Planning your superyacht holiday for the Caribbean season? Barbados has now reopened its borders. Sophia Wilson reviews one of the best hotels in Barbados, Cobblers Cove, as she discovers why the island is the perfect post-lockdown cruising destination...
Nearly 4,000 nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean separate the British coastline from Barbados’s sandy shores, but this hasn’t prevented it from picking up the nickname Little England. Three hundred years under British rule has left the two cultures inextricably intertwined and, despite being independent since 1966, the island still has a Home Counties flavour – Waitrose products are sold in its supermarkets, red postboxes collect letters bound for home and thoroughbreds race on manicured turf at its Garrison Savannah track.
This sense of familiarity is perhaps the main reason the Panama-hat set flock to its golden beaches. It’s little wonder Barbados has been typecast for decades as a “fly and flop” destination for the old-school (and a no-no for the cool). The tide, however, is turning: with 2018-elected Prime Minister Mia Mottley gaining a reputation as Barbados’s superwoman, giving the island has a new vibrancy – and it’s contagious.
Sitting more than 80 nautical miles from the shores of St Vincent and the rainforested peaks of St Lucia, Barbados is slightly off the beaten track from the normal Caribbean yachting milk run. However, plenty of sizeable boats – including the 74-metre Global, 91-metre Lady Lara and 39-metre Our Way – have made the voyage to the easternmost Caribbean island recently. A flurry of openings and upgrades have appeared on its sheltered western coast – where yachts up to 75 metres can dock in Port St Charles, and other ports nearby – so this number looks set to increase.
The pink-hued Cobblers Cove hotel, located on the outskirts of Speightstown, is one property that epitomises this momentum shift in Barbados. The much-loved, family-owned resort has been a staple of the island’s luxury scene for more than 50 years. Built in the 1940s, using steel from the old island railway for its structure and coral stone rock for cladding, it was sold to Alan and Lady Elizabeth Godsal in 1968. Despite being told that it was too far north to succeed, they established Cobblers Cove as a popular tropical retreat for well-heeled Brits seeking excellent service and home comforts.
The couple’s son Hugh and his wife Sam de Teran have taken over the property and have set about subtly rejuvenating it to meet modern demands, while retaining its fiercely loyal clientele. “Barbados is changing very fast,” says de Teran. “With Mia Mottley in charge there is no telling what Barbados can become.”
Cobblers has maintained its classic British soul; afternoon tea is still served at 4pm sharp, the charming bartenders still wear starched white shirts with bow ties and the beachfront retains its pink and white candy-cane palette. The gentle five-year transformation was overseen by de Teran and included a collaboration with UK interior designer Soane Britain to update the Great House and two signature suites. The result is a chic, Soho-House-at- sea aesthetic with local touches such as tropical prints, seashells, colonial shutters and ceiling fans, blended with light, bright colours.
The husband-and-wife team is also updating the ethos of the Relais & Châteaux hotel, including the fine-dining evening menu. “When I first arrived at Cobblers the menus were extraordinary. You could have calf ’s liver for breakfast, beef en croute for dinner and Queen of Puddings for dessert,” de Teran explains. “We now try to substitute items such as foie gras or caviar with things that are equally upmarket but sourced locally.” At dinner, for which guests are still encouraged to dress smartly, the menu now features dishes such as blackened catch of the day with seasonal vegetables, while breakfast includes local fruits such as soursop.
Beyond the changes within the hotel, de Teran also has a clear vision of how the property should interact with the rest of the island. “Some of the hotels have traditionally acted as very posh ghettos for visitors and this is something that needs to change,” she explains. “I think younger visitors want to explore locally, eat more locally and experience the island.” In this way, the hotel now encourages guests to go out to enjoy local restaurants and live music, try hikes and bespoke National Trust tours, or experience highland rum tastings, travelling on a traditional open-sided Bajan bus. “We need to reposition Barbados and tell the world that it is not just a desert island,” de Teran adds. “There is more to it and we need to make people think about Barbados again.”
Taking her advice, I head out to explore Barbados by boat, and 10 minutes in a tender quickly illustrates why this western stretch of sand is nicknamed the Platinum Coast. The shoreline is peppered with luxury hotels, including Sandy Lane, and grand private residences, such as Cove Spring House – used by Simon Cowell during multiple series of The X Factor and Prince Harry for holidays – and the palatial Heron Bay residence. But nowadays it’s not just about bling: there are also plenty of places to unwind with your feet in the sand.
Less than seven nautical miles from Cobblers Cove lies La Cabane, the newest beach bar to open on the west coast. Under the same ownership as the nearby Cliff Restaurant, its location on Batts Rock showcases the kind of scenery Barbados is famous for, with a slope of white sand sinking into cornflower-blue waters. Wooden tables are shaded by palm trees and the locally inspired menu – with dishes such as flambé lobster and blackened fish sandwich – is painted on to a surfboard. At the tiki-style bar, complete with swing seats, an in-house mixologist creates cocktails with a Bajan twist, such as a La Cabane Spritz made with Aperol, Prosecco and passion fruit.
Further north in Mullins Bay sits the Sea Shed, another spot designed for turning lunch into a long afternoon. With driftwood fixtures, cream canvas chairs and beaming staff in coloured shorts, the restaurant has a similar vibe to some of St Barths’ beach clubs but with a Bajan twist. Sea Shed’s fish- to-plate ethos focuses on the local catch of the day – creating dishes such as tuna tartare served with a pipette of sesame dressing so that you can self-season – but there is also a brick pizza oven for those looking for something more relaxed. With options like this increasingly springing up along the west coast, it’s not surprising that it is starting to lure guests away from their hotel sun loungers or off their yachts.
But it’s not just the onshore delights that make Barbados a worthwhile yachting stop-off – the surrounding waters also have plenty to offer. The west coast is ideal for watersports, and if you don’t have your own toy box then Bradley from Cobblers Cove will take you water skiing on the hotel’s pink- and-white-striped speedboat. Alternatively, the rougher waters on the Atlantic side of the island attract plenty of surfers.
The island’s biggest wave is the Soup Bowl, found halfway up the east coast. Surfers talk about the spot in the same terms as Hawaii’s north shore of Oahu. Barbados’s location also means that it has snared wayward ships for centuries, resulting in more than 200 wrecks to dive. Six of these can now be found in the Bay of Carlisle, all lying in the sand less than 200 metres from the beach. Sitting at depths between three and 17 metres, they are now home to intricate coral, colourful reef fish and baby squid.
As well as wrecks, Bajan waters are famed for their turtles, with hawksbill, leatherback and green varieties all present. In the calm waters just alongside Port St Charles, the sea grasses are teeming with green turtles. As soon as I put my snorkel mask on, I see the first one paddle by. Before long there are half a dozen gliding around me, from younger ones, which are about the size of a terrier, to huge ones that must weigh the same amount as a young child. They seem unbothered by my presence, and the main concern is avoiding them as they blunder gently into me.
For those looking to further explore the wilder side of Barbados, there is also a criss-cross of hiking trails. Cobblers Cove recommends walking from the Atlantic Coast to the Caribbean Sea to get an overview of the northern end of the country. At less than a million years old, Barbados is a geological anomaly. Unlike its Lesser Antilles neighbours, the island was created by the natural collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, and is not volcanic. This has resulted in a softer topography created from coral stone that formed not only the huge swathes of sand beach but also the rich soils that shaped its turbulent history as one of the world’s leading producers of sugar cane for Britain.
It is roughly 20,000 steps from coast to coast and the three-hour walk takes me around local villages, past former plantation houses and mills and through farming lands producing vegetables and sugar cane (which is still grown locally for the island’s Mount Gay rum). As I walk, young local guide Jovaughn Warren, who has set up his own hiking company called Conquer Terrain, explains some of the changes that his generation is bringing about. “There is an increasing awareness that we need to protect the island and be more environmentally focused,” he says. “But people are slow to change.”
One site that is leading the eco charge is the Walkers Reserve, a 140-hectare former sand quarry that is being transformed into a vibrant forest. It will provide a habitat for migratory birds and farmland for the surrounding community. It will also protect the sand dunes that are breeding grounds for leatherback turtles. Elsewhere on the island, there is also a push for the switch to electric vehicles, with a company called Megapower responsible for not only selling electric vehicles but also peppering the island with EV charging stations (there are now estimated to be more than 200 electric vehicles on the island).
As we reach the peak of the ridge of hills that divides the east from the west, the early morning sun breaks through the clouds that shine ethereally across the rolling tropical landscape, to the wild waves of the Atlantic beyond. The spot has to be one of the best vantage points to appreciate the beauty of this island that is unique in character, history and geology. The quiet revolution going on across the country can only serve to boost Barbados’s natural credentials and welcome a new generation of visitors to its shores.
Rates at Cobblers Cove start from £903, based on two sharing either the Camelot or the Colleton Suite on a B&B basis. Click the button below to book now. This feature is taken from the March 2020 issue of BOAT International.BOOK NOW