From diving and fine dining to history and wildlife, Barbados has it all. TTG visited the newly all-inclusive Tamarind by Elegant Hotels.
A shadowy mass looms out of the blue A below as I slowly descend, the number on my diving depth gauge climbing from 10, to 20, to 30 metres.
The top deck of the shipwreck comes into focus as I get nearer, and the vastness of the 111-metre long vessel begins to reveal itself.
Shoals of sergeant majors dart beside me as I explore the colossal hull, bedecked with pink rope sponges and yellow tube sponges.
The front mast of the ship stands upright, with fish dancing around it like a maypole.
I marvel at ladders and chains encrusted with sponges and corals, at grouper, parrotfish and portly boxfish, and get a fright when an octopus uncurls suddenly from its hiding place.
The Stavronikita is a Greek freighter that caught fire in 1976 on its way from Ireland to the Caribbean, and was purpose-sunk to be used for recreational diving.
The “Stav” is one of the Caribbean’s largest and most famous wreck-dives, but Carlisle Bay Marine Park alone is home to another six purpose-sunk wrecks.
Here, some are at depths of only six to 10 metres, meaning even snorkellers can enjoy them, and I’m lucky to see a ginormous trumpetfish, a shoal of squid, a menacing moray eel tucked into a hole, a turtle and a friendly southern stingray.
Almost all of Barbados’s scuba diving sites are off its sheltered west coast, but by dint of lying 100 miles further out into the Atlantic than its neighbours, Barbados also has a much rougher east coast.
Strong trade winds create fantastic conditions for surfers, and it’s world-renowned for kite-surfing too.
I book a six-hour introductory course with Kite Surf International. We are Carolina’s first students of the season, and the wind in mid-November is still changeable, but I learn how to handle the kite by making small adjustments on the steering bar.
It is counter-intuitive to use such gentle movements to control it, especially when the kite picks up power and threatens to pull you off your feet.
I learn the hard way how important it is to release the bar when Carolina shouts “let go!” with increasing urgency: my kite comes down over some spiky vegetation and gets a big rip in it.
If I show moderate potential in kitesurfing, the same cannot be said of waterskiing, one of several activities offered free of charge at my hotel, Tamarind.
As I lie in the water with my knees tucked up and hands locked on the handle, the instructor’s shouts are similar to Carolina’s: “Relax! Don’t pull!”. But the added complication of two skis on my feet, which are hell-bent on crossing, is insurmountable. After seven unsuccessful attempts to stand, even the instructor admits I might not have a natural skill for it.
Tamarind by Elegant Hotels is one of seven Elegant properties in Barbados, located on the west, or “Platinum”, coast. The hotel is on a 230-metre stretch of beach and was formerly a private house.
Seven of the 101 guest-rooms and suites are in the central historic building with thick limestone walls, while the original Mediterranean-inspired red-tile floor has been replicated throughout the resort.
Tamarind is a top-seller for families, with an impressive kids’ club, which - unusually - also takes children out on snorkelling excursions and trips to Harrison’s Cave.
Tricky teenagers are also catered for, receiving a personalised pair of Bluetooth headphones and a VIP card at check in, and provided with a pool table, foosball and table tennis in the Tamarind Club.
"The waiters make a fuss over our anniversary, bringing a chocolate cake with a firework in it."
There might be up to 70 children at the resort in peak season, but adults can easily find peace and quiet if they wish, at the adults-only pool in a quiet courtyard, where I enjoy getting some respite from the sun.
As of October 2019, Tamarind is the fourth of Elegant’s Barbados hotels to offer all-inclusive – and has enjoyed a boost in business as a result. The resort will be in a transitionary period until late spring, so the menus still display prices and guests need to sign for everything when I visit in November.
The main restaurant, 246 Deck, is over the beach, and has themed evenings from Asian and seafood to steak-and-jazz nights, with only one buffet night per week. Rilaks Bar also serves a casual menu, but I have plenty of other dining options through Elegant’s dine-around programme.
A favourite is Shiso, the Asian-fusion restaurant at Waves, where I enjoy skilfully prepared sushi and sashimi, and delicious blackened cod.
As Tamarind guests, we are also invited to dine at Elegant Hotel’s fine dining restaurant Daphne’s once during our stay. Next door to Tamarind, it is frequently named as one of the island’s top 10 restaurants, and is a sister-restaurant to Daphne’s in London’s South Kensington.
I enjoy the elegant Italian cuisine - beef carpaccio and speck-wrapped pork - and the waiters make a lovely fuss over our anniversary, bringing a chocolate cake with a firework in it.
Service is slow, though, and Tamarind guests choose from a menu which excludes Daphne’s signature lobster linguine and has a rather limited list of basic Chilean wines.
A stand-out meal of my trip is at a hip new restaurant a little further down the west coast, La Cabane. Tables are right on the sand, with the menu painted on a surfboard, and black and white movies playing on a screen slung between two trees. Ceviche, fish skewers and pork belly are simple but exquisite.
Since Barbados is only 20 miles long by 14 wide, the island’s many visitor attractions are all within reach with a hire car. Barbados Wildlife Reserve ($15), in the north-east of the island, is a delightful wildlife park, with mara, agouti, deer, tortoises and peacocks roaming freely, and mischievous green monkeys coming into the reserve each day to be fed.
Mischievous green monkeys also come into the reserve each day to be fed; we miss feeding time but have the reserve almost to ourselves in the late afternoon, and still get to see plenty of monkeys marauding in the car park.
We spend another afternoon at St Nicholas Abbey ($23) – an historic sugar plantation which now produces some of the island’s finest rum. The Great House dates back to 1658 and is one of only three Jacobean-style mansions in the Western hemisphere.
On a guided tour we learn about the process of distilling rum, and taste molasses and some barrel-aged neat rum. It is also an opportunity to consider the island’s colonial history, and how previous owners of the plantation made vast fortunes through exploiting slave labour.
It’s intriguing to see portraits of previous owners on the walls including Abraham Cumberbatch, the seventh great-grandfather of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. A new heritage railway opened alongside the abbey in early 2019, taking visitors around the lake and up to Cherry Tree Hill.
History-lovers will find plenty else to explore in Barbados too, from museums and mills to barracks and an old hospital - and even a Unesco World Heritage site, in Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison.
I spend the final few hours before heading to the airport on the windswept east coast at the deserted Crane Beach, mesmerised by huge waves crashing against the rocks.
With some of the best cultural attractions, restaurants and water sports in the region, it’s easy to see why Barbados is the UK’s top destination in the eastern Caribbean.
And whether clients want an action-packed holiday trying new things they’ve never tried before, or the chance to escape the crowds and have a beach to themselves, Barbados really does include it all.
Caribtours has a seven-night all-inclusive stay in June 2020 from £2,019pp based on two sharing a pool/garden view room including flights with Virgin Atlantic and access to a UK airport lounge.
Car hire with Holiday Extras costs from £172.94 for seven days in June 2020. Lounge access at Barbados airport costs £20 with Holiday Extras.
Flight time: 8h 30m
Time difference: -4 GMT
Best time to go: Year-round. December to April is “peak season” with the least chance of rain. June to November is rainy season but it’s normally just a short shower.
Getting around: Taxis are readily available, but the local bus is cheap and fun.