How to discover the real Barbados
From December 2018, our favourite Caribbean destination, Barbados, will become even more accessible, thanks to new flights being launched by Virgin Atlantic. The flights will be the first direct route between London Heathrow and the island.
While we're huge fans of its beaches and rum distilleries, we've decided it's high time to highlight its lesser-known attractions, all of which offer a fantastic insight into this beautiful destination.
Take a punt at the Savannah
Barbados's famous racetrack can be found at the UNESCO-listed Garrison Savannah, where races have been held since 1845, originally organised by British army officers stationed on the island.
We recommend heading down to the track on a Saturday for the family-friendly race meetings held by the Barbados Turf Club. Tickets will set you back around £8, and you can spend your winnings on a cold beer or the delicious local cuisine served up at the various food stalls.
If you fancy channelling your inner jockey, you're in luck - Barbados has a huge number of horse-riding stables offering excursions for all ability levels. Ocean Echo Stables in St John is one of the best.
Learn the lingo
Cafuffled (confused) by Bajan slang? Mastering the basics will earn you kudos from islanders and make it easier to work out what they mean when they inform you that you're "doin' Dixie" (translation: you're the life of the party) or warn you that the person next to you at the bar is a "gully boar" (someone with no class).
Other common slang words include pompasetting, which means to show off, rumbustuous (lively) and our favourite, "wukkin' up", which describes a twerking-like dance style.
Check out a fish fry
Fish fries aren't just a fantastic opportunity to chow down on some delicious local seafood. For Bajans, they're an opportunity to chew the fat, catch up with neighbours and basically put the world to rights - which is precisely why attending one is a great way to get a feel for the island.
Some of the best fish fries are the ones held in the small town of Oistins, on the southern coast. Head to Oistins Bay Gardens on a Friday night and you'll pay around £10 for a huge plate of fish (choose from tuna, swordfish, marlin, mahi-mahi or flying fish) and an ice-cold beer.
Take a hike
Bajans love to explore their island on foot. Join them by signing up for one of the weekly free, three-hour guided hikes organised by the Barbados National Trust.
There are morning (6.00am) and afternoon (3.30pm) hikes, although it's hard to beat the moonlit walks, which start at 5.30pm. You'll wander through quaint fishing villages, past forest-like fields of sugar cane and across spectacular valleys, all while learning about Barbados's diverse landscape and enjoying a good old chinwag with islanders.
Everybody knows about Barbados's rum. But there's only so many mojitos you can drink (and we mean that literally, especially if you're unfamiliar with the island's particularly potent version of the spirit).
Our advice? If you're keen to sample some local cuisine, do as the locals do and stock up on the island's favourite cheese brand, instead. Hatchman's Cheese is a local artisan brand sold throughout Barbados, including at the many farmers' markets. Don't miss the Drunken Cheddar - a hard cheese soaked in beer.
Hit the beach on a Sunday
Sundays are when Bajans head to the beach, which makes it the best time for you to do so, too. You'll see how locals enjoy their time off (and might just pick up some dance moves) and by striking up a conversation with your fellow sunbathers you'll get the low-down on the island's lesser-known gems.
Samantha Browne from Ocean Echo Stables recommends heading to the eastern coast's beaches: "A great spot for mingling with the locals is the fishing community of Martin's Bay," says Samantha. "You'll also find some fantastic little watering holes like the Bay Tavern and the Old Brigand rum shop, too."
Although there's a growing number of (albeit fantastic) fine dining restaurants offering international cuisine, don't miss the opportunity to enjoy some local dishes.
We've already mentioned the Oistins fish fries, but we're equally smitten with the delicious curries served up at the Fish Pot, part of the Little Good Harbour Hotel on the northwest coast.
Chicken's almost a food group of its own in Barbados, which is why we also recommend the legendary five-spice chicken breast at Cariba restaurant in the community of St James. The must try dish for every visitor? "Flying fish," says Peter Grannum, owner of West Side Scuba, one of Barbados's top dive schools. "It's a typically Barbadian dish which you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner." If you insist...
Shop like a local
When it comes to shopping, you'll find the best bargains by shopping where the locals shop. One of our favourite places is the Chalky Mount Potteries in the parish of St Andrew, where you can watch local potters produce beautiful works of art.
Their skills have been passed down through the generations, and their gorgeous work, which includes everything from tiny bowls to water jugs, is regarded as a must-have by locals, as well as tourists in the know. Suddenly that "I love Barbados" t-shirt looks a little naff.
Keen to sample the island's many delights for yourself? Virgin Atlantic's seasonal winter sun route from London Heathrow comes in addition to its daily route from London Gatwick and weekly service from Manchester, giving you plenty of ways to get there. Check out the latest deals on fares to Barbados online, and remember to see what the weather in Barbados is like, plus when we think is the very best time to go.
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