The sweet aroma of hibiscus, frangipani and ylang-ylang linger in the balmy evening air on the way back to my pretty white-paneled cottage after a hearty first dinner at Coral Reef Club in Barbados. There’s something homely about the place. This is likely down to the fact that it is actually a home. Home to the O’Hara family to be exact.
The five-star hotel – which counts British royalty amongst its past guests – has been owned and managed by three generations of the English family for over 60 years. Arriving from England in 1952, Budge O’Hara and his wife Cynthia grew the small hotel into one of the island’s finest, setting the standard in barefoot luxury.
My sprawling private terrace and plunge pool overlook an exquisite stretch of the property’s manicured 12-acre gardens, which happens to be a regular supplier of a vivid assortment of blooms to London’s renowned RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Located on the well-heeled west coast of Barbados, on the edge of historic Holetown, the family-friendly Coral Reef Club is now helmed by siblings Patrick, Mark and Karen. Over the past couple of decades, the trio have carried on their parents’s legacy whilst continuously evolving the beach resort to make it as appealing as ever to today’s luxury traveler. Considering the resort was at full occupancy during my visit, it must be working.
Set on a pristine stretch of the island’s coveted Platinum Coast, it fuses an Old World Caribbean aesthetic with modern comforts and warm personalized hospitality delivered by a wonderful local team. Many have worked at the resort for decades and welcome back returning guests – of which there are many – like old friends.
Coral Reef Club club features 88 classically adorned rooms, suites and cottages, offering vistas of either lush flora or Barbados’s sparkling Caribbean Sea.
During my two-night stay, I checked in to one of the one-bedroom luxury cottages which feature a plunge pool, vaulted whitewash ceilings and a separate living room tastefully dressed in botanical prints, locally inspired artworks, fresh flowers, and rattan furnishings. Handily, the luxury cottages and suites can be adjoined to create a large two-bedroom, two-living room residence that is ideal for families.
The most exclusive and secluded of all Coral Reef Club’s accommodations are the resort’s two standalone villas: the three-bedroom Tamarind and the four-bedroom Ixora. Interiors offer a sense of carefree luxury in keeping with Barbados’s relaxed ethos. Each villa boasts a kitchen, while light-filled airy living spaces flow onto front and back outdoor terraces, the perfect setting for private dining.
Though the resort features just one restaurant, its alfresco setting on the very edge of the Caribbean Sea is simply magical. Ahead of dinner on my second night, I head for a mocktail on the terrace to watch the sunset over the lapping waves.
Live music performances serenade diners every evening, ranging from calypso to jazz, and things are kept fresh with a daily changing a la carte menu. Predominantly classic European with Bajan and global influences, local executive chef Hance Bannister prioritizes organic produce from around the island wherever possible. Highlights include lobster ceviche with toasted coconut as well as sizzling beef tenderloin and catch of the day straight from the grill.
Guests can also venture five minutes along the coast to Coral Reef Club’s sister property The Sandpiper, which offers an eclectic menu with Bajan influences. I opted for the West Indian-style curried roti with shrimp for lunch and it did not disappoint.
The Coral Reef Club spa feels like its own little sanctuary and centers around a tranquil courtyard with a plunge pool and chic cabanas for a post-treatment wind-down. There are four multipurpose treatment rooms, each with its own private foot ritual patio and garden. There is also an outdoor pavilion for couples treatments.
Anti-aging skin treatments utilize vegan Spanish skincare brand Natura Bissé, whilst body treatments such as the signature Lemongrass and Ginger Rub and blissful Caribbean Calm massage feature local natural products.
The resort’s two elegant swimming pools tend to remain tranquil havens throughout the day as most guests head to the resort’s irresistible private beach. Make sure to start your beach day before 11am as the resort’s beach butlers serve complimentary ice-cold sorbet mid-morning, a very welcome antidote to the 86ºF rays.
There’s plenty to keep you busy at the Coral Reef Club from new astroturf tennis courts offering complimentary lessons from the resort’s resident pro to a watersports activity center with everything from paddleboarding and laser sailing to waterskiing in its repertoire.
Meanwhile, the onsite dive school offers PADI certification, and there are a number of nearby coral reefs, as well as shipwrecks to explore.
Exploring the island is a must. As one of the Caribbean’s most visited destinations with a nearly 40% vacationer return rate, Barbados’s alluring mix of white sand, crystal clear waters and laid-back culture is sure to win your heart.
Rum connoisseurs and those who simply enjoy the odd mojito won’t want to miss the private estate tour at famed Mount Gay, the world’s oldest commercial rum distillery.
As well as diving and snorkeling, its surfing is legendary with the fabled ‘Soup Bowl’ located on the island’s ruggedly beautiful west coast (beginners should head to nearby Sand Bank.) For those who prefer a sturdier vessel, a private yacht charter with Unseen Barbados will ensure you travel in style.
For more inspiration, check out Elite Traveler’s luxury guide to Barbados.
For our stay at Coral Reef Club, Elite Traveler flew from London Heathrow to Barbados Grantley Adams International. Return Upper Class flights from $2,500 approx.
Rooms from $555 per night, including breakfast and taxes, coralreefbarbados.com