Barbados, often considered the “Gateway to the Caribbean”, provided the perfect destination for an exotic getaway – and as an added bonus, it also happens to be an island with a remarkable Jewish heritage.
Our recent trip to Barbados was short, the introduction to a Caribbean cruise, but most enjoyable and another place we have earmarked for greater exploration.
After arriving at this tropical beauty spot, we reached Cobblers Cove, a top quality boutique experience. Its 40 suites are distinctly colonial, large and with balconies or an opening out into a central garden area.
One small surprise was the absence of a television in our suite and although you can hire one, apparently there have been no requests over the past 12 months, according to one member of staff. Instead, you can get used to really being on holiday and relaxing.
The restaurant is considered one of the best on the island and residents receive complimentary afternoon tea. But this boutique hotel is all about relaxing and the resort overlooks a beautifully secluded white sand beach with man-made breakwaters, which are perfect for a cooling dip.
Barbados was the only overseas territory visited by George Washington as a young man – and interestingly the experience probably saved his life. He contracted smallpox, survived and thereafter was immune from this fatal disease, which was prevalent in the US for some time.
Bridgetown is a small city (“town” being the operative word), with a yacht basin in the centre and walkable cruise port on the outskirts. There are plenty of shops to explore, as well as an outdoor market.
The synagogue in the historic city is located right in the centre and was built shortly after the arrival of the first Jews, mostly refugees from Recife, Brazil, in the 1660s. With their help, Barbados went on to become one of the world’s major sugar producers.
Destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, the synagogue was rebuilt, fell into disrepair and was sold in 1929. But in 1983 the Jewish community repurchased the synagogue and restored it to its present state with its beautiful Gothic arches. Today it is a Barbados National Trust-protected building and an active synagogue.
Also located within the complex, which includes a fascinating cemetery, is the very modern Nidhe Israel Museum which traces the history of the Jews on the island. Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, were visitors during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour with the Countess of Wessex expressing a particular interest in the mikvah, which dates from the very early days of the synagogue.
Barbados has a vast choice of hotels, from celebrity favourite Sandy Lane (including a championship golf course), Fairmont, and Hilton (which overlooks Bridgetown), to more modest accommodation. There are numerous places to visit and plenty of lovely beaches where you can dip into the tropically warm and luxurious sea.
Barbados also means cricket. The Oval, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, offers tours to keen sports enthusiasts.
The Barbados Museum is either a short taxi or bus ride from Bridgetown. Located at the Garrison, it is housed in the former British Military Prison and affords a pleasant visit telling the history of the island. One can see artefacts of the Amerindians (the first inhabitants of the Caribbean islands), furnishings of an 18th Century plantation house and a collection of rare historical maps.
Opposite is the Garrison Savannah Turf Club with meetings on most Saturdays. Even if you aren’t into horses, it’s a great day out, mixing with locals and visitors, with up to eight races.
Harrison’s Cave is an interesting ride into the middle of the island. From the centre, you descend to join an electric tram for a guided drive along a mile-long grotto. Visitors will get the chance to pass waterfalls and view amazing stalagmites and stalactites. The caves were first mentioned in 1795, but were not rediscovered until 1976 and are now one of the island’s major tourist attractions.
British Airways, Thomson Charter and Virgin Atlantic fly from Gatwick all year round and the flight time is just over eight hours to Grantley Adams International Airport.