Past visitors nicknamed it Bimshire, others Little England. Britain's love affair with Barbados is long-standing, and its sheltered west coast brings to mind images of cricketers in whites playing beneath palm trees, and cosily named villages such as Hastings and Worthing.
But recent years have seen moneyed visitors laying claim to the island and staying beyond a two-week stretch at Sandy Lane, Villa Nova or Cobblers Cove.
In the last five years, villa building on the island has gone through a massive boom, though sadly few residences match the gracious architecture of Bajan Great Houses. Though you can seek out the genuine article, the look today is more Barbadian Brookside for estate-set homes, with Colonial High Rise characterising the coastal properties.
For celebs such as Jasper Carrot, Virginia Wade, Sir Cliff Richard, Mel Smith and Bob Monkhouse, Barbados represents a second home in the sun, and what could be more des res than owning a villa within a pebble's throw of the Platinum Coast?
Many of the celebrities investing in Barbados have also opted for the attractive revenue culled from the rental market. But this is an altogether different rental scene from Europe. Forget self-catering. Stay in a celebrity pad, and you will have access to a full team of staff, from butler and chefs to maids and night watchmen. Just don't expect insider gossip ...
Landfall is a glamorous six-bedroom beachfront property that belongs to tennis and health-club guru David Lloyd. A plant-filled courtyard, from which the bedrooms, bar and TV rooms radiate (together with low-slung sofas and squashy henna-coloured cushions) lends Landfall the air of a Moroccan pad.
But there are nods towards Bajan authenticity in pickled pine detailing, a Great House-style wraparound balcony off the master bedroom and colonial mahogany furniture. It has a pool and Jacuzzi but no gym or tennis court - however, sports mags, photos of David with Princess Di, and The Blairs' family Christmas card add the Lloyds' personal touch - and Perceval, the butler, makes a rum punch that leaves its mark.
Landfall costs £2,859 per night to rent, based on maximum occupancy, through ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk).
A tropical dolls' house belonging to Jasper Carrott can be found on the Royal Westmoreland Estate. Next to the 19th-hole clubhouse and overlooking the lake, this compact two-bedroom pad features cool interiors with marble flooring, billowing white muslin, pale blue sofas and huge, lake-facing windows. Little evidence of Jasper's taste here, and it's a bit La Manga meets Brookside, but with Virginia Wade and Bob Monkhouse as neighbours, you'll easily think you're back in Blighty.
Jasper Carrott's property is available from April 2004 and costs £195 per night to rent in summer season, £389 per night in winter and £643 per night at Christmas, based on maximum occupancy, through ITC Classics (as above).
Model Jodie Kidd enjoys family downtime at Holder's House, just inland from the west coast. This is the genuine article - a charming 17th-century plantation house, with attached annexe, cottage and pool and has room for 14 guests. It's claim to fame is that John Cleese got married here. It's a stone's throw from the Polo Club, which is also home to the Holders Season in March, a yearly celebration of music and theatre that attracts world famous stars.
The boho feel certainly won't suit everyone. Stay here only if you enjoy shabby-chic authenticity, with plenty of family photos, quirky heirlooms - from teddy bears to riding crops - 1950s décor and the family alsatian for company. Think tumbledown ancestral home in Gloucestershire with Oliver Messel touches, and the bonus of a gorgeous, shady ground-floor wraparound veranda that is furnished with antique planters' chairs.
Holder's House costs £1,682 per night to rent over the Christmas period, based on maximum occupancy, through Hamptons International (001 246 422 5550; www.hamptons.co.uk/barbados).
A sure bet
Multi-millionaire, racehorse-owner Robert Sangster enjoys a palatial home next to the five-star Sandy Lane Hotel. Sprawling Jane's Harbour sleeps up to 16 and welcomes children, so this would be ideal for families. It has a pool, cable TV, a bar, resident staff and direct access to Sandy Lane beach.
The look is colonial chic, with chandeliers, squashy calico-covered sofas, ceiling fans, and coloured engravings of the West Indies. A grand piano topped with Sangsters' family photos, and the company of the family's pet labradors, add the homely touch.
Jane's Harbour rental: £3,596 per night based on maximum occupancy, through ITC Classics (as above).
Perfect to a tee
Golfing pro Ian Woosnam likes to spend three months a year at his villa, Lazy Days, on Frangipani Drive, but the Royal Westmoreland property has slots available for rent across the seasons. The Yorkshireman credits his wife with the décor, and most of it is a successful blend of tropical chic - think stripy sofas, shell mirrors, splashy Caribbean paintings and cream marble floors. The villa sleeps eight, with room for two in the cottage, but quite the nicest choice is the master bedroom with its cast-iron four-poster, and covered balcony with views of the golf course and the sea.
Pots of plastic ivy add an incongruous touch to Lazy Days's homespun glamour but the extensive grounds compensate, with a pool, Jacuzzi, barbecue, outdoor bar and pretty gardens.
Ian Woosnam's property is available over Christmas at £1,728 per night, based on maximum occupancy. Book through ITC Classics (as above).
From December 2003, British Airways (08708 509850; www.ba.com) is increasing its direct flights to Barbados from eight to 10 a week. From February 2004, the flights will also offer the fully flat bed in Club World and the premium economy cabin, World Traveller Plus. Return flights cost £560.70 in World Traveller, £980.70 in World Traveller Plus, £2,177.70 in Club World: £2,177 and £3,777.70 in First Class.
Where you can eat with the stars
The days of restaurants serving little beyond rice 'n' peas and flying fish have long gone, for the island's eateries have acquired a glamorous makeover, with food and celebrity clientele to match. All prices are approximate for two courses, excluding drinks.
Funky Moroccan-style beachfront restaurant serving fusion food (wok-seared red snapper, pumpkin bisque) off Zen tableware. Dozy staff, but Hugh Grant, and George Michael enjoy its laid-back appeal. Calabaza, Prospect, St James (001 246 424 4557), £28.
Seriously cool venue where local produce gets an haute cuisine twist. Go for the vibes of the waterfront restaurant, featuring calico awnings and the sound of surf on sand. The Cliff, St James (001 246 432 1922), £45.
The Fairmont Royal Pavilion's recent makeover puts the sea-facing Palm Terrace in the same league as the island's top-notch restaurants. Ex-Gavroche chef Michael Harrison gets inventive with scallops, lobster, and breadfruit. Fairmont Royal Pavilion, St James (001 246 422 5555), £26.
A former 1940s garage, this hip restaurant has a casual beach-bar atmosphere with polished wood floors. The cooking mixes Modern European with Caribbean - with pure Iranian caviar thrown in. Favoured by Kylie Minogue, Tim Rice, Princess Caroline, and David Frost. Mount Standfast, St James (001 246 419 0599), £35.
The Terrace at Villa Nova
Lunch in the country at this cool boutique hotel - the former island home of Sir Anthony Eden. Tiny portions suit its supermodel clientele, but the food has delicious takes on seared calamari, and Bajan belly of pork. A favourite with rock legend Bryan Ferry. Villa Nova, St John (001 246 433 1524), £30.
Enjoying a picturesque setting, this splashily painted townhouse in Holetown attracts bright young things in search of somewhere informal. The Austrian chef is justifiably famed for his seafood - sashimi, grilled scallops and salmon won ton are staples. The bar stays open late, and Friday night is jazz night with live performances. The Mews, 2nd Street, Holetown (001 246 432 1122), £40
British chef Guy Beasley's laid-back new pad is set right on the water's edge - indeed, it's not unusual for diners to get a soaking when the sea plays rough. Beasley's menu includes club sandwiches, burgers and more elegant dishes such as coconut shrimp and blackened fresh fish. A great lunch venue with an art gallery attached. The Tides, Holetown (001 246 432 8356), £20
The Caribbean outpost of this chic London restaurant commands a beachfront spot on Barbados's Platinum coast. From outside it looks like a beach shack, but look through the windows and the cutting-edge minimalist interiors tell another story. Celebs flock here for contemporary Italian cuisine, with a menu featuring salads, fresh seafood and choice cuts of meat, although reports suggest the cooking can be variable. Daphne's, St James (001 246 432 2731)Reuse content