Living The Caribbean Dream: Port Ferdinand, Barbados
Barbados. Back in the day – well, the early 1970s of my childhood and the (very late) 1980s of my teens – the name was synonymous with absolute luxury. This was THE Caribbean island, THE dream destination. And then lots of people started going there and, well, suddenly it didn’t seem that glamorous. To be fair, it’s not Barbados’s fault that the likes of Simon Cowell now consider it something of a home from home, or that there are monied ex-pats, bankers and other meeja types and B-list celebs who nestle in at Sandy Bay and parade on jet-skis for the assembled paparazzi. Nor is it Barbados’s fault that the resulting shots pop up in The Sun and assorted other tabloids and the pink-topped prole-baiting magazines, in between stories of ‘my Anglican vicar boyfriend was a bondage-obsessed psycho-killer’, selling the island’s lifestyle to the check-out queue and Daily Mail readers.
It might just be Barbados’s fault, however, that it’s not really moved on from this 1980s image of glamour. If you go and explore the ‘must visit’ locations, you’ll find a number of restaurants and bars that, while perfectly pleasant – and frequently with impressive cliff-top views across the sea – haven’t moved on since snow-washed denim and when George Michael was an actual sex symbol. We’re talking nouvelle cuisine, old-school pasta dishes and artfully stacked plates. We’re talking the days of when sushi seemed like a novelty. We’re talking the kind of ubiquitous safe dining you get in London and New York, without even the slightest whiff of the local or the authentic.
The prevailing vibe is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ as, judging by the clientele in most of these places, the 1980s were their own personal heyday or, at the very least, Miami Vice is still their idea of cutting-edge fashion. Now, I must admit that I didn’t see anyone with their jacket sleeves rolled up to reveal a contrasting colour lining but that’s probably only because they were due out later in the day. On the early shift, if you’d thrown a coin into a crowd, you’d have hit someone in espadrilles/shoes-but-no-socks/slightly-too-short pastel coloured trousers/a collarless shirt. And, in at least one case, all of the above.
Happily – for there is a happily – it’s an image that Eoin Sullivan, General Manager of UNNA Resorts, is desperately trying to get away from. On a beautiful catamaran cruising up and down the island’s West Coast (which in no way evokes memories of that Duran Duran video), Eoin grills me on my dinner the evening before at one of Barbados’s most celebrated restaurants. I tell him a slightly more tempered version of the above rant. The fish was excellent – as you’d expect from an island community – and the fruit and the rum were top notch. It’s just that it was all a bit, well, you know, that Duran Duran video. Eoin nods in agreement, and details his plans for the next phases of the new development of UNNA Resorts: a restaurant called 1359 (the island’s longitude/latitude) that actually acknowledges the existence of Caribbean cuisine and the excellent local ingredients.
In its own words, UNNA resorts ‘bridge the gap between self-catering and a luxury five-star hotel’. In my words, you have to add that it’s sort of a luxury buy-to-let as well – for those with a net worth of more than US$5m. When you want your apartment, it’s yours (although at 2,500 to more than 6,000 sq ft, ‘apartment’ is a bit of a misnomer: seriously, it’s only on my second night, after opening what I thought was a cupboard door, that I discover a short corridor and the third bedroom/en suite). When you don’t need to be there, it can be rented out to holidaymakers looking for something non-Cowelly. They get the sort of accommodation normally provided by a luxury villa but with the amenities and services – a concierge, water taxis, private chef – of a five-star hotel. You, on the other hand, have the reassurance that your investment is being watched over and cared for.
While not a qualified financial adviser – or even an unqualified one, for that matter – Barbados’s attempts to overcome its economic problems have ensured that property investment comes with myriad benefits. In 2013, a Special Entry and Reside Permit was introduced, allowing Barbados residency to investors and their families. Importation of furniture is duty free, ditto bringing your yacht in and, of course, you benefit from the island’s low tax rates. You can also open foreign currency accounts which are exempt from all exchange controls. Ahem.
At the longer-standing UNNA Resorts location, at St Peter’s Bay, Eoin is pushing the place forward. There’s a new extension – still under wraps at the time of my stay – and an ongoing programme of redecoration and changes (not least with the in-room safes, which have a clever habit of losing their batteries when you close the door, meaning you can’t access them with your numerical combination. Still, at least I knew my passport was very secure for 48 hours…)
But over at Port Ferdinand, the new development… well, that’s a whole new shiny and jaw-dropping kettle of fish. Part of the wow factor is that it brings the concept of marina living to Barbados, with each luxury home having a berth for a 50ft-60ft yacht. That, of course, also means the crystal waters of the Caribbean have been extended to your door which, as well as being extremely photogenic, also means there are turtles already living here.
Although still under construction (there’s another year or two before this 16 acre site is completed) phase one – 46 homes and yacht berths – is completed and available. The design is stunning: spacious, stylish, cool and quiet. The facilities are, of course, first rate, from fibre-optic broadband to 24-hour security, via the afore-mentioned dining facilities, and even a kids’ club if you need time away from the offspring. Best of all, perhaps, the location – the north-west tip of Barbados – brings you that little bit closer to the island’s stunning east coast and the real and local heart of the place. The concept of UNNA Resorts may be old-school luxury but geographically – and ideologically – it’s a very welcome shift away from the Sandy Lanes of this world. Didn’t she have a hit in 1983?