Rumor has it there are people who go to Barbados and spend the entire time lying on the beach. Not us. Why soak up rays when you could be soaking up the sauces and spicy rubs that have become the calling card of this far east outpost in the Caribbean? As well-known for staying true to their culinary identity as they are for embracing the new, Bajans balance a natural humility with an almost nationalistic love of ribaldry and revelry.
PARTY LIKE A ROCK STAR, SLEEP LIKE A BABY: Sandy Lane, that celebrity citadel on the island’s west coast, gets a lot of press for a reason. Not only does it offer the most palatial digs on the island—think marble columns and private villas—but it’s a magnet for people who prefer to vacation without a side of paparazzi. Also luxe, but less star-studded, The Crane, built in 1887 on the southeast coast, earns its under-the-radar-heaven title with pink sandy beaches and infinity pools galore.
DIRECT FLIGHTS AND FESTIVAL DELIGHTS: Take advantage of the new American Airlines direct flights, and jet over for the Food & Wine and Rum Festival, an annual foodie bonanza that draws culinary luminaries from Tom Colicchio to Fergus Henderson to Fort Worth’s own Tim Love. Enjoy laid-back demos and tastings during the day, but save your strength for the evenings, when the festival morphs into an island-wide party with live music, rum punch, and dancing from Holetown to Wispers on the Bay.
ON, JAMES: Even though the island is only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, the terrain is mountainous, which makes for winding roads and unnerving traffic customs. Do yourself a favor and hire a driver. Not only will he keep you in one piece, but his presence will allow you to enjoy that fine local Mount Gay rum without consequence, and his suggestions for insider dining could elevate your experience from super to stellar.
SMALL IS THE NEW BIG: Barbados is the only island in the Caribbean whose culinary accomplishments have been rewarded with a dedicated Zagat guide—in this case, a modest tome that reflects the local eclecticism and offers a helpful matrix of price and quality points. We suggest starting with Oistins Fish Fry, the rollicking Friday night outdoor Bajan party where fresh fish and macaroni pie come standard. Next, Lobster Alive, an unassuming beach shack on Carlisle Bay. An insiders’ fave, Cuz’s beachside fish sandwich shack on Pebbles Beach caters to locals with lip-smacking $3 fish, fried egg, and cheese pileups. Few restaurants enjoy the praise and loyalty that Champers Wine Bar & Restaurant does. Popular beyond any fad, the restaurant’s oceanfront terrace is the perfect spot to enjoy both deep-fried Camembert and Parmesan-crusted barracuda. Locally produced rum and neighborhood rum shacks, which can be as modest as someone’s enclosed front porch, are a significant part of the Bajan lifestyle. Make like a local and visit the friendly Nigel Benn Aunty Shop on the east coast or the potentially rowdy St. Elmo’s Bar on the west coast. For a more rarefied rum experience, explore the astonishing grounds of St. Nicholas Abbey, a 350-year-old Jacobean plantation house and rum distillery. Take a tour, then purchase a bottle of its top-shelf rum and have it engraved as a gift. Not a bad souvenir.
HOW TO GET THERE: American Airlines (aa.com) flies nonstop from DFW to the Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, with returning flights every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday.
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of D Magazine.