We were a bit different to the other clientele – affluent older couples and young families – and whether that was the reason for the barman's solicitous mocktail-making and the watersport instructor's patience, I don't know. I just know we felt part of a bigger family for the week. The kitchen played along perfectly with my daughter on her nightly call for "grown-up" dinner in her room.

Built in the Forties as a weekend retreat for the Haynes family of sugar barons, and known at the time as Camelot, what has remained since Cobbler's Cove became a hotel in the Seventies are the grounds, an exquisite hybrid of the tropical plants of the Caribbean and the classic English country garden. The current head gardener, Niki Farmer, gave me a tour of the orchids and palms, bougainvillea and hibiscus. It was clear why, as well as travellers seeking a lush retreat by the sea, Bajan green monkeys and yellow finches congregated here.

Meanwhile, my daughter conquered waterskiing. Since lessons were included in the price, she had a daily appointment with Bradley. On the third day, she zipped back and forth across the expanse of water in front of the hotel, waving like a Busby Berkeley showgirl. She also showed me that swimming with turtles (also included) was not to be feared.

Although it was tempting to lie on neighbouring sun loungers sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches while awaiting the daiquiri hour, my thus-far dormant interest in horticulture had been piqued and we ventured out for an island tour. I had believed Barbados to be where A-Z-list celebrities spent their winter holidays for the benefit of the paparazzi, and the first stretch of my island safari did nothing to disprove the theory. We passed Sandy Lane, the diamante-encrusted (not literally) hotel, and Roman Abramovich's hangar- sized holiday cottage, but then we turned inland.

I stifled a sigh of loneliness as we passed the sign for a village called 'Husband', but perked up at the turning for 'Pie Corner'. Soon we were at Hunte's Gardens, owned by the brilliantly eccentric, charismatic Anthony Hunte. An extraordinarily lush tangle of plants lined the steeply banking gardens – created from an unloved sink hole 10 years ago and an unrivalled spot to sit and watch more monkeys play in the trees while Mr Hunte's classical music wafted across the gully.

From there to Earth Mother Botanicals (I felt my fingers grow greener with every minute), where partners Amy and Sandra talked us through the natural beauty products they create from the myriad plants in their own small garden. We left laden with lotions and potions to soothe stings, soften skin and cure colds (which reminds me, where did I put that balm?).

Via the island's last mahogany forest, we took in the wild beauty of the east coast's Bathsheba beach, with its vast rocks in the shallows, and the manicured charm of the graveyard at St John's church. We stopped for lunch at Sand Dunes, far from the tourist trail and where flying-fish fritters come with fiery sauce and sodas so vibrant they stained our tongues. Close to our home-from-home, we sauntered around the bustling village of Speightstown, where the lady in the flip-flop shop hadn't the right change for our transactions, so told us to pop back later to pay.

The calm of the hotel gathered us, hot and sticky, in its cool embrace. Afternoon tea was being served, and a breeze floated across our room's private verandah. The apple we left for the birds was half pecked away and soon dusk swept over the candy-coloured buildings. The distant rattle of ice in a cocktail shaker was about to lure us from our cosy, colonial retreat down to dinner. My fearless daughter asked if she could take a jet-ski out the next day (having conceded that that was as exciting as room service). And our girls-only holiday was the best time we had ever spent together. When we got home, we told the menfolk it was "OK, nothing special". To tell the truth would have been unusually cruel…

Kuoni (01306 747008, kuoni.co.uk) offers 7 nights with breakfast at the 5-star Cobbler's Cove, Barbados in a superior suite, including flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick. Prices for April 2013 are from £1,813 per person, based on two sharing. To book, quote: KU9015

More Caribbean gems

* Set plumb between St Lucia’s towering twin mountains, the newly revamped Jalousie Plantation, now called Sugar Beach, comes with luxury clapboard villas, ‘Cri-olé’ (Creole-Latino) cuisine and a spa with treatment rooms above the jungle floor. viceroyhotelsandresorts.com

* The celebs’ retreat island of choice, St Barts’ ritzy accommodation reaches heady new heights with Eden Rock Hotel’s two new ‘Ultra Luxe Villas’ costing from £20,000 a night. Expect butlers, art collections and a recording studio. edenrockhotel.com

* Want to go to the ‘other Caribbean’? Then head for Dominica on a small group tour to seek out endangered Sisserou and Jacquot parrots, spot whales, see hatching turtles and take jungle hikes to volcanic lakes. steppesdiscovery.co.uk