Esther N McCarthy visits Rihanna’s hometown to sample just some of what the colourful Caribbean island has to offer
Iclear my mask, blow out my snorkel, take a deep breath and dive, not too far, under the surface of the Celeste blue water. The world below is vast, soft, in constant motion. I slide past deep fissures in the colourful coral as gang of parrot fish suddenly pop out, blue and busy. I slip past waving brainy branches, my flippers methodical and mellow. With a flick, I sway right, and there he is, a regal sea turtle, looking cross and important, leading a posse of tropical fish past barrel sponges on craggy rocks, towards a shipwreck on the ocean floor.
The sunlight filters through, dappling his hopscotch shell, and I reach down and feel the water ripple as he passes, just me and my breath, impossibly loud through the snorkel. I flick again and spot the rest of the gang from the catamaran tour, mere feet away from me, but for a moment, I feel like it is just me in the vast Atlantic Ocean.
But it’s not. Ten minutes later, I’m shaking off the snorkel vest, mask and flippers, accepting a Bikini Drop cocktail and finding a space on deck to bust some moves to Bruno Mars. The whole boat is dancing and singing, the crew egging us on, the deck vibrating with volume.
We’re anchored adjacent to Sandy Lane hotel, the uber trendy and most expensive hotel in not just Barbados but the entire Caribbean. Rihanna stays there, in the penthouse, when she comes back home to visit, a crew member tells me in a conspiratorial tone, as he grabs my nearly empty drink and replaces it with a new one.
But even if you haven’t won a tonne of awards, or have a Guinness World Record for female artist with the most U.S. number-one singles in a year and you just don’t crush red carpet events with your jawdropping fashiony fabulousness, you can still feel like a superstar in Barbados.
Rihanna has just been on the island in August to celebrate the Crop Over festival. After the cruise, we ask our tour guide if he can show us where she grew up. We stop at a modest, perfectly normal house near Bridgetown, called Sonie Marie. Her neighbour comes by while we’re ogling and tells us what a lovely, sweet person Rihanna is and always was, and asks us to sign a book she keeps for visitors. We stop at Fab-u-lus Boutique in the heart of Bridgetown and the driver shouts in, “Hey, is Monica around?” “Monica’s Rihanna’s mum,” he tells us casually, “I used to work with her.” She’s not there but hey, we came close.
A bus tour of the island is a great way to get a feel for this slice of paradise. Dwayne from Island Safaris piles us into a 4x4 Jeep and brings us to the most scenic spots of the island — on road and off road. We hold on tight and hit Bathsheba Park, Little Bay via Joe’s River Forest, Morgan Lewis Mill, Cave Hill, Cove Bay, St. Lucy’s Parish Church and Sandy’s Chattel
Bar. All the time Dwayne is entertaining us with local history and keeping us well-lubricated with rum punch and snacks.
I’m staying in the stunning Southern Palms in St Lawrence Gap or ‘The Gap’ as the locals call it, a colourful, pulsing place. If you want nightlife, this is the place to be. “The weekend starts on Wednesday here,” a fellow queuer tells me, raising his voice over the live music, as we wait for our turn in Oistin’s Fish Fry.
It’s a huge outdoor restaurant, with picnic style seating, very informal, you collect your disposable plate at the grill and squeeze in where you can. The atmosphere is buzzing, you get a sense of real Bajan life, it’s loud, it’s fun, and the food — exceptional. Cooked on the spot, choose from tuna, swordfish, lobster, chicken but you cannot visit Barbados without trying the mahi-mahi. Chargrilled, simply, with butter, it is a sensation.
A big plate, with a beer, will set up back BDs
$30 — about €13. Bajans know food, And they know cocktails. Do not, under any circumstances, leave without trying a Bajan Rum Swizzle. It’s a double shot of Mount Gay Black Barrell, pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine and bitters.
Along The Gap, there’s the Harbour Lights — the only nightclub on the island and plenty of bars, the Lucky Horseshoe stays open 24 hours if that’s your thing plus lots of rum shops and restaurants.
This little island knows how to pull out all the stops. Whatever you’re looking for — be it an active sporty break, a fun-fuelled dance fest, a gastronomical journey or a just a chill out on the beach, beautiful Barbados delivers.
With a flick, I turn right, and there he is, a regal sea turtle, looking
cross and important, leading a posse of tropical fish past barrel sponges on craggy rocks, towards a shipwreck on the
Get yourself to London and British Airways flies from Gatwick to Barbados daily during the summer and 12 times a week during the winter. Return flights start from €628.
The Southern Palms is located on the lively St. Lawrence Gap, on the south coast of Barbados, a stunning four-star colonial style building, set right on Dover Beach, where we spotted nesting turtles. It’s walking distance to the many bars, restaurants and the nightlife of the Gap. You can’t miss it, it’s bright pink. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT TO DO
Catamaran Tour www.coolrunningsbarbados.com
Island Safari www.islandsafari.bb
George Washington house is well worth a visit.
barbados.org/george_washington.htm Andromeda Gardens
This is a stunning 6-acre botanical garden www.andromedabarbados.com barbados.org/george_washington
It’s the Year of Sport 2017 in Barbados. Watch out for the Dragon World Championship and Barbados Beach Tennis Championship in October, Food and Rum Festival in November, Barbados Beach and Wellness Festival September, Barbados Cycling Festival in September, Run Barbados, Marathon Series in December www.visitbarbados.org
WHERE TO EAT
Fishpot Restaurant www.littlegoodharbourbarbados.com Champers champersrestaurant.com
Lemon Arbour www.thevillagebarbb.com
The Cocktail Kitchen www.cocktail-kitchen.com Lobster Alive www.lobsteralive.net
Oistin’s Fish Fry www.facebook.com/oistinfishfry