As Pretty as The Picture

Western Morning News

By Sue Kemp


So often reality fails to live up to those glossy travel brochure photos, but The Crane resort in Barbados, now 130 years old,  exceeds all expectations.

It is easy to see why people who visit The Crane in Barbados return again and again. The five-star resort offers everything for a great holiday for families, couples and solo travellers. And while the best times to visit the Caribbean island might be during Britain’s gloomy new year winter months, the temperature is high all year round – even through the rainy season.

We enjoyed a break at the end of May, and the weather was glorious – just like The Crane.

It is rare that a holiday lives up to its billing in the brochure or online. Usually, the descriptions and photographs are a little on the imaginative side and when you arrive you are left feeling short-changed.

Not so The Crane. It lived up to every promised word and was even more beautiful than the pictures suggested.

It is one of the grandes dames of the Barbados’ hotel scene. Situated on the less-developed, wilder east coast of the island, it is the perfect place to get away from it all. It’s also just six minutes east of Grantley Adams International Airport – once you’ve landed, it is just a short taxi ride to paradise.

It has been a leading name on the Barbados hotel scene ever since it opened in 1870 with just 18 rooms. Back then, it was the first hotel resort in the Carib-bean, an 18th-century villa turned into a hotel for the well-heeled elite travelling to the island.

More than 130 years later, and now with a total of more than 252 rooms, The Crane has maintained its position as one of the best places to escape to on the island, thanks to award-winning cuisine and leisure facilities including tennis courts and five outdoor pools. There’s also a full-service spa for those looking for a little pampering.

Situated atop a limestone coral cliff and overlooking the wild seas of the Atlantic, there are few hotels in the world that can claim such a breathtaking location. The powdery-fine pink sand beach has won numerous accolades for being one of the best beaches in the world. But what draws visitors here year after year? Certainly it’s more than just the location. There are so many hotels with beautiful views in the Caribbean alone, never mind further afield. The Crane stands out among luxury properties for a number of reasons: the spacious rooms, the stellar service and the attention to detail.

We arrive on a balmy afternoon, laden down with luggage and slightly befuddled from the journey. As we wind our way through the tropical gardens, our driver tells us that we are in for a treat. He’s right, of course. Throughout the course of the next few days, I come to appreciate how true his words are. There’s no one thing I can put my finger on. The gorgeous rooms – ours comes complete with unfettered views of the glorious sunrise that puts on a show each day without fail – the friendly and attentive service, the spacious grounds or the wonderful food. All of these combine to create a destination that is truly worth its long-standing reputation. It spreads over 40 acres with four restaurants, cafés and bars, and an attractive faux village, with food and gift shops. The winding pathways are lush with tropical vegetation and the birdsong makes a spellbinding audio backdrop.

The food and beverage options include the hotel’s award-winning L’Azure Restaurant, which enjoys a cliff-top position overlooking a magnificent panorama of the picturesque shore below – the perfect spot to enjoy traditional Caribbean cuisine. Guests can choose to dine in the elegant dining room, which features original 200-year-old coral stone walls, or on the wrap-around balcony for the ideal backdrop to a romantic meal. Authentic Bajan dishes such as coucou and steamed flying fish, macaroni pie and fried plantains can be enjoyed at the Sun-day buffet lunch, and dinner options include locally caught pan-seared mahi-mahi on spicy lentils and a West Indian-style chicken curry. On Sundays, the restaurant offers a hugely popular brunch with live Caribbean gospel music in the morning and traditional live steel pan music during a buffet lunch.

For an alternative to Caribbean fare, guests can enjoy gourmet Japanese and Thai delicacies at the fine-dining Zen Restaurant, which has been Zagat-rated number one for food in Barbados for two years running. Designed by a Japanese architect and interior designer, it features dramatic spot lighting and classic Japanese artefacts as well as an elegant stone entrance with a bridge over a Koi pond filled with evening lilies.

Tasting menus allow diners to enjoy the very best dishes on offer, from the flavourful Thai grilled marinated pork to a selection of nigiri sushi and teriyaki chicken. The restaurant features private booths, a large Tatami room with a recessed floor and a 12-person sushi bar overlooking the sea 50ft below.

Nestled in the heart of the charming Crane Village, D’Onofrios serves the finest authentic southern Italian fare. Classic dishes are inspired by the simple flavours and Old World traditions of Italy and prepared to an excellent standard. With its casual atmosphere and wide choice of pizzas and pastas on offer, D’Onofrios is perfect for families and this was my 12-year-old daughter’s favourite place to eat.

The Carriage House was once the official stable of the historic Crane Beach Hotel over a century ago. In keeping with the continued expansion and development of The Crane, it has been transformed into a modern poolside bar and grill, serving a variety of lightly grilled dishes and tropical cocktails – perfect for lunch or cocktail events. The Carriage House still possesses remnants of its architectural past and rich history, in keeping with the overall style of the resort where modern amenities are melded with old-world charm.

Named for the date The Crane Hotel was expanded, the resort’s signature cocktail bar, Bar 1887, is nestled within the heart of the village. Wraparound verandas and comfortable furniture invite the weary traveller to unwind with a Crane Rum Punch, whether after a hectic flight or simply a long day on the beach. The bar serves smoothies, classic cocktails, beer and wine alongside a selection of Bajan tapas, from calamari and pan-seared scallops to classic bruschetta. A daily happy hour and regular live entertainment offers guests and residents festivities that last throughout the afternoon into the evening.

Walking around the resort, you see glimpses of its history everywhere you go. The original 18-room hotel still stands, forming the backbone of the central part of the property. These ocean-front rooms have some of the best views, looking straight out to the Atlantic, nothing in between them and the endless miles of ocean outside their windows. The traditional architecture and design has a loyal band of visitors, which can make booking these rooms quite tricky during high season but it’s well worth it if you can.

Constructed using the coral limestone on which the whole island sits, the building materials of the original hotel property also comprises some of the ballast that the ships used to carry on their voyages out to the island, that was then replaced with sugar and other Bajan produce for the trips home. Every building has a story behind it.

Giving guests the space and time to unwind is at the top of The Crane’s priorities. An all-suite hotel, all rooms (outside of the original Victorian property) come complete with their own kitchen/kitchenette and dining area so guests can enjoy meals in the privacy of their accommodation if they so choose. Many of the suites also come with private pools.

Like everything at the resort our room was stunning. I say room, it was more like a beautifully furnished apartment. It had cedar shutters, mahogany furnishings and a large bed. There was a separate living room, dining area and fully fitted kitchen with an American-style fridge. My daughter loved the ice-maker. We had two bathrooms, one with a whirlpool bath and shower, and another with a large walk-in shower. There was also a washer/dryer.

The centrepiece of The Crane is a historic pool set on the cliff’s edge, framed by a row of classic Doric columns over-looking the beach. In 2007 the resort unveiled a new cascading lagoon-style pool complex set against the Atlantic backdrop, offering four additional pools with cascading waterfalls.

We made a point of visiting a different pool each day and were spoilt by the green, palm-framed surroundings and warm, clear water. There were plenty of sunbeds, a water cooler and waiter service for those wanting something from the nearby bars.

Of course, no visit to Barbados would be complete without sampling the golden sands. Crane Beach – one of the top ten in the world, we were told – is reached by a lift or steps. The wide, 250-yard-long stretch is backed by a palm grove. It’s partially protected by an offshore reef, but the waves can still be big and swimming isn’t always safe. Sargassum (smelly seaweed) has recently been an issue at times, though the hotel has gone to great lengths to combat the problem and while we were there a tractor was busy every morning clearing some of it out of the way. On two of the days it was bad there was a free bus ser-vice to another nearby beach.

If you can tear yourself away from the hotel there are plenty of places to visit and these can all be organised through the hotel if needed. Try a day’s shopping in Bridgetown, a visit to the impressive Harrison’s Cave or one of Barbados’ many colourful gardens, learn how to make rum or enjoy a tour of the island. For the more adventurous there are also catamaran cruises or deep sea fishing.

There is so much to see and do – it was too difficult to squeeze it all into a week and all too soon it was time for us to fly back home. I had just settled into the casual routine of life at The Crane – beautiful sunrises, excellent cuisine, time spent relaxing by the pool or on the beach. It was one I was going to miss a lot. Would I recommend The Crane? Certainly. If you’re looking for a laid-back getaway to Barbados, complete with luxury accommodation and amenities, The Crane is certainly for you.