Fly from Manchester for a luxury trip to Barbados

Bathsheba on the north-east coast of Barbados

Bathsheba on the north-east coast of Barbados - Credit: 13 Degrees

Seb Thompson of Manchester Airport takes us on a luxury guided tour from the North of England to the Caribbean

man on rock in Barbados

Seb Thompson enjoying the rugged coast views on the Barbados Island Safari tour - Credit: Seb Thompson

Barbados, the most easterly of the Caribbean Islands, has been a firm favourite with passengers at Manchester Airport for many years and is set for great change this month (November) as it becomes a Republic, 55 years after its independence. 

The British first arrived on the island in 1625 and due to the vast sugar plantations, Barbados was once one of the richest of all the British colonies. That richness definitely continues to this very day, although it can now be found in the warmness of the Bajan people and all the wonderful things the island has to offer holidaymakers. 

Links between the North of England and Barbados are stronger than ever, as Aer Lingus has chosen Manchester Airport as its first UK base for transatlantic flights, and I was lucky enough to join the inaugural flight to the island in October, where I got to sample the warmth and richness of Barbados for myself. Further Aer Lingus routes to New York and Orlando will follow in December. 

Barbados has been a popular destination for British holidaymakers during the pandemic given its status on the UK Government’s old traffic light system, furthermore whilst we were out there, entry to the island was made easier by the Barbadian Government, with the removal of PCR tests on entry and stopping quarantine on arrival. 

Stepping out in the 31 degrees heat I literally felt the warmness of the island right away. This was continued on arrival at our hotel with a friendly welcome and obligatory rum punch (lots more to come on rum later), while checking in. 

​​​​​​​Bridgetown city centre

Bridgetown city centre - Credit: 13 Degrees

Tourism is the main industry on the island, with Brits being the number one visitor, making up around 33 per cent of all holidaymakers. The Bajan people have got it spot on when it comes to welcoming and accommodating us Brits for our week or two in the Caribbean sunshine.

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There are hotels, attractions and restaurants to suit every taste, traveller and budget, so whatever you are looking for in a holiday, Barbados ticks all the boxes. We had an action-packed itinerary on our trip, meaning we got to sample many restaurants and attractions.  

Although Barbados is only 21 miles by 14 miles, adventure-seeking, intrepid explorers are spoilt for choice with land and sea options to check out the island. We opted for the wet option first!  
Lasting around four hours a Silver Moon catamaran cruise is a great way to see the stunning coastline of Barbados in style. With an informative crew, a fully stocked bar plus delicious food, it’s a must do for those looking for some luxury on their travels.

Turtle

Turtle on Silver Moon cruise - Credit: Visit Barbados

Throughout the cruise, there are several stop-offs to get those Instagram-worthy sunset pictures, plus there is the opportunity to snorkel and get up close to turtles and even a shipwreck to see. Barbados is a major nesting site in the Caribbean for three species of sea turtle, so you won’t be disappointed as they glide past you at touching distance in the clear waters of the island.  

Back on dry land, we enjoyed an adrenaline-pumping Island Safari, where you spend the day in an open 4x4 that takes you to many of the island’s stunning vistas from the rugged east coast to the calmer waters of the west coast.

With plenty of off-roading and the rum punch flowing, it makes for an unforgettable experience with breathtaking views that will last for a lifetime.  

If exploring by sea and land aren’t enough for you, then why not go one further and explore underground with a trip to the incredible Harrison’s Cave. The awe-inspiring cave is more than two kilometres long and its largest cavern measures 15 metres high.

You’ll feel just like Indiana Jones as you take a tram ride through the enchanting cave that boasts beautiful streams, waterfalls and magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations.

The owners have great aspirations for the attraction with plans to transform it to an eco-adventure park, which will include zip lines, tree-top trails, and rope bridges. Definitely a reason to return when it opens in March 2022. 

If history and nature are more your thing then you also won’t be disappointed with some great options while on the island. With four centuries of British rule, Barbados is steeped in history, and it was fascinating to see and learn first-hand the effects of the colonial age and how the island was transformed into one of the most profitable in the British Empire, through the sugar plantations established.

St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey - Credit: Visit Barbados

Barbados had one of the world’s biggest sugar industries and tourists can see and experience this history while on the island.  

We made a trip to the impressive 350-year-old Jacobean mansion, St Nicholas Abbey, which is one of only three remaining in the Western Hemisphere and a former estate of Benedict Cumberbatch’s distant 18th-century relations.

As well as touring the great house, visitors can ride on a steam heritage locomotive up to Cherry Tree Hill, which gives guests a flavour of how the sugar would have been transported out of the plantation to the port in the capital of Bridgetown. 

St Nicholas Abbey also has a rum distillery to explore (and sample). Barbados has been credited with inventing rum in the 17th century, when plantation workers experimented with fermenting molasses, a by-product of sugar production, into alcohol. The sugar industry declined in the 1800s partly to do with the abolition of slavery in 1833.

However, rum production continues with it being one of the main things the island is known for, particularly the most famous Mount Gay brand.  

To find out about the lesser well-known aspects of Barbados’ history, then a walking tour of the island’s capital Bridgetown is a must-do. You can really see the British influence in the architecture and the street names, and our tour guide – Dawn Lisa – was incredibly knowledgeable and informative.

As we meandered through the hustle and bustle of the capital she shared stories of the past – such as the warehouses where slaves would be held, to how places and buildings would need to change their names when the country becomes a republic.  

We ended the tour with a trip to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum, the oldest place of worship for the Jewish community in the Western Hemisphere. Here you can learn about the role the Jewish population played in Barbados’ early days when Oliver Cromwell gave them sanctuary after having to flee Brazil in 1628.  

Tropical gardens

Andromeda Botanic Gardens - Credit: Seb Thompson

For the green-fingered traveller, or those seeking calm and serenity, then a visit to Andromeda Botanic Gardens is just the ticket. They were set up by Barbadian self-taught scientist Iris Bannochie (1914-1988) around her home on the island. Andromeda contains an unparalleled collection of different plants from many other tropical and sub-tropical locations, either collected by Iris herself, as she travelled the world on plant-collecting expeditions, or given to her as gifts.

The colours and shades of light and dark, as you casually stroll through the gardens instantly create a sense of calm and peacefulness. They are the perfect way to relax after the more action-packed attractions.

Like most places you visit in Barbados there is rum punch available, we sampled a glass before our tour where they have their own delicious recipe – one which I have since recreated now I am back in the UK.  

As you’ve read rum features heavily throughout the island and if it is your tipple of choice then a trip to the Rum Vault at the Colony Club will quench your thirst.

It is a private dining space that has a range of set menus with rum-based cocktails paired for each course, followed by a rum flight after your dessert. The food is exquisite, and the cocktails are designed to bring out and enhance the flavours. Just make sure to have a glass of water on the side as there is a lot of rum to get through! 

On the subject of food and drink, we were lucky enough to sample some of the best places the island has to offer – far too many to mention here.

Some of my favourites included beach club, bar and restaurant Sea Shed, where you can spend your days lunching by the turquoise waters or sipping cocktails under the starry Caribbean sky. Another waterfront must is Paul Owens at The Beach House where you can enjoy a sumptuous Sunday lunch by the sea whilst sipping on some fine wines.

If you’re after a super chic dining experience, then Fusion Rooftop is the one for you. Here you can dine under the stars and enjoy high-class, yet informal dining.

It offers Caribbean dishes mixed with an oriental twist. I can certainly recommend the blackened catch of the day, which on my visit was Mahi-Mahi and was mouth-wateringly delicious.

I was also lucky enough to try the sushi too, which ever since has made me want another piece! The food for me in Barbados really stuck out as a highlight while on the island. With dishes to tantalise the tastebuds it really is a foodies dream holiday. So much so I have brought a range of spices and pastes back home so I can create my own Bajan flavours here in the UK. 

After all that exploring, delicious cuisine and copious amounts of rum, you’ll probably be wondering where is best to lay your head.

Accommodation on the island is wide and varied, ranging from picturesque plantation houses and villas to quaint bed and breakfast gems; prestigious international chains; and award-winning five-diamond resorts. We had the pleasure of sampling two properties during our trip. 

Hotel pool bar

The pool bar at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort - Credit: Alex Jackson Photography

First up was the beautiful Bougainvillea Beach Resort, which is set in tropical gardens on the tranquil Maxwell Bay. Featuring furnished balconies or terraces, the airy studios and one-bedroom suites come with complimentary Wi-Fi, iPod docks and flat-screen TVs with premium channels.

All include kitchenettes or full kitchens, plus living and dining areas. Children aged 15 and under stay free. The resort has two restaurants, and two outdoor pools (one with a swim-up bar). Other amenities include a spa, a fitness centre and a tennis court. A kids' club, a games room and water sports equipment are also available. 

Beach in Barbados

The beach at The Sands - Credit: Seb Thompson

The second hotel we stayed in was The Sands, located on 2.5 acres of stunning beachfront on the south coast of Barbados. The Sands delivers stylish Condo-Hotel Living. This contemporary all-inclusive hotel offers a range of modern facilities, including a pristine feature pool, rooftop bar, on-site gym, spa and a selection of water sport activities. 

The Sands Barbados boasts comfortable studios, as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom condo-style suites. The resort offers a range of services including concierge, a porter and luggage storage to make your stay that much more relaxing. 

KEY INFORMATION 

Aer Lingus flies three times a week direct to Barbados from Manchester Airport on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Economy fares start from £209 each way and Business Class from £2,800 return, taxes and charges included, visit aerlingus.com to book. 

I was a guest at the Sands, Barbados. More information is available at thesandsbarbados.com   

I was a guest at Bougainvillea, Barbados. More information is available at bougainvilleabarbados.com 

For best deals on hotel and flights packages, direct with Aer Lingus to Barbados visit British Airways Holidays. Prices start from £689pp, visit ba.com/aerlingus

For more information on things to do in Barbados, take a look at the tourist board’s website – visitbarbados.org  

You currently need to have a PCR test before departure when going to Barbados and a lateral flow test within two days of your return to the UK. I booked mine with one of our airport onsite providers, Randox which provided a quick, easy hassle-free service for both sets of tests. randox.com

Manchester Airport is committed to passenger safety, for more information on all our Covid-19 measures check out  manchesterairport.co.uk/coronavirus/