Barbados: Back to Basics

In Barbados, luxury travelers seek an authentic island experience.

It’s a common problem throughout the Caribbean: luxury travelers missing out on authentic island experiences as a result of their choice to stay in resorts that, though beautiful, disconnect them from the rest of the island community. But that’s changing in Barbados, where more and more luxury resorts are bringing the Bajan experience into their restaurants, spas and more.

“When people travel to Barbados, they always like to see or do anything which is local,” says Robert Logan, general manager of one of the island’s premiere upscale resorts, Sandy Lane. From local art or artifacts incorporated into a hotel’s decor, to island delicacies on the menu or freshly grown ingredients used in spa treatments, local flair goes a long way with the luxury set, he explains. “Restaurants, in the last 15 years, have become a more interactive experience between the guests and the chefs. Thirty or 40 years ago, chefs were hidden behind a wall doing the cooking. But nowadays, chefs are almost always interacting with the guests. There’s a high level of engagement that’s a big trend right now.”

That level of engagement was one of Sandy Lane’s primary goals when it renovated its own restaurant with local flair, Bajan Blue. Now serving as the centerpiece of the resort’s culinary program, Bajan Blue’s casual yet classy ambiance gives guests a picturesque setting for enjoying local cuisine. “The restaurant was completely refitted [in 2008]. It’s still an all-day restaurant where we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s completely restyled into a beautiful restaurant. As you approach through the beautiful bar there’s a seating area with mahogany furnishings and a visible cellar with red and white wine—it’s a great place to partake in a beautiful cocktail.” Guests can also watch and maybe even pick up some pointers from chefs in an interactive kitchen, where “chefs at the front of the house prepare food on the grill and oven, and they’re also cooking furiously at the sushi bar and salad bar.” It’s interactive, but no less ornate, with marble floors and a newly added beach deck for a more casual setting. “The layout the way we’ve done it works extremely well,” Logan says. “Chefs are cooking on the spot and producing right there. It also means we’re not cooking large amounts of food at once, so the product is fresh and the quality is much better. The added sense of place allows us to create food including ingredients that people want to try locally,” he adds, noting that Bajan Blue sources many of its fruits and other produce from local farmers.

While Bajan Blue may be the most traditionally Barbadian aspect of the resort, hints of the island pop up all across its acres. In the spa, for example, “all of our treatment rooms received bamboo flooring, as well as luxury elements like new beds, a panoramic sauna, a newly added cold room and nice experience showers.” And of course, the great house feel of the property has remained intact for decades, an elegant nod to the island’s plantation history. “We have a 40 percent repeat guest rate—our guests come back year after year,” Logan explains. “So we want to make sure that the changes are an enhancement, and certainly not do anything to interrupt the great atmosphere.” Since the renovations were completed, he says, “residents who’ve arrived back have said they all like the changes, that we kept the integrity of Sandy Lane. It’s a great residential feel, but we’ve enhanced the property.” That integrity, Logan says, is what keeps people coming back to the resort, even in a time of recession. “It’s enabled us to weather the storm far better than anybody else. Sandy Lane is a brand that’s extremely strong. During uncertain times, travelers are cognizant and cautious that they get value for the money, and they can trust in Sandy Lane to walk away with a great experience. That’s a huge lesson that we’ve learned.”

Rates at Sandy Lane range from $1,000 to $4,200 for rooms, $1,800 to $6,200 for suites, $4,000 to $10,000 for penthouses, and $9,000 to $25,000 for the Villa at Sandy Lane.