Barbados may have its laid-back island charm, where languorous afternoons stretch out along white-sand beaches that slope into surreal turquoise bays, but there’s more to this coral island than sand and sea. UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bridgetown thrums with independent stores, markets showing off Bajan fruit and art and buildings steeped in history (and invariably, rum) such as St. Nicolas Abbey. Community roadside rum shacks are as prolific here as tropical gardens – the Andromeda Botanic Gardens near Bathsheba village are particularly lovely – and festivals such as The Food and Rum Festival and Crop Over Festival peer into the Bajan. For several weeks, performers take to the streets in flamboyant costumes and the warming smell of spiced sweet potatoes, chicken curry and fried flying fish hangs in the air.

Only 21 miles from tip to tip, Barbados offers up this blend of beach and culture to all locations – surfers tend to cling to the underrated east coast for its Atlantic waves and the sun-worshippers stay west for the calm, bath-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Although parts of the island have succumbed to all-inclusive culture, Barbados’ shores play host to a clutch of stylish hotels, many that evoke a bygone era of pre-lunch gin and tonics over backgammon, a few channelling the island’s no-frills spirit with creative Creole menus and whitewashed rooms. From family-owned pillared legends with country club rhythms and back garden patches of flawless beach to pared-down boutiques filled with Calypso music and plates of just-caught seafood, here are the best hotels in Barbados.

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