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Best of Barbados

For another kind of star encounter, catch a first-run flick at one of the Caribbean's last remaining drive-in movie theaters: at Globe Drive-In (Adams Castle, Christ Church; 246/437-0479; $4 for two films), the snack food goes beyond popcorn to rotis and flying-fish burgers.

SIGHTSEEING The best lookout is from St. John's Church (Porthouse, St. John), on the edge of 800-foot Hackleton's Cliff. The 168-year-old stone edifice affords 270-degree views of the island.

Skip the canned plantation-house tours. The Barbados National Trust open houses (246/426-2421; $7.50 per person) unveil a different private residence to the public every Wednesday from mid-January to mid-April.

Celebrating its 300th year, Mount Gay rum is one of Barbados's best-known sugarcane exports. Downtown, the Mount Gay Rum Tour & Gift Shop (Spring Garden Hwy., Bridgetown; 246/425-8757; tours $6 per adult) offers a glimpse into the production process—and free samples afterward. Better yet, arrange for a tour of the actual Mount Gay Rum Distillery in the north of the island.

Though its name may sound cheesy, Orchid World (Hwy. 3B, Groves, St. George; 246/433-0306; admission $7.50 per adult) is anything but. More than 30,000 grow in greenhouses, on trees, and in coconut shells. Go just before closing, about 4:30 p.m., when the sun is starting to set over the surrounding sugarcane fields.

It's over in a snap, but a tour with Bajan Helicopters (Bridgetown Heliport, the wharf, Bridgetown, St. Michael; 246/431-0069; from $100 per person for a 20-minute ride) provides remarkable, though stomach-churning, views. We won't even tell you about the acrobatic tricks over Bathsheba.

Top Beaches
The Caribbean's waters are placid, but the golden beaches along the island's west coast are slight (an exception: Mullins Bay, south of Speightstown). The east coast, on the Atlantic, is home to the most gorgeous strands, listed from south to north.
Silver Sands: A windy outcropping ideal for kite surfing. The area holds an annual Waterman Festival every February.
Crane: Ask one of the rasta boys on this wide crescent of talcum sand for an impromptu surfing lesson.
Bottom Bay: Deserted even in high season, the pink-sand cove is surrounded by high cliffs. If you're thirsty, beachboys will split open a coconut for a few dollars.
Bathsheba: Massive boulders are scattered along the shore of this surfing capital.

Privacy, Please
If even the most luxurious resort won't do, check out the island's wealth of villa rentals. Fustic House (St. Lucy; 246/439-9045; www.bajanservices.com; from $3,000 per night*), an 18th-century sugar plantation, was restored in the 1970's by stage designer Oliver Messel. With its top Bajan chef and space for 11 guests, it appeals to the likes of Liv Tyler and Oprah Winfrey. Sandy Lane Estates (Wimco; 800/932-3222; www.wimco.com) looks like a suburb of Houston, Texas, lined with splashy mansions. One of the top properties is the eight-bedroom, $28,500-a-week Bon Vivant. A Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course is the centerpiece of Royal Westmoreland (St. James; 246/422-4653; www.royalwestmoreland.com; from $8,000 per week), which has palatial two- to seven-room villas and spa services.
*Prices reflect holiday rates.

Shopping Tips
Avoid Bridgetown's Pelican Craft Centre, an overpriced tourist trap. The linen clothes at Details (252 Mayhoe Ave., Sunset Crest, St. James; 246/432-6566) are perfect for a hot afternoon. Set in a former plantation house, Greenwich House Antiques (St. James; 246/432-1169) has Fiestaware and Wedgwood. La Galerie Antique (Paynes Bay, St. James; 246/432-6094) specializes in vintage linens—and $7,000 four-poster beds. Earthworks Pottery (2 Edghill Heights, St. Thomas; 246/425-0223) is the source for the hand-decorated tableware that shows up in every restaurant. Gourmet Shop (5 Chattel Village, Holetown, 246/432-7711) carries local treats, such as sugar-coated tamarind balls. Shell Gallery (Contentment, Gibbs, St. Peter; 246/422-2593) does the beachcombing for you.

Island Oases
Spa culture was practically nonexistent here until the arrival of the Spa at Sandy Lane (St. James; 246/444-2100; treatments from $70 for a 30-minute herbal linen wrap). The 14 high-tech treatment rooms have heated beds that can be raised and lowered like dentists' chairs; there's also an ice cave for cooling off after a steam. The new Suga Suga Spa (Mullins, St. Peter; 246/419-4507; treatments from $43 for a 45-minute massage) is the next best thing, at about half the price. The top package (facial, massage, manicure, pedicure) takes 3 1/2 hours and costs $142. Suga Suga has a small pool and a lovely beach—a perfect place to spend the day. The Soothing Touch Da Spa (12 Frère Pilgrim, Christ Church; 246/436-9405; treatments from $50 for a 50-minute massage) offers a basic range, including hot-stone massages and clay wraps.

In the Spirit
According to legend, rum was invented here. A 17th-century visitor called it "Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divill...a hott hellish and terrible liquor." Bajans spend the night "old-talking" (reminiscing) in the rum shops. There are roughly 1,600 of these brightly painted shacks. The most popular include John Moore's (Weston, St. James), which the Barbadian PM is rumored to frequent; the crowded Marshalls (Holders Hill); and Gagg's Hill Rum Shop (Gagg's Hill, St. Joseph), known for its jukebox and card games.

Bajan Dishes
The native cuisine is a result of the island's mix of cultures, from English to African.
Flying fish: The national dish of Barbados, this fish—which appears to soar across the water—is tastiest fried and served on a hamburger bun.
Cou-cou: A cornmeal and okra dish that accompanies saltfish stew or flying fish.
Pudding & Souse: A Saturday pig-parts special. Pudding is intestines stuffed with sweet potato and blood; souse, pickled feet.
Saltfish: Dried, salted cod, soaked and softened and made into fritters or fish cakes.
Macaroni pie: Just like it sounds.
Sorrel: Brewed from the sorrel plant, this sweet concoction is consumed on Christmas.
Maubey: The bitter aftertaste of this drink, made from the bark of a West Indian tree, isn't for everyone—but it will cool you off on a hot day.
Lime squash: Bajan lemonade.
Ginger tea: Drunk so hot that it burns your throat, ginger tea is a local cure for the common cold.

The British Were Here
Under crown rule, Barbados was called Little England. Some colonial traditions endure.
Cricket: A national religion. Major matches are held in Kensington Oval (246/436-1397; www.cwcricket.com), where attendees create a racket using cymbals, conch shells, and tin cans.
Polo: Cavalry officers introduced polo to the island in the 19th century. Thursdays and Saturdays, from October to May, international competitions are staged on Holders Hill (St. James; 246/432-1802; $7.50 per adult).
Afternoon tea: The most traditional is at Villa Nova (246/433-1524; tea for two $26). Patisserie Bistro Flindt (First St., Holetown; 246/432-2626; tea for two $68) sells it to go.
Pubs: Expats like the Coach House (Sandy Lane, St. James; 246/432-1163) for Guinness at the long wooden bar.

Local Favorite
'The best shop is Simon Peter [Paynes Bay, St. James; 246/236-3294], run by a local designer whose clothes really reflect the mood of Barbados.'
Jodie Kidd, supermodel

Local Favorite
'On Barbados, New Year's Eve is called Old Year's Night. Everyone drives to Bathsheba beach with a picnic in tow. We stay up to watch the dawning of the new year.'
Lynne Pemberton, owner, Villa Nova

Local Favorite
'When I don't have time for a real lunch, I go to a Chefette drive-through for a chicken roti, an East Indian dish of chicken curry and potato wrapped in dough. It's quick, filling, and good.'
Jerry Edwards, a blender at Mount Gay Rum

Local Favorite
'The Sunday night drag show at Ragamuffins [First St., Holetown; 246/432-1295], held in a tiny house, is larger-than-life. But it's a little long, so try to sit near the door and sneak out on the early side.'
Simon Foster, clothing designer

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