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The appeal of Barbados transcends its rather quaint old-world Britishness. Along the west coast, the parish of St. James—always popular with the island’s U.K. socialites—now attracts a more universal, even sexier crowd. Trendy shops such as Studio and Un Dimanche à Paris, have a more refined feel and restaurants are bustling. In fact, Barbados was the first Caribbean island to receive its own Zagat guide. All of this has not gone unnoticed by the A-list celebrities who frequent the island, and each year there is an influx of famous faces, including Mick Jagger, Oprah Winfrey, Victoria and David Beckham, Simon Cowell and the Bajan pop star returning home, Rihanna.

Cheat Sheet

Lay of the Land

“The West Indian is not exactly hostile to change, but he is not much inclined to believe in it. This comes from a piece of wisdom that his climate of eternal summer teaches him. It is that, under all the parade of human effort and noise, today is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be like today; that existence is a wheel of recurring patterns from which no one escapes; that all anybody does in this life is live for a while and then die for good, without finding out much; and that therefore the idea is to take things easy and enjoy the passing time under the sun. ”
~Herman Wouk, Don't Stop the Carnival

Barbados, the most easterly Caribbean island, is only twenty-one miles long and fourteen miles wide. Yet a coast-to-coast drive reveals a montage of landscapes, which have their own distinct vibes, personalities and crowds. The west coast—also known as the “Platinum Coast”—faces the calm waters of the Caribbean Sea and is the Barbados most people have heard of: polo grounds; old-money estates; posh, pricey hotels and their equally posh, occasionally famous, guests. The glamour apex is reached along St. James’s Millionaire Mile in Holetown, where you’ll find Sandy Lane hotel, a number of lavish, closed-off estates and the highest concentration of high-end restaurants, like Daphne’s and the Cliff.

Those who don’t care much for the scene, along with surfers and anyone just looking to tune out, head to the more rugged east coast, which many locals refer to simply as “the country.” The beaches, fronting the rougher Atlantic waters, are wider, prettier and much less crowded. The northeast coast, part of the island’s Little Scotland district, is perhaps the most beautiful—at least in a raw, wild sort of way—with its dramatic rocky cliffs and misty shores.

Traveling through Barbados’s interior, you’ll pass swaying sugarcane fields, colorful chattel homes, historic plantation houses, country estates and, if you’re in Little Scotland, rolling green hills. The least scenic part of the island is found in the south. Here, cruise ships dock at Bridgetown, the often congested capital city, while St. Lawrence Gap, located in the southernmost parish of Christ Church, is lined with bars, budget hotels and rum shops that stay open until dawn.

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