How family values fuel the traditional hospitality of the Coral Reef Club
One of the stalwarts of Barbados’ “platinum” West Coast venues is the Coral Reef Club – known for its traditional feel and loved by many guests who return year after year. It has been owned by the O’Hara family since 1952, although its evolution from simple hotel to luxury venue almost never happened.
In the early 1950s, Budge and Cynthia O’Hara traveled from England to Budge to work as general manager at the hotel. The plan was to stay for only three years. However, their hands-on approach to hospitality meant that the same guests started coming back year after year, never leaving, and eventually they bought the hotel and expanded it into what it is now. These days, it’s their children – now in their 50s and 60s – who run the hotel, and the third generation, Pudge and Cynthia’s grandchildren, are starting to get involved in the business.
Located north of Holetown, the Coral Reef Club is quite old school. Guests are asked to dress semi-formal for dinner (slippers and shirts are not allowed for men) as a pianist plays the ivories; There are no televisions in the rooms (although you can request one) and there is always one of the O’Haras on hand to chat with guests. Saying that, since this is Barbados, of course, there’s no party. Instead of feeling too stuffy, the hotel has a relaxed atmosphere that nicely complements the traditional setting. So, you’ll find the hotel bar open around the clock, for example, fresh fruit sorbets are served on the beach at 11am every morning, and rum punch on the restaurant’s patio is fueled by acoustic reggae music.
Stylistically, the Coral Reef Club leans into its classic heritage: with cane furniture, beautiful pastel-print fabrics and exposed coral rock walls creating character across the 88 rooms. There is a mix of cottages, suites and bungalow-style rooms, as well as two luxury villas – all with large marble bathrooms and some with their own plunge pools. Best of all? Each one is located just seconds from the pristine beach.
While the aesthetic can be a bit colonial at times, the facilities definitely feel of the moment – with artificial tennis courts (lit at night with professional coaching available) and plenty of water sports on offer, including kayaking, powerboat adventures and sailing.
A highlight is the hotel’s spa, which feels like a hidden gem, tucked away in the hotel’s lush botanical gardens. To get there, you have to pass through soaring palm trees, fragrant frangipani trees and ylang-ylang trees – the gardens here We are amazing. Inside, tranquility reigns with covered relaxation areas, contemporary hydrotherapy pools and waterfall features. Treatments are provided by Nature Bissé, with a soothing Caribbean massage giving a nod to the destination, with lemongrass and ginger essential oils. It includes a foot massage and eye treatment, so it’s especially good after a long flight.
Next door is its sister hotel, The Sandpiper, which feels a bit younger and ‘more youthful’. Rooms are designed in a contemporary style with egg-shaped tubs, linen sofas and white-washed vaulted ceilings. Bright cushions, artwork and ceramic lamps abound in bright colours. It’s also home to The Curlew, one of the largest suites on the island, which features an epic glass wall, ocean-view terrace, wet bar and chic coastal decor. Facing the beach is Harold’s Bar, where you can grab a ‘quick’ lunch of fried flying fish or roti curry, and you’ll feel so welcome that you might be back before dark.
Exploring the island is a must: whether it’s a trip via Bathsheba, on the east coast, to enjoy the wilder Atlantic coast; Or visit the Animal Flower Caves in the north of the island for stunning ocean views. When you return, don’t miss the sunset, your toes tucked in the sand, while the sky glows pink, purple and amber. It is said to be the best on the island. For dinner, there are fishcakes with lime sauce, jerk chicken, or perhaps mahi-mahi steaks on the grill. Occasionally, the pianist is replaced by a calypsonian, and the melodic tunes are certainly the most joyful kind of music on the planet…a bit British, but none the less the best in Barbados.
Inspiring travel Offers one complimentary night during a seven-week stay Coral Reef Club. With this offer, a seven-night holiday costs £2,435 based on two people sharing a garden room/hut on a B&B basis, including return flights and private transfers. Book by May 6, 2024 for travel between May 1 and August 17, 2024.
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(tags for translation) Barbados