Barbados. One mention of the name and azure waters and powder-soft sand immediately spring to mind. While small in size, the Caribbean country has long established itself as home to the glitterati for decades.
Simon Cowell, Dannii Minogue, David and Victoria Beckham, Wayne and Coleen Rooney and not forgetting the born-and-bred Bajan beauty herself, Rihanna, have all been known to flock to the island for some respite and relaxation.
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With its white sandy beaches, Barbados has been home to the glitterati for decades
When HELLO! Online visited in mid-October, locals warned of the possible showers or "liquid sunshine" as it was endearingly called, but we experienced little of that and travelling in December or January seems a welcome option to escape the harsh European winter.
Thanks to Elegant Hotels - who proved the epitome of warm Bajan hospitality - and their just-launched nightlife guide, we were able to explore and soak in the various gems of the island. And when it was time to rest, a sun lounger and a bottomless rum punch was always within arm's reach.
Read on for the top 10 things to do in Barbados...
Crystal Cove resort on the luxurious West Coast offers complimentary water sports
1. Sunset catamaran cruise and swimming with sea turtles, West Coast. This is what a holiday feels like - lounging on the open deck of a catamaran, sipping on a delectable rum punch and feeling the warm Caribbean sun tickle your face. Leaving from Bridgetown with Tiami Catamaran Cruises, the two-hour sail takes you along the West Coast and stops mid-way for snorkelling and swimming with sea turtles.
2. Oistins, South Coast. Every night is party night on the laid-back island, but Oistins is the place to go on a Friday evening, if you don't mind crowds. Tourists and locals alike descend on the casual street food market, where fresh fish and seafood hit the frying pan. Try the mahi mahi - a common dolphinfish that is not Flipper, as locals insist.
3. Bathsheba, East Coast. Home to the best surf and beautiful sunrises, the village of Bathsheba is a one-stop wonder for experienced surfers. Set on the rugged East Coast, striking rock formations line the shore and provide the perfect backdrop for an epic sunrise.
Get up close and personal to sea turtles while enjoying a trip out on a catamaran
4. St Nicholas Abbey, Northern point. Barbados is land of the rum, so it's no wonder that a former sugar plantation estate has been converted into a rum distillery. Take a guided tour of the main house, steeped in a colourful history, and explore the rum-making mills in the sprawling green space.
5. The Boatyard, Bridgetown. The ultimate paradise, the Boatyard is a string of beach shacks and restaurants that serve all-day food, spine-tinglingly good cocktails and of course rum punch. Sun loungers and larger beds stretch along the white sandy beach, while giant inflatable trampolines float in the sea.
6. Mount Gay Distillery, Bridgetown. A visit to Barbados wouldn't be complete without a stop at Mount Gay, where all of the brand's rum from around the world is first made in this distillery. Guided tours complete with rum tastings leave you merry by the end, encouraging you to stock up on the good value liquor before you leave.
7. The Gap, West Coast. Proving Bajans are the life and soul of the party, Elegant Hotels have launched a new nightlife guide compiled by their knowledgable staff, to give tourists the chance to revel like a local. Start off with a visit to The Gap - just under a mile long stretch of bars and restaurants where anything plays from reggae, calypso, salsa to R&B. Things start to get lively from 8pm and carry on into the small hours of the morning. Hotspots include Cafe Sol for the best margaritas, Jan and Frank's Cocktail Bar for mellow vibes and Hal's Car Park Bar for an authentic Bajan under-the-stars dancing experience.
Stock up on local rum at former sugar plantation estate St Nicholas Abbey
8. Nightlife in Holetown. Disregard the name - Holetown is the place to go for a party on the West Coast. Start at Sharkey's Bar, where the cocktail list is extensive and outdoor seating means you can sip alfresco under colourful fairy lights. Then head to First and Second Street, which are filled with bars, restaurants and nightclubs and are most lively on Fridays and Saturdays. Elegant Hotels favourites include The Mews, Drift Ocean Terrace Bar and ultimate chic Lime Bar.
9. Boardwalk, South Coast. Pluck yourself from the sun lounger and stroll on down to the newly refurbished boardwalk - a wooden walkway along the South Coast where you can job, amble, walk or just chill out. The fresh air and lapping waves are the best cure after a heavy night out, and the cafes and restaurants dotted along make for a refreshing stop.
10. Relax in Elegant Hotels resorts. Our fast-paced modern lives make it hard to simply switch off and drop into holiday mode, which is why you should dedicate at least a couple of days to relaxing in your hotel and appreciating the idyllic surroundings. The Elegant brand has five luxury resorts on the island, all with a beach or pool or both. So stop, lie back on a sun lounger, sip a rum punch and then dip your toes into the Caribbean sea. Now this is paradise.
Turtle Beach resort on the South Coast has three restaurants to choose from
Where to stay:
Turtle Beach, South Coast.
Located on a stretch of white sandy beach, where sea turtles nest their eggs, the aptly named Turtle Beach resort is found. The all-inclusive is family friendly and home to two restaurants, a cafe, lush tropical gardens and two swimming pools. Guests can enjoy complimentary use of the water sports including windsurfing, boogie boarding, kayaking and the Hobie Cat, on top of the fitness centre, tennis courts, internet cafe and conference room. Activities for the kids range from beach games to arts and crafts, while the adults can stroll just three minutes down the road to restaurant and nightlife central The Gap.
Seven nights in Barbados with Virgin Holidays including return flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Barbados, all-inclusive accommodation at Turtle Beach and airport transfers, totals £1,895 pp. Price is based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a junior suite pool/garden view room. Price is based on a departure on 12 January 2014. To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859.
Crystal Cove, West Coast.
Nestled on a beachfront cliff on the renowned Platinum West Coast, Crystal Cove is a natural haven with lush gardens, three freshwater lagoon swimming pools and a chic swim-up bar. Especially suited for couples looking for a romantic break, the all-inclusive features two restaurants, live music entertaining while you dine and rooms with a private patio or balcony. Water sports including windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, banana boats and waterskiing are complimentary, as well as use of the tennis courts and business centre.
Seven nights in Barbados with Virgin Holidays including return flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Barbados, all-inclusive accommodation at Crystal Cove and airport transfers, totals £1,975 pp. Price is based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a pool garden view room. Price is based on a departure on 7 January 2014. To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859.
For more information on Turtle Beach, Crystal Cove or any of the other Elegant Hotels Group properties see www.eleganthotels.com.