Winter on the Beach: Barbados

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It's our favourite Caribbean destination for good reason – there's more to this island than sun, sea and sand. Kate Simon offers a guide



The accommodation


The hot news from the east coast is the reopening of the Atlantis Hotel (atlantishotelbarbados.com). The venerable seaside lodgings have been turned into a stylish 10-room property by the team behind Little Good Harbour.

Further south on this coast, The Crane (thecrane.com) has added a "village" of boutiques and restaurants to its 202 luxurious suites and rooms. On the south coast at St Lawrence Gap, the all-inclusive Almond Casuarina Beach Resort (almondresorts.com) has had a revamp, adding 95 sea-facing rooms and a shorefront pool.

The activities

Any self-respecting surfer should try their luck in the Soup Bowl off the east coast at Bathsheba. This world-class break, which hosts international championships, can be surfed year round. But Barbados isn't all about the beach or the sea. Go inland to find more thrills at the Barbados Aerial Trek Zipline Adventures (00 246 433 8966) at Walkes Spring Plantation, which whizzes across 100ft-deep Jack-in-the-Box Gully. And, of course, Barbados is well supplied with polo fields, a sport first played here by British cavalry officers. The most famous ground is Holders, but others under construction include a new one at Apes Hill Club (apeshillclub.com), the latest addition to the island's portfolio of private estates.

The urban scene

The lively capital, Bridgetown, with its busy shops and harbour full of leisure craft, reveals the well-heeled nature of this island. This is also home to the third oldest parliament in the world and National Heroes Square, with its statue of Nelson that predates the one in London's Trafalgar Square. Also call by Holetown, where the British first settled, and see the once neglected Speightstown, the first major port, which is now being given a makeover.

The beaches

This island's exclusive image is largely down to its "Platinum Coast" on the Caribbean side of the island. Here, you'll find the rich and famous enjoying barefoot luxury on white sands lined with sunloungers set out by the five-star hotels that sit cheek by jowl along this coast. Further south, on the more blustery seafront of St Lawrence Gap, the resort hotels spill out on to golden beaches. This is charter-holiday territory, where families mingle on the sands with a procession of brides and grooms searching for that ultimate Caribbean wedding photo. Over on the east coast, the Atlantic waves keep the atmosphere bracing. It's a joy for surfers, but dangerous for swimmers who should ask a local to show them the safe spots for bathing.

The restaurants

Still the island's top spot for a special meal, The Cliff (thecliffbarbados.com) serves a starry clientele exquisite food in a sublime clifftop setting. At the new Marketfive by John Hazzard (00 246 436 1485), the eponymous chef is creating exciting, contemporary Caribbean dishes in a stylish dining room in the unlikely location of the new Sanjay Bridgetown Centre in the capital. Meanwhile, the Fish Pot (littlegoodharbour barbados.com) at the northern reach of the west coast and Cafe Luna (littlearches.com) at the southern end, both continue to delight with fine food and romantic settings. But for dinner with a touch of fun, join the locals and tourists at Fish Friday in Oistins.

The sights

Don't miss St Nicholas Abbey (stnicholasabbey.com) in St Peter, one of just three Jacobean houses remaining in the Americas. Take a tour of Harrison's Cave (harrisonscave.com), the extraordinary limestone caverns at Allen View. Look out for the Emancipation Statue – aka Bussa, after the slave leader – which shows a black man breaking his chains. It sits on a roundabout east of Bridgetown.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Kate Simon travelled to Barbados with the Barbados Tourism Authority (visitbarbados.org). Thomas Cook Signature (0844 879 8015; tcsignature.com) offers seven nights' at Tamarind Cove from £1,299 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights with Virgin Atlantic, resort transfers, and B&B.

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