Far from the glitz of Sandy Lane, Emily Dugan enjoys superb Bajan food and hospitality at this refurbished boutique hotel

If all you want to see of Barbados is identikit white-sand beaches, the turquoise Caribbean and packs of other tourists, then you would probably never seek out The Atlantis.

That would be your loss. This small hotel in Bathsheba, on the east side of the island, where giant Atlantic rollers buffet the shore and the scenery takes on a wild, rocky beauty, offers an experience of Barbados that is quite different from that presented by Sandy Lane and its glitzy neighbours on the west coast.

The Atlantis was one of the first hotels to be built on the east coast, after a steam railway line connected it to the busier south and west of the island at the end of the 19th century. The guesthouse's seafront location made it a popular retreat with those who favoured the simple pleasures of Bathsheba, but, in recent years, The Atlantis had become run down, just about maintaining its reputation as the place to go for authentic ABC food (All Bajan Cuisine) on Sunday lunch times.

Then along came Andrew Warden, a man who knows a thing or two about boutique hotels from running the Little Good Harbour guesthouse and its renowned restaurant, The Fish Pot, in Speightstown, on the west coast. He applied the same understated quality to The Atlantis, refurbishing the dilapidated building into a luxurious retreat with eight bedrooms, two two-bedroom suites, swimming pool and new restaurant with outdoor terrace.

The rooms

The bedrooms here are at the centre of the hotel's transformation. Bright fishing-boat colours have been applied to the walls of these high-ceilinged wooden-floored rooms, giving a sense of seaside fun. The beautiful wooden furnishings include grand four-poster beds hung with fine white drapes, while modern touches include iPod docks, Wi-Fi and bathrooms with open plan power-showers. There are eight rooms in the main hotel and a couple of two-bedroom suites on the other side of the pool. The best by far are those with ocean views, where French windows open out on to the roaring sea. Stripy beach towels, a television, kettle, and fridge are all provided.

The food and drink

The Sunday lunch buffet of traditional Bajan cuisine has become so popular that it is now served on Wednesdays, too. The rest of the time, the menu features fresh local and seasonal produce, transformed into a superb yet unpretentious mixture of European and Bajan dishes. A three-course dinner without wine costs around $60 (£36). Service is genuinely friendly, not in that corporate "I've been told to smile" way, but with all staff stopping to chat, and knowledgeable about what they are serving. If the weather is good, you can eat outside on the deck overlooking the ocean.

The extras

Bathsheba is home to one of the best surfing spots in the world – the Soup Bowl. A five-minute walk along the coast, dramatic hollow waves make this into a surfers' playground. If you like your water more tranquil though, you could always watch the sea from the comfort of the hotel's infinity pool or go to one of the more sheltered beaches nearby. Bath beach is one of the best: quiet and protected by a coral reef, it's an ideal spot for picnics. Nowhere is far in Barbados and whether you're using reliable local buses or going by car, it is easy to explore the rest of the island. For more ideas, go to visitbarbados.org.

The access

The hotel is on a steep incline and most rooms are reached by staircase. Children are welcome in the restaurant but are only allowed to stay in the two-bedroom apartments, not the main house.

The bill

Rooms cost from US$300 (£182) per night, $400 for a two-bedroom suite, bookable with Essential Detail (020-8977 6099; essentialdetails.co.uk). British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com) offers return flights from £658. Drive Barbados (001 246 230 1998; drivebarbados.com) hires cars from US$281 per week.

The address

The Atlantis, Tent Bay, St. Joseph, Barbados, West Indies (00 246 433 9445; atlantishotelbarbados.com).