Barbados Historic Houses Travel Article
Being house-bound in Barbados is not the punishment you might imagine
Barbados historic houses article written by Active Caribbean Editor & Travel Writer Linda Jackson
Bucket and spade is put on hold and all thoughts of another lazy day on the beach – head buried in book, rum punch in hand, lunch beside the pool – is temporarily pushed to the back of my mind… I’m house bound. I’m going to visit Barbados historic houses.
Dragging myself away from the comfort of a Barbados luxury hotel is hard to do. Leaving behind the idyllic sandy beach and the warm crystalline azure sea just a few feet away from my hotel is even harder. But I’m house bound. I’m off to explore Barbados’ rich architectural heritage – a profusion of old buildings, mainly Georgian or Victorian, many dating back as far as the 17th century. But, loving tropical flora as I do, I decide to sneak in a visit to a few of Barbados’ tropical gardens during my Barbados historic houses tour.
Going off the beaten track, facing a confusing web of narrow roads that cloak the island’s 166 square miles and travelling alone without anyone to chat to makes me decide the only way to go is with a chauffeur-driven car and friendly Bajan driver. So this is where Gamma, my driver-come-guide come-walking-Barbados-encyclopaedia, takes me…
First to the parish of St Peter in northern Barbados to Arlington House Museum, a recently opened state-of-the-art museum in a beautifully restored 18th century classic ‘single house’ on the main street of Speightstown – an old merchant settlement and port once known as Little Bristol because of its close trading association with the English port. With interactive and audio visual aids, the three floors of exhibits in the museum are educational and entertaining.
Next port of call on my Barbados historic houses tour, and in the same parish is to St Nicholas Abbey – one of three Jacobean houses existing in the Western Hemisphere. It is an architectural gem built around 1650 and believed to be the island’s oldest plantation house. In the yard there’s a Sandbox tree over 400 years old. The building, stunning by day or night, features elegant curvilinear Dutch gables each crowned with a tall finial; corner fireplaces; period furniture; 19th century glassware; Minton 1850’s china; a Chinese Chippendale staircase; a 1936 ‘gentleman’s chair’ (the height of luxurious relaxation at that time) and a four-poster bed reputedly owned by Empress Marie Louise, Napoleon’s second wife. The syrup factory has recently been restored in the old outbuildings; a c.1890 steam mill has been added, as well as an aged Barbadian rum, sugar and molasses bottling plant, and a museum.
From St Nicholas Abbey we drive down steep Cherry Tree Hill which yields fabulous views of the hilly countryside and wild east coast shore. We pass Morgan Lewis Mill, driving along the coast road to Bathsheba to take in magnificent seascapes, then back inland to the Flower Forest, a nature trail/botanical garden blend, in St Thomas parish. A path winds through the forest with its wide variety of plants and trees: Cape honeysuckle, bougainvillaea, bamboo, orchids, Heliconias, powder puff tree, hog plum trees, Christmas palms, bearded fig tree, Pandanaceae… the list is endless.
The tropical paradise of Hunte’s Garden in the lush parish of St Joseph is not far away; the garden is located in a natural sink hole and beautifully landscaped. When I visited I was escorted around the garden, by a somewhat eccentric Mr Anthony Hunte, to the strident sounds of classical music played on a piano. He had originally created this dense tropical garden purely for pleasure. He then explained he had chained his wife to the piano leg to ensure she stayed playing there daylong. It was only when I was leaving that he advised me he was not, in fact, married… the music was recorded. Whether Mr Hunte is still there I know not.
Thousands of orchids are on show at nearby Orchid World (St John’s parish): irresistible bait for photographers as well as green-fingered visitors. The spectacular orchids are most fragrant early or late in the day and at their best from late-February to April, although there’s always something to see throughout the year.
Sunbury House is set in the heart of St Philip countryside and on my ‘must visit’ list of Barbados historic houses. Built over 300 years ago the house contains a superior collection of antiques, china, old prints, and antique carriages. Every one of the rooms is open to the public and, scattered through the landscaped grounds old carts, mule- and oxen-drawn machinery can be seen. There’s a courtyard restaurant serving good Bajan fare, but for a memorable meal (minimum twelve people) special candlelight five-course dinners take place around the 200-year-old mahogany table in the elegant dining room.
From an elegant dining room crammed full of rich mahogany furniture to a sparsely furnished Georgian house in St Michael, the only house outside America in which George Washington lived, albeit a fleeting residence of two months in 1751. There’s a modern museum on the upper floor of George Washington House which is dedicated to the story of the rich cultural heritage of Barbados during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Despite the fact that Barbados is such a small island, several new museums and heritage sites have opened over the last two years. This historical collection, together with the Barbados historic houses I’ve visited, make an impressive ‘showcase’ for visitors and Barbadians alike, allowing all to appreciate the island’s rich history. Certainly impressive enough to put any bucket and spade on hold for a day or two.
To be honest, I didn’t mind being house-bound at all… it’s a jolly good reason to get out.
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