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Stay the night: Tamarind Hotel, Barbados

An elegant refurbishment has transformed this beach hideaway, a perfect place for exploring island and ocean, says Emily Dugan

The west coast of Barbados has a reputation for being a bit brash. Think Michael Winner, gold jewellery and too many D-list celebrities hoping to get papped on jet-skis. But brash is just what the Tamarind isn't.

True, it has three pools, sits on a large stretch of palm-fringed white sand beach, and has its own boat taxi service. Yet it somehow manages to emit an understated cool. This is largely down to the design, which is simple and elegant. A series of courtyards and passageways leads to more than 100 rooms, but it feels much smaller. And a recent redevelopment by the owners, Elegant Hotels, completed in November, has maintained that sense of intimacy while refocusing almost all the rooms on the sea and providing a much-needed spruce-up.

All beaches in Barbados are public, so as well as the beautiful 750ft crescent of white sand on your doorstep, there are seaside walks in either direction. It makes the hotel a great place from which to explore some of the island's west coast. And if you want to go further afield, the hotel sits about halfway up the coast, so nowhere is much further than half an hour away by car. If you don't have your own wheels it's also on the main bus routes to Bridgetown, Speightstown, and Oistins, setting of the island's Fish Friday, where the fish market plies its trade into the night with stalls providing fresh catch and live music to add to the entertainment. A water taxi service also runs three times a day between Tamarind and Elegant's three other west coast hotels: Crystal Cove, The House and Colony Club.

The rooms

On the rare occasion a stray cloud covers the sun, or you want some air-conditioned solace from it, inside you'll find rooms are modern with neutral coloured walls and bed linen, brightened by flashes of red and green from cushions, rugs, and abstract artwork. The rooms, once a little tatty, have been spruced up with brand new furniture made from good-quality natural materials, including solid wood and soft leather. Suites have glass screen doors on to balconies set with loungers, giving you your own space to relax. Flat-screen satellite television and an iPod dock/alarm clock are standard.

The food and drink

From fine dining to bar snack food and a weekly Bajan buffet, most tastes are catered for and almost all eating is outside (or in open-walled rooms, if the weather turns). If you want cocktails, light food and tapas, try the Rilaks Deck by the main pool where a main course is about $15 (£9). For lobster thermidor and serious fine dining, the 246 restaurant (named after the phone code for Barbados) is impressive – as is the bill: a three-course meal without wine will set you back $50 (£31) at the very least. The hotel group also owns the pricey but excellent Daphne's next door – sister of the famous South Kensington restaurant – serving a blend of Bajan and Italian cuisine. You need to make reservations for dinner because it gets booked up quickly.

The extras

Most water sports are included in the price of your room – just book a slot with the team at the beach hut. You can help yourself to sea kayaks, windsurfers and even small sailing boats if you know what you are doing. A motorboat takes guest out for half-hour bouts of speedier sea sporting activities – including waterskiing, wakeboarding and doughnut riding. The beach is close to where day-trip boats moor to take people snorkelling with turtles, making it a good spot from which to swim out if you've got your own kit and want to see the turtles. Otherwise the hotel can arrange for you to join an official excursion. The in-hotel spa offers an extensive list of massages and beauty treatments and there is a secluded adults-only pool in a quiet courtyard next to the spa.

Tamarind has also invested a lot in making sure kids are entertained. The Flying Fish Club will supervise your children from 10am until 5pm, organising activities catered to specific age groups. Two clubs are decked out with Nintendo Wiis, arts and crafts kit, and games for children aged four to 12. They also organise pool trips. A teenage den is filled with computer games, table tennis and air hockey tables.

The access

There is disabled access to ground floor rooms and all restaurants, facilities and pools. Children are welcome.

The bill

A garden view double starts from £158 a night. The writer flew with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), who offers seven nights at Tamarind from £1,199 per person, including return flights; flights only from £658. For car hire, Abdul at Drive Barbados offers an excellent service (001 246 230 1998; drivebarbados.com), from $281 (£173) a week for a small hatchback.

The address

Tamarind Hotel, Paynes Bay, St James, Barbados (0800 917 3534; elegant hotels.com).