How would you define luxury? Elegant, unpretentious style... thoughtful touches that make you feel pampered... discreet, top-quality service? Then you should check into The Sandpiper on Barbados

Caribbean luxury can often be a little, well, brash. White Bentleys ferrying guests to restaurants two minutes' away, three golf courses to choose from, that kind of thing. But The Sandpiper, on the prime St James coast of Barbados, offers great luxury with wholesome, unpretentious style. It is small - 45 rooms - yet spacious, and its friendly British proprietors Karen Capaldi and husband Wayne are a vigilant presence. The décor is elegant yet cosy - clean colonial style decorated with local artwork. It's not opulent, but it has many nice touches. There are shell-shaped mini-footbaths outside each room, which is an elegant solution to spreading sand about. Altogether, it offers top standards, coupled with understated charm and peace and quiet. Heaven.

The comfort factor

Each room is beautifully furnished, with a spacious covered terrace, well-equipped for outdoor dining and reclining. All have fans and air-conditioning, and many have kitchen facilities, but none, at the moment, has a television. "We just think people like to get away from the telly when they come on holiday," says Karen. The hotel has been relandscaped, and two Treetop suites (called "Sanderling" and "Whimbrel" after local birds) have been added. Both feature stunning views, wraparound terraces and plunge pools. They make you want to get married just so that you can honeymoon there.

The bathroom

Towels abound. There's a cool, cotton dressing gown and generous amounts of eucalyptus-scented smellies. Oh, and a magnifying mirror, so you can see your beach-ravaged pores in macro. Nice. The new Treetop suites have magnificent bathrooms: walk-in wet-room showers, free-standing baths, acres of mirror and tiles.

The food and drink

Buffet breakfasts feature plenty of fresh fruit, and full English/American breakfasts are cooked to order. The coffee isn't quite what it should be, but that goes for most places on the island. Light lunches or salads on room service are reasonable, and dinner in the restaurant is a smart affair. There's also a cheerful beach-side cocktail bar. The resident barman, Harold, is so popular with guests that one family flew him to the UK to make cocktails at their party.

The people

Mostly British, and older rather than younger. My taxi driver told me Tony Blair dined here en famille last year - but Wayne and Karen were unable to confirm or deny.

The area

The top hotels are clustered along the sheltered coast of St James parish. The Sandpiper is tucked in the middle of them, which means that if you're nosy about other hotels you can easily explore them. Good restaurants, such as the spectacular Cliff and the more informal eaterie The Fish Pot, are close at hand, too.

The damage

It's currently high season, so until March prices range from $675 (£377) per night for a basic room to $2,245 per night for b&b in one of the Treetop suites. In low season double rooms start at $325. Dinner in for two starts at around $70 (£40) without wine.

The address

St James Beach, Barbados, West Indies (001 246 422 2251; www.sandpiperbarbados.com).

The author flew as a guest of British Airways (0870-850 9850; ba.com). Return flights to Barb- ados in February start from £440

LIKED THAT? TRY THESE

The Coral Reef Club (001 246 422 2372; www.coralreef barbados.com), just along the beach, is The Sandpiper's sister hotel and offers a similar vibe.

Little Arches (001 246 420 4689; www.littlearches.com) is an intimate 10-room hotel which offers sea views on Barbados's southern coast.

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