I first stayed at the Coral Reef Club in the 1990’s before Plantation Suites, Luxury Cottages or the Spa. My abiding memory was the drive through the grounds, with towering palms to reception and the view from there of the beach and sea beyond. My first impression was the hotel was not glitzy, no one was on parade, it just felt comfortable and relaxed. It felt home.
Having recently returned from Barbados I was reflecting on what has changed and what has the impact been and whilst the physical structures are in the main virtually unrecognisable, the values remain undiminished. The O’Hara family still own and manage the property, they still fervently believe in over-sized bedrooms on the basis that their guests probably all have large bedrooms so why would they come away to somewhere more compact? The gardens are as magnificent as ever, so not surprising they supply plants for the Barbados entry at the Chelsea flower show. And every year the Barbados Horticultural Society has maintained a record of consistently winning medals stretching back to the 80’s. Staff and service? Doffing the cap and tugging the forelock have never been part of the West Indian make-up. Barbadians are hugely affable and very polite and that’s how service comes, a chat about the weather, maybe the family, the cricket, politics? – just don’t go there! The dinner and drink service is likely to take a little longer, may not be as polished as elsewhere but where else can you think of would the staff know you well enough to be able to wish you a “Happy Father’s Day”? or knows someone who lives in your town, maybe even your neighbour? If you go on holiday to get away from all human contact and require service without face, then the Caribbean is not for you. But, if its warmth and perhaps even a little ribbing then welcome home.
Whilst change in Barbados may be at a slower pace, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, witness Lime Grove. Then there is the supermarket in the West Mall shopping Centre in Hole Town. Much of the West Coast relies on for the pay five get 6 beers and the Manager’s special on wine. It has closed its doors, indeed the whole Mall has been completely flattened. But worry not, by November there will be a brand new emporium in its place. My favourite change though is the path that leads in front of the Coral Reef Club, Folkstone Marine Park and finishes on the beach by The Sandpiper. From here you can either stop for refreshments at Harold’s Bar or continue along the beach to Hole Town with its restaurants, bars, shops and banks. The whole walk along the sand and under shady trees takes perhaps 15 to 20 minutes assuming you don’t engage in conversation along the way or stop to enjoy the view from one the strategically placed benches set in the shade.