I TOOK a sip from my chilled glass of rose as the waves frothed and crashed over the powder-soft sand in the picture-perfect cove.
The sun hung high in the sky, blessing us with her warming rays and with one final flurry of brush strokes I finished my masterpiece.
I went to Barbados as a tourist and came home an artist, thanks to the wonderful Venezuelan Yasmin Vizcarrondo.
I’ve never had an art lesson and it’s not something I’d ever have considered while on holiday, but oh boy am I glad I got the chance to unleash my inner Van Gogh (some may say Van No!)
The fabulous afternoon activity was just one of the many things on offer at the luxurious O2 Beach Club and Spa hotel near St Lawrence Gap on Barbados.
We’d got there thanks to the new Virgin Atlantic service from Edinburgh – Scotland’s first ever direct service to the Caribbean.
I could hardly contain myself as I queued with dozens of other excited holidaymakers desperate to get away from covid lockdowns and the bleak Scottish winter.
I was lucky enough to turn left, as they say, when I got onboard and was like a kid in a sweetie shop when I was shown to my seat which converts to a lie-flat bed.
Virgin Atlantic staff are renowned for their friendly service and the flight cemented that reputation. The all-girl crew were amazing, chatty, professional, personable and downright fun and I enjoyed every single minute of the flight.
Despite the daunting sounding eight and a half hours, it actually passed very quickly.
A fabulous and tasty dinner service, a movie, kip, another movie, ice-lolly and a snack and we were touching down in the Caribbean where the greeting was as warm as the welcoming sunshine.
Before we knew it we were at the hotel where another warm welcome awaited along with the pass to my stunning swim-up room.
The hotel underwent a bit of an extension during the pandemic and built a whole new wing for the many returning guests and first timers, enticed by everything it has to offer – and that’s a lot believe me.
But don’t worry if you’d rather just lay on your lounger soaking up the rays – Barbados does that very well too. In fact the locals have a word for doing not a lot – liming, the art of just hanging around.
I got pretty good at that some afternoons too believe me, wiling away my time on the beach watching the turtles pop up now and then through the turquoise sea.
But the lure of the hotel activities and exploring the island thankfully pulled me away from that idyll.
The five-star boutique all-inclusive hotel organises daily activities to fit around eating, swimming, sunbathing, spa pampering and evening sundowners and cocktails.
By the way you can even learn how to make your own!
There are four restaurants to choose from at this family owned hotel which are all included.
To be honest you wouldn’t need more than the casual but cool Elements buffet which serves fabulous morning, lunchtime and evening feasts – all with a side of hot sauce of course.
We feasted every morning, with everything on offer from the usual eggs, omelettes and bacon, to Bajan delights like fried fish and plantian. You can wash them down with champers – yup – or Mimosas or just stick to orange and coffee like me.
At lunchtime the ever changing offerings were too numerous to mentions, but there was spicy curry, fabulous fish, rice’n’peas and the desserts had me drooling every time.
Dinner themes change every night, and range from Asian and Mediterranean to Caribbean and Italian.
The 9th floor is for ‘fine dining’ at Oro, with beautifully pesented and delicious dishes.
It has breathtaking 270-degree views of the south coast and is the perfect backdrop for an a la carte selection featuring a modern fusion of European cuisine with a Caribbean twist.
We got to experience the delights of the Chef’s table which you can book separately – well worth the extra believe me. Course after course, paired with fantastic wines. What’s not to like?
You can even get your dinner on the beach, with a bespoke service, which, although not included in your hols cost, is most definitely worth the extra for that special romantic memory.
Blue Fin is the place to be for casual beachside dining, with an array of fresh fish, burgers, salads and made-to-order pizza . You can even dine from the comfort of your beach lounger. How liming is that!
We also headed to their sister hotel Sea Breezes for a beach BBQ and literally rolled back to base stuffed full of delicious shrimp, lobster and every kind of meat that’s ever seen a grill.
Oh and one tip – don’t miss the tapas on offer at Brisa, another rooftop bar, where you can toast the famous sunsets.
Enjoying pre-dinner cocktails and a selection of tempting bites, a vintage rum, a good cigar, and a choice of tiny but packed full of flavour desserts as the stars come out in their thousands to herald another brilliant Bajan evening.
Talking about drinking, the hotel has an extensive and enviable all-inclusive selection including champers brought to your sunlounger on the beach if you so wish – and we did!
But even better in my book was the lovely French Cotes de Provence Minuty rose wine, served just at the right temperature no matter what time of the day or night.
And there’s cocktails of every variety on offer behind the bar at Elements in the evening, with friendly staff on hand to serve until the wee small hours.
The hotel’s spa has the only hammam on the island and it’s well worth a visit for the fabulous massages and treatments. The knots in my shoulder blades were expertly untied during an hour of bliss.
The hotel has 130 rooms and suites in three “collections”, one of which is adults only, including my room which was kitted out in pale wood, rattan furniture with a huge ocean-inspire rug and a super-kingsize bed.
The huge bathroom has a walk-in shower and free-standing tub, with posh White Company toiletries. There’s even a free mini-bar stocked daily.
A walk around this stunning property is like a tour of an art-gallery after the owners commissioned local artists to provide their works to hang on the walls and grace their shelves, including my very own teacher Yasmin.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Seven nights at the 5* O2 Beach Club & Spa costs from just £2,435pp, two sharing a Luxury Ocean View Junior Suite on an All-Inclusive Basis with direct Virgin Atlantic flights from Edinburgh, taxes and fuel surcharges. Price based on December 12 departures. See virginholidays.co.uk or call 0344 557 3859. Virgin Atlantic’s twice weekly service from Edinburgh to Barbados will continue in the winter from December 12
MORE INFO: All travellers from the UK must present on arrival either a valid RT-PCR COVID-19 negative test result taken no more than 3 days in advance of flight arrival; a Rapid PCR COVID-19 negative test result taken one day before arrival in Barbados or a Rapid Antigen negative test result taken one day before arrival in Barbados. See expresstest.co.uk and visitbarbados.org/covid-19-travel-guidelines-2022 For more the 02 Beach Club and Spa see O2beachclubbarbados.com and for more on the island see visitbarbados.org
When I could pull myself away from the luxury and pampering, it was for a Cool Runnings catamaran (coolrunningsbarbados.com)where we rocked to a reggae sound track, swam with turtles, snorkled with sting rays, noshed on fab food and generally had a hoot.
Next up was a jeep tour with Island Safari (islandsafari.bb)to the less-developed east coast, through many of it’s saintly parishes – including St Andrew’s – passing bright-painted cottages into Bathsheba, where the Atlantic thundered ashore before heading north and then down the posher west coast with its celeb-haunts.
We even had the delight of trying Sea Shed (seashedbarbados.com), one of the lovely beach-side restaurants at the popular Mullins Beach, for dinner one night where my very posh fish sandwich was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Harrison’s Cave (HarrisonsCave.com) is an amazing place to see stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. The tram took us deep inside where we witnessed running streams making the new formations for the 22nd century!
Our cameras went into overdrive as we emerged to see a troupe of green monkeys playing in the branches of the huge trees that tower above the attraction.
Rum lovers (me) can’t miss a trip to St Nicholas Abbey at Cherry Tree Hill in St Peter (stnicholasabbey.com) Despite the name, it was never a monastery and was built over 350 years ago as a great house for the sugar plantation owned by Col Benjamin Berringer.
Current owners, renowned Barbadian architect Larry Warren and his wife, Anna bought the estate in 2006 and restored the property as an operating sugar plantation and produce not only rum but also vodka.
The family also built a heritage train ride which takes visitors on a tour around the estate on a genuine steam train, through the plantation fields, woodlands and right up to Cherry Tree Hill for the renowned best view on the island.
Next time I will take my easel up there with me and capture it in canvas now I am a fully-fledged artiste!
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