Barbados: High-End, Low-Key

Luxury resorts in Barbados have traditionally been of the stately plantation variety. But a new, more casual upscale resort is getting plenty of accolades, proving there’s also a market for a down-to-earth experience. Ask Joanne King, international representative for Barbados’ Little Arches hotel, about luxury resorts in Barbados, and she’ll tell you that its sprawling estates are what set the island apart from other Caribbean competition. “The island has a coast dedicated to luxury,” she explains, pointing out the area of St. James on Barbados’ west coast where high-end travelers have been flocking for decades. “St. James has always been identified with executives and other very discerning travelers as a luxury place to go and to be seen. Celebrities are always on the west coast. Because of that, Barbados is widely perceived as a luxury Caribbean destination, and it’s been like that from the 70s.”

But you’ll find luxury outside of Barbados’ west side, too. Little Arches, a boutique hotel on the island’s south coast, has appeared on several experts’ lists of the most upscale properties on the island. The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association named it the “Hotel of the Year” in its luxury category in 2010, and it’s been recognized by TripAdvisor as both the best luxury hotel in the world and the best luxury hotel in the Caribbean in two separate years. But that change in scenery indicates a change in the type of luxury offered. King cautions that agents and their clients shouldn’t expect the same ambiance you’d find on the west coast.

“We are not Coral Reef luxury. We are not Sandy Lane luxury,” she explains. “The kind of luxury that we are is that we have rooms with plunge pools and a nice interior. We have nice services. And guests are given so many treats for the money that they consider it luxury.” Elements that extremely picky travelers are accustomed to—amenities like marble or porcelain bathrooms, for example—are notably missing here. So why is Little Arches making its mark on so many luxury hot lists? King says it’s because the hotel doesn’t skimp on key elements of luxury travel like gourmet food and personalized service.

Little Arches’ onsite restaurant Cafe Luna, for example, was listed among the top three dining experiences in Barbados by Zagat—an impressive feat anywhere, but especially in this foodie paradise. “It’s a little hideaway place,” King describes. “They brought in a Canadian chef who used to cook for the movie industry. His cuisine has always been top level. By year two of our operations, everyone”—from locals to travel-savvy diners in New York and London—“had noticed his food.” With Mediterranean dishes personalized with local ingredients and flavors, Cafe Luna has attracted a following all across the island. But Little Arches’ guests reap the biggest benefits. “The chef is a personality, too—he’ll come out and play guitar with the guests, drink with them, even take them golfing,” King explains. “He’s especially welcoming to returning guests. There’s a very ‘this is the dish I prepared just for you’ kind of feeling. It’s some of the freshest food you can find, with a very personalized approach.”

Personalized touches like that are possible because of another huge difference between Little Arches and the west coast’s luxury resorts. Far from the enormity of properties modeled after plantations, Little Arches is comprised of only 10 rooms. That, plus its location in a quiet, unexpected corner of the south coast, guarantees guests here will never want for privacy. “It’s an unorthodox place. That’s why we’ve acquired an ‘off the beaten path, hidden gem’ kind of stamp,” King explains.

And while privacy is the primary benefit of Little Arches, an important runner-up is the difference in pricing from more well-known properties. “It’s a nice, refined setting for a lower price than the west coast,” King says. “The pull is affordable luxury.”

The specialist tour operator selling Little Arches is GOGO Worldwide Vacations. Rates at Little Arches start at $350 dbl or sgl.

luxe packages Of course, clients with a more traditional definition of Bajan luxury will find there’s plenty to go around, especially on the west coast. The renowned Sandy Lane resort that King referenced above is still doing what it does best, providing high-end vacation experiences in an idyllic country club setting. The property’s 2011 packages run the gamut such as Body and Soul Retreat, a 5-night package including a room upgrade, a personalized fitness assessment and wellness plan set by a private instructor, Pilates and yoga clinics and one $100 spa credit, with rates from $4,800 pp. Revel in Paradise was designed more with couples in mind, including both a candlelight dinner and catamaran cruise for two, plus either a $100 spa credit or one round of golf pp, with rates starting at $6,000 for five nights. And Renew, Revive, Relax appeals to anyone looking for a break from the grind, with a spa credit, a round of golf or a private golf lesson, and one lunch for two, starting at $4,000.