An oasis of calm in Barbados

It’s the little touches that make this hotel on the west coast of Barbados so special. Jon Connell finds it hard to leave.

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It's the little touches that make this hotel on the west coast so special. Jon Connell finds it hard to leave.

Barbados is full of surprises. It may not have the majestic mountains of Jamaica or the glitz of St Barts, but it's one of the friendliest and safest places in the Caribbean. With its string of secluded little sandy bays on the west coast, it's no surprise you can find such a host of good hotels, restaurants and cafes (there's even a charming little gluten-free cafe called Bliss).

But just a few twisting, perfunctorily signposted miles away is the east coast, as wild as the west is calm wild and unspoilt, with huge rolling seas. Visit the pretty hillside village of Bathsheba and suddenly you're right above a surfer's paradise. Kelly Slater, the greatest surfer of all time, describes Bathsheba's Soup Bowl as "the best three waves in the world". A quick stroll on the beach will show you why.

A homely and luxurious hotel

I've spent the odd night in Barbados over the years, usually en route somewhere else (we have a little house on the tiny island of Bequia). This year, for a change, we booked ourselves into the family owned Cobblers Cove, just up the road from the Sandy Lane. Sandy Lane is rightly famous, but a little over the top for me. Cobblers Cove offers something different: not barefoot luxury, but certainly understated luxury. The manager, Will Oakley, says he wants his hotel to feel "homely" and it does. From the moment you step out of the lively coastal street, with its trundling yellow buses, you're in an oasis of peace and quiet, ushered from the lobby into a lush garden full of frangipani, cooling ferns and sea grape.It's such a pretty garden you find yourself making excuses to traipse through it, especially at night when it's beautifully lit by flares along the path.

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All the rooms are suites, overlooking either garden or ocean take your pick, if you book early enough. We booked so late that we had to move about a bit, though it was no great hardship. I preferred the ocean front, but my wife loved the peace and quiet of the garden. All the suites are charming, each with a spacious verandah complete with sun loungers; behind this is an open sitting room (closed by a screen at night) complete with fridge, lamps and whirring fans; behind that a cool and inviting bedroom and bathroom.

Braving the waves

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Cobblers Cove is beautifully designed. I like the little touches: the big bath towels, the small shelf of books in every room, the proper keys rather than pieces of plastic, the lack of TVs. Who needs a television on holiday? The food is as good as at anywhere I've stayed in the Caribbean: tasty little risottos, blackened fish, even porridge for breakfast if you want it. Swimming is easy off the beach (pictured left); there's a tennis court, a gym, you can sail from the beach and there's a boat that will take you out to look at turtles. And if you dare to brave the waves, I'd recommend Christian Boos of Boosy's Surf School. A passionate instructor, and master of the Soup Bowl wave, he'll take you surfing among more turtles at Freights Bay.

We explored a bit easy to do in Barbados, which is much safer than Jamaica. We went north, south and east, taking in a polo match, a trendy new beach club called Nikki Beach, and a couple of restaurants, the long-established Lone Star, once a seaside garage, and the pricey but wonderful Cliff, where the mahi mahi with parmesan sauce is hard to beat (just close your eyes when the bill comes). But we were always pleased to be back in Cobblers Cove. For the last two nights we found ourselves upgraded to a magical suite above the bar with its own roof terrace up a white spiral staircase, complete with a plunge pool and stunning views. It made it very hard to leave.

Summer season rates from $460 a night. See CobblersCove.com.

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