As most of us who are fortunate enough to have traveled extensively know, our memories of beloved cities, beaches, vineyards and mountainsides are more than just a picture in our mind or a photo in an album. Instead, they’re a richly layered, all-your-senses kind of memory – easily conjured up with a familiar song, fragrance or flavor.
For me, that special spot is the Coral Reef Club in Barbados, a sweet family-owned inn that, while as luxurious as it gets, always woos me with its understated, yet classic island style and discreet personal service.
My family has been vacationing here for decades, spreading out – as our family morphs and grows in size – in posh suites, luxury cottages and even the spacious villa. The cottages have been a particular favorite with my nieces and nephews – they’re tucked away in the gardens, yet with easy access to the beach. I have a soft spot for the Luxury Plantation Suites, with their canopied beds, covered terrace with wet bar (complete with a starter kit of spirits and soft drinks), an open sundeck with a plunge pool and a cozy living room stocked with DVDs and CDs for entertainment.
Mornings might find me wandering, tea in hand, through the beautifully landscaped gardens – I’m instantly relaxed amidst the mahogany, Pride of India, frangipani and flamboyant trees, listening to the little black and yellow sugar birds sing their greeting to the day and perhaps catching a glimpse of a hummingbird. From here, it’s a short stroll to the sea, where I sit and dream, caressed by the gently breeze, amongst the casuarina trees. There are garden tours on Wednesdays and I always leap at the chance to learn more about the flora of the island. Day trips to Andromeda Botanical Gardens can be easily arranged – the kaleidoscopic plants and flowers there are mesmerizing.
Days at Coral Reef are full of sun-kissed activity – or simply spent doing nothing at all, beyond lounging next to the water’s edge, napping blissfully or nose deep in a bestselling novel. Time is the real indulgence here, time spent with family, time spent on one’s own, time to relax, time to breathe. Family, young and grown, takes to the water for Hobie Cat sailing, kayaking, paddleboarding and snorkeling. Hightide Watersports offers an on-site scuba diving school with full Naui and Padi certification available. We’ve spent afternoons on deep-sea fishing charter excursions, played golf at nearby (and widely renowned) Sandy Lane and Apes Hill Club, gone horseback riding, attended the island’s many festivals and events (from opera to carnival), explored the wondrous Harrison’s Cave and visited the Barbados Green Monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve.
Those flavors I mentioned? The ones that conjure up travel memories, even decades later? I can practically taste my favorite meals at Coral Reef, even when miles and months away from my time there. There’s a sumptuous West Indian buffet every Monday evening, and a full-choice barbecue on Thursday nights with fillet and sirloin steaks, chicken, veal and pork ribs, lamb chops, sausages, jumbo prawns, fresh catch of the day and more. Dinner is followed by dancing and fire-eating displays. Other evenings, the menu varies and might include a delicious carpaccio of tuna with green mango and bell pepper salad, or pan-fried fillet of sea bass with miso risotto. Sweet treats include oil-flambeed fresh pineapple with Bajan rum and brown sugar, served with rum-raisin ice cream.
Among the things I love, and you must not miss, should you be fortunate enough to experience Coral Reef:
- Complimentary yoga classes in the lovely spa – after which, one can retire to the outdoor hydro-pool or crystal steam room
- Day trips to sister property Sandpiper in St. James for a meal or shopping in the charming boutiques for local treasures, swimwear or a patisserie
- Dinner at The Cliff, an indescribably beautiful location well worth its price, where my favorites include chargrilled white asparagus and a potato and chive puree and black trumpet mushrooms, followed by swordfish with Thai yellow curry sauce and grilled pineapple relish.
- Late, lingering lunches at nearby Lone Star restaurant, known for their mouthwatering salads and wood-fired pizzas
Playing back these sun-dappled days and starry nights at Coral Reef are the best pick-me-up I know. From my family to yours, may your travel memories shine brightly in your hearts and minds and forever return you to a happy place.