It’s been a couple of months since I’ve been to Barbados, but I think of it often, and fondly. The reminders are everywhere. Every time I hear a Rihanna song. Every time I see an advertisement for the upcoming Barbados Food Festival (November 18-21, 2011). And, blissfully, every time I pour myself a glass of Mount Gay rum.
I was a guest of the Barbados Tourism Authority, who went above and beyond the call of duty not only ensuring that I had a good time (which is not difficult), but making sure I left with a solid appreciation for what the island is all about. Our itinerary reflected this. After checking in to the Sea Breeze Beach Hotel, a tidy spot with great food, a gorgeous stretch of beach, and lots of funny British tourists, we had dinner at Daphne’s, one of the island’s finest restaurants. I’m telling you, junket or no junket, it’s one of the most beautiful and romantic restaurants I’ve ever been to, and the food was fantastic. (Try the mahi mahi.) If you’re looking for a special night out in Barbados, this is your place.
We toured St. Nicholas Abbey, a historic sugar cane plantation that makes its own rum. We took in some of the island’s amazing sweeping views, such as the one below.
We traipsed through Hunte’s Gardens, a veritable Garden of Eden in the island’s interior. Here’s a photo of some of the greenery.
We ate flying fish at a waterfront cafe in Bridgetown, aptly named the Waterfront Cafe. We saw how the richer half lived a couple of centuries ago at Sunbury Plantation House (spoiler: they lived really well, but there was no air conditioning and the kids had creepy toys). We took a tour of a posh new hotel called Ocean Two, where we witnessed this sunset.
We danced and dined with locals and our fellow nerdy tourists at Oistins Fish Fry, by far the best casual (extremely casual) dining experience on the island. I even got to take a surfing lesson from Jason from Dead or Dread surf shop. Thanks to his advice (keep your eyes on the shoreline, not on your feet!) I was able to enjoy a few great rides.
But I was mostly interested in the rum, and that’s where Allen Smith of Mount Gay comes in.
Allen Smith (pictured above) is the master blender at Mount Gay, and I’d arranged a special trip to meet him at the rum company’s production facility in St. Lucy. In case you didn’t know, Mount Gay is the original rum, or at least it holds the oldest surviving deed, dated 1703. Smith has to be one of the most knowledgable people about rum that you’ll find anywhere, and he gave me and John Oseid, who writes for Conde Nast Traveler, among other publications, an amazing explanation of how rum gets from molasses (the raw ingredient, and a byproduct of sugar production) to delicious rum like the Mount Gay Eclipse Black that just came out in the U.S.
He gave us the lowdown on the differences between pot stills and column stills, the varying tastes of the international market, and just how greedy the angels are in the Caribbean compared with those in Scotland. (Rum barrels can lose up to 15% to evaporation during the aging process, known as the “angel’s share”. Scotch fares much better in those northern climes.)
After Smith sent us on our way, we went to the Mount Gay Visitors Center in Bridgetown for some rum tasting, where I had an opportunity to sample Mount Gay’s exquisite “1703″ rum. It’s so smooth and delicious that it quickly became one of my favorite spirits. Try it if you have a chance. If you don’t like 1703, you don’t like rum.
I have nothing but fond memories of Barbados, and would recommend it to any traveler looking for a truly upscale island experience. The British influence on the island keeps everything smooth, efficient, and polite, while its vivacious Caribbean attitude ensures that every ray of sunshine, every perfect ocean wave, and every drop of rum is a celebration of life. All are welcome, with the possible exception of Chris Brown. (Did I mention how much they love Rihanna in Barbados? It’s a lot.)