If you are looking for the wild side in Barbados – not celebrities on jet skis wild, but the endless miles of natural beauty kind — you go east. Most of the coast is protected parkland so little can be built, and although it’s only a matter of a few miles from east to west at the narrowest point, there is still a perception that this side of the island is out on a limb.
It’s a world apart from the Barbados that most visitors know – the busy, gilded West coast strip of multi-million pound beachfront homes, fancy restaurants and designer boutiques.
There is money on the east coast too — it’s where wealthy Bajans own weekend homes — but the wild side has a style of its own. This is the Atlantic side of the island, its water still piercingly turquoise but with the added drama of big white rollers that crash upon deserted sands.
Properties include plantation-style houses on the hillsides, with big lawns and even bigger views. This one, White Caps in Cattlewash, is on sale for US$975,000 through Savills, and has a rare home cinema for an east coast retreat. You can also find the occasional well-weathered clapperboard cottage on the beach – none currently available, but 7th Heaven Properties are selling this one for US$2.195m right on the sand in Cattlewash.
“The west is where you go to be seen and the east is where you escape. It’s a completely different market and we don’t try to compete,” comments Paul Doyle, the Canadian owner of The Crane resort, whose original hotel first opened in 1887, making it the oldest in the Caribbean. Over the last two decades, Doyle has expanded the site from its simple, out-on-a-limb hotel into a sprawling, relaxed five-star resort overlooking a beach who beauty is reason in itself for holidaymakers to head east.
The Crane resort in Barbados
The Crane is the only resort on the east coast, and there are new residences for sale from US$770,000-$1.3m. But Doyle is working on something a few bays further north that is one of a kind for Barbados — not just because architecturally there’s nothing like it on the island, but because it’s likely to be the only big new residential development in the east.
As we veer off the main road and bump down a hillside towards the water’s edge, the vast, untouched sweep of Skeete’s Bay comes into view. This is where Beach Houses – a new development of 67 villas, on a 50-acre seafront site just outside the boundary of the protected park – is taking shape.
So far there is little but scrubland between the bay’s two headlands and on the waterfront is the shell of a disused fish market. As the scheme’s architect, Shawn Archer, comments of this off-the-beaten track spot: “People don’t come here much, apart from a few fishermen off the jetty.”
But Doyle and his team are eyeing up the old market building as a prime spot for a beachfront bar, and soon the rugged hillside will be transformed with tropical landscaping, two restaurants, a wellness centre, spa and shop. Owners will also have full usage of The Crane’s facilities a 15-minute drive away.
Skeetes Bay Beach Houses
Currently just one show villa hints at what’s in store at Beach Houses. All of the villas, priced from US$1.9m-$2.95m (or you can buy a four-week fraction for US$185,000), will be single-storey homes set on private 1/5 acre landscaped plots and camouflaged behind the palms. Every house has a grass roof, so that those set further up the hillside will gaze down only upon greenery, and their design is all about what the team describe as “no tan lines privacy”. That means you can safely bathe in your outdoor shower without fear of prying eyes, and the bathroom wall retracts completely, so you can recline in your tub in your own mini tropical paradise while the odd tiny bird flutters in and out.
“The east coast is about getting away from it all, but this is really getting away from everything – which is what a lot of people are looking for in a world that feels like it’s getting dicier,” says Doyle. “It’s for people who want nothing around them. They lead busy lives and they just want to come here with a suitcase full of books and read or write,” he adds, mentioning that the Life of Brian was conceived on Barbados’s east coast. In fact, it was written in Villa Nova, a sprawling plantation estate near Bathsheba, which hosted not just the Python team but many eminent political figures, including Sir Winston Churchill, and is currently on sale for $10m.
Skeetes Bay Beach Houses
The Beach Houses are the polar opposite of classic old Barbados plantation style. The design is minimalist and contemporary, with neutral colours to ensure that nothing detracts from the striking blue of the bay (and private infinity pool) in front. In the open-plan living room, Shawn Archer points out familiar Bajan features that have been adapted to east-coast living: limed wood-effect tiles on the floor, wood-effect PVC shutters and synthetic wicker furniture.
TVs, fridges and washing machines are all hidden behind sliding doors – part aesthetic, part preservation – and cars will similarly be cocooned from the sea spray in private garages. “We’ve learnt a lot from The Crane about what weathers well on the east coast. You can’t escape the corrosion from waves crashing against the cliffs and the salty sea air,” Archer comments.
Skeetes Bay Beach Houses
These houses may attract those with a sizeable amount to spend on a spare home, but they have also been designed to minimise running costs and hassle for owners. “Big German brands may look good, but getting spare parts in Barbados is really expensive,” Archer explains. “We train our people to repair everything and we use GE. It’s not a sexy brand, but it always works. We use passive cooling to reduce the need for constant air con and we make the most of natural light to limit the reliance on artificial lighting. It’s just good business and it happens to be good for the environment too.”
Outdoor showers at the Beach Houses
Further up the coast are the small beachfront communities of Bathsheba, a sought-after spot among international surfers, and Cattlewash, with its occasional rum shack (Mick Jagger’s alleged favourite is just up the hill) and the popular seafront Atlantis restaurant. And a few miles south of Beach Houses there’s a hint that attention is turning east as the historic, derelict Sam Lord’s Castle is being turned into the Caribbean’s first Wyndham Grand resort, funded by the Chinese government.
But for those with the quiet life at the Beach Houses in mind, their gaze may stray little further than from book page to crashing waves. As a jewellery seller on Crane Beach commented to me: “Everyone on the west coast is hustling for a dollar. In the east, you got room to breathe.” And sometimes that can feel like the greatest luxury of all.