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Winter Travel
Barbados visitors will find old-world elegance and over-the-top luxury at two "new" resorts.
(Photo by Corbis)
A cluster of top-drawer hotels have long maintained Barbados's reputation as a high-end Caribbean-vacation destination, but now, with the reopening of the Sandy Lane and Villa Nova resorts, you get the sense that the No. 1 spot is up for grabs — and that they both want it.

At first glance, Sandy Lane is the front-runner, and it's all about the numbers. Numbers like 1,000; 6,000; 47,000; 2; and 300 million. These represent, in order: the price in dollars for Sandy Lane's cheapest room; the price in dollars for the most expensive room; the square footage of the spa; the number of golf courses; and the estimated cost in dollars of Sandy Lane's three-year renovation. The much-anticipated overhaul of the resort, whose grand reopening is in December, has resulted in a 112-room retreat of surpassing luxury: Bentleys available for your transportation needs, flat-screen TVs in every room, a spa so grand you're sure Caligula is carrying on in one of the garden-equipped private "treatment suites," a full-time butler, and a housekeeping swat team that descends several times a day for precision cleaning and fluffing. One evening we sat on our spacious balcony and watched a breathtaking silvery dusk take shape over the sea. The sunset highlighted a massive pile of clouds, riders on horseback moved languidly along the beach, and the tree-frog chorus began to swell. Does it get any better than this?

Then we headed inland to Villa Nova, a former plantation house — and brief home of Sir Anthony Eden, the British prime minister — that was built in 1834 and reopened in April, expanded and restored to the easy elegance that once attracted Churchill and Elizabeth II to its fifteen-acre mid-island tropical oasis. The gardens are glorious, with 100-year-old palms, a lily pond, breadfruit and breadnut trees, a stone fountain, a gazebo, and an inviting freshwater swimming pool. The rooms look as if they belong to another era, except for the DVD players. There's a palpably grown-up ambience, and in fact Villa Nova does not accommodate children under 12 (except at Christmas, Easter, and in the summer). We ate several pleasant meals at the garden's edge — flying fish, duck confit, spicy prawn salad, grilled yellowfin tuna — all good, all beautifully presented.

Villa Nova is unusual in that it's not on the beach, but that turns out to be a large part of its isolated, tranquil appeal. The water is only ten minutes away, and the hotel is happy to drive you there — there's a beach house as well — with a gourmet picnic lunch. One morning, I took a run along a bumpy paved road, past a bright crimson "flamboyant tree," through the tiny hamlet of Venture, along sugarcane fields, and past the old sugar mill to Hackleton's Cliff, a bluff looking far, far down to the coastline below. The vista — sea in front, rolling green hills behind — was sensational, a reminder that there's more to Barbados than beautiful beachfronts and Bentleys.

• Sandy Lane (246-444-2000, doubles start at $1,000)

• Villa Nova (246-433-1524, doubles start at $465)

• American Airlines (800-433-7300) offers a daily nonstop flight from JFK to Grantley Adams airport in Bridgetown, Barbados.
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    From the November 5, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.
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