WHO WENT Clare Manning, 38, husband Greg, 41, and children Aggie, 6, and Noah, 4
WHERE WE WENT A fabulous Royal Villa on Royal Westmoreland estate overlooking Barbados’ Platinum Coast
Early flights have never been my forte, even before grumpy children were thrown into the mix. Interrupted sleep as a result of regular checking of the alarm clock would leave me feeling anxious and exhausted, so when Greg suggested we take advantage of a sleep, park and fly offer at Gatwick, I jumped at the chance. It meant we all woke up refreshed and raring to go and after a quick hop, skip and a jump (well, shuttle actually) we were in the South Terminal, excitedly boarding our Virgin Atlantic flight. The children were beside themselves when they spied the state-of-the-art touch screen entertainment system, known rather incongruously as Vera. Before we’d even taken off, Aggie was zoned in to Frozen (she’d already seen it twice, but that wasn’t going to stop her), while Noah was happily watching back-to-back episodes of Peppa Pig. The eight and a half hour flight to Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, passed uneventfully enough, and we touched down on the heat-hazed tarmac at 2pm local time. Less than an hour later we were being driven through the sweeping lawns and lush, tropical gardens of Royal Westmoreland (also home to a world class championship golf course), before being delivered to the door of our Royal Villa, amid gasps of delight from the children (emitted less audibly, but no less enthusiastically, from us).
Vibrant pink bougainvillea lined the winding pathway to our gorgeous home from home for the next seven nights, although to be fair our north London terrace really wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny in the unforgiving Caribbean sunshine, unlike the elegant, light and airy living space that our three-bedroom villa provided. Set in an enclave of more than 20 similar properties (there are over 150 in total dotted around the 750 acre estate), but laid out in such a clever way that you never felt your privacy was compromised, the villa’s stunning Bajan-influenced architecture and interior design was perfectly sympathetic to the setting. Inside merges effortlessly with the outdoors, with upstairs’ excellently equipped kitchen and vaulted ceilinged living area leading to a partially covered terrace that’s perfect for barbeques and al fresco dining. Downstairs, meanwhile, were the en suite bedrooms, with air con and ceiling fans to keep us cool during the sultry, steamy nights (temperatures rarely drop below the mid 20s), and with French doors opening on to our own private pool. Seeing Aggie and Noah wilting in the heat, Greg suggested taking them for a refreshing dip, while I volunteered to go back upstairs and make some cool drinks. Opening the fridge door, I was delighted to see it stocked to capacity with all manner of goodies – just part of the fabulous Mums First family holiday package we’d booked (specially designed to take the strain off mums when self-catering by providing a grocery shopping service, a private in-villa cook for certain evenings, a daily housekeeping and laundry service, babysitting if required, plus a wonderful pampering session for me at the on site spa – pure bliss!).
The former British colony of Barbados (it gained full independence in 1966) is the most Easterly of the Caribbean islands and at just 21 miles by 14 miles (that’s a quarter of the size of London) it’s fairly easy to get around, with excellent roads and infrastructure. Royal Westmoreland is located in the parish of St James on the prestigious West Coast. Set back slightly inland on a hillside, it has spectacular views of the shimmering Caribbean Sea, and is afforded the most glorious sunsets (watched many an evening by Greg and I from the upstairs terrace, while nursing a thirst-quenching rum punch). To get to the coast, however, you’ll need to use the free shuttle service, as it’s about a 10-minute drive away. This suited us just fine as we were more than happy to while away our mornings at the villa, splashing in the pools (as well as our private one, there was a 60ft infinity pool with separate children’s area just a minute’s stroll away) and basking in the sunshine before being deposited on Mullins Beach – one of the finest beaches on the island, being ridiculously picture post-card perfect with powder white sand, swaying palms and clear blue water teeming with tropical fish. The children were in paddling and sand castle-making heaven while we took full advantage of the Royal Westmoreland’s exclusive Beach Club with its private deck, sun loungers, umbrellas and towels, plus staff from the nearby Mullins Beach Bar on hand to cater to our every eating and drinking need. As well as its own piece of beachfront paradise, Royal Westmoreland also has a stunning colonial-style Clubhouse at the heart of the estate that has such panoramic views and wonderfully relaxed ambiance, it quickly became a lunchtime favourite.
THINGS TO DO
In just a few short days we had slipped in to a routine of sorts that saw the children slowly turn wild haired and feral while their pale British skin took on a distinct golden hue. To break the villa, beach, Clubhouse habit (as lovely as it was) and to see Barbados beyond the estate, we did venture into nearby Holetown on a couple of occasions, and jolly nice it was too. Brightly coloured clapboard houses rub shoulders with huge plantation-style villas along a string of beautiful beaches, each with it own bar and restaurant. Inland there’s a shopping mall with a supermarket (which interestingly stocks Waitrose products) as well as clothing and souvenir shops, the latter of which had the children in a high state of excitement as they raced around selecting a Barbadian trinket to take home (a sharks tooth bracelet for Noah and a shell turtle for Aggie). Next door is the ultra modern Limegrove Lifestyle Center, full of designer shops from Armani to Ralph Lauren and Gucci. Recently constructed to appeal to the island’s more opulent visitors (of which there are undoubtedly many), we never went in, opting instead for a less budget busting ice cream on the beach. For a more comprehensive taster of Barbados we had booked ourselves on to an Island Safari Tour in a 4x4 jeep. On the appointed day, our charming driver and knowledgeable guide, Alvin, picked us up from the villa at 8.30am sharp for what proved to be an absolutely brilliant excursion in which we got to discover the breathtakingly beautiful Atlantic side of the island (so much more rugged and isolated than the West Coast) as well as learn about the country’s slave history, which went completely over the children’s heads, but both Greg and myself found utterly fascinating. We’d been told by our fantastic concierge, Christopher, that dinner at one of the island’s top restaurants was a must, and he duly booked us a table at The Cliff, while arranging for a lovely local girl called Ayesha to babysit Noah and Aggie. My goodness, what a feast we had, and not just for our stomachs but also for the eyes. Indeed, The Cliffs is probably one of the stunningly located restaurants I have ever had the pleasure to visit, looking down from its lofty position onto a pristine beach with crystal clear waters (where stingrays and turtles circled), all lit up by huge flaming torches. The superb setting was not let down by the food, with my tuna sashimi starter the freshest I’ve ever tasted, while Greg tucked in to sautéed scallops (he never offered me a taste, which says it all really). For mains we opted for chargrilled swordfish and local mahi mahi (dorado), both of which could not be faulted. As our wonderful Barbadian adventure drew to a close, I certainly felt like a mum who had been spoilt rotten, but to be honest, I think Greg and the children did, too.
Royal Westmoreland (www.royalwestmoreland.com) offers the Mums First package of seven nights in a three-bedroom Royal Villa on a self-catering basis for £3,120 for a family of four. The package is valid until14th December 2014. Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com) flights to Barbados start at £679.77 per adult and £539.77 per child (aged 2 to 11).
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