Little Arches is one of those perfect little boutique hotels you stumble across, if you are lucky, once or twice in a lifetime. This is not a place for the stars – they congregate in ultra-chic hotels on the placid west coast. Nor is it for dreamy seekers of truth and wild beauty, drawn to the hammocks and cleanses and yoga classes on offer at guest houses on the rugged and windswept east coast.
No, Little Arches, on the island’s gently-lapped southern shores, is something else entirely. It’s a place for visitors of any age in search of hearty normality splashed with a dash of quirk and eccentricity. It’s for those seeking culinary heaven, white sand beaches with a bit of swell, and a nearby market fizzing with down-to-earth culture, fried fish, rum, laughter and an ice-cold beer.
If you stay in any one place in Barbados let it be here, for three good reasons. First, the hotel itself. Little Arches is a family-run affair, lending it that air of genuine conviviality impossible to replicate at commercially run hotels. Rooms are individually designed and laid out, giving each its own sense of identity. Some are cloistered inside the hotel; others, with their own private gardens and sundecks, face inland, a sanctuary of silence and serenity.
A select few rooms – bag ‘em early as they go quick – offer extraordinary seafront views of the ocean as well as terraces and personal hot tubs. The main reception area leads out to a larger terrace with a plunge pool, library, and pergola-draped sofas, offering respite in the midday sun. Waiters drift in and out, offering cocktails, local beer and snacks. Little touches, such as the ever-present jugs of iced water, make all the difference.
As the sun wanes, and the sea melts from dark blue to aquiline turquoise, guests assemble on the terrace for a sun-downer to share local rum and chitchat. It’s a great place to meet people and to discuss the delights of the island: some guests have been coming here for decades, always the sign of a well-run and loved institution.
Which leads to the second reason to stay at Little Arches: the food. Café Luna, a short trot up the stairs from the veranda, may well be the nicest place to eat in the whole of Barbados. It certainly has some of the best food. Our group enjoyed the fruits of the local waters, ordering smoked mahi mahi on warm potato cakes with wasabi mayonnaise, fresh local tuna and chive rolls, and Luna’s delectable home-made sashimi. For mains, seafood linguine – heartily recommended – as well as spiced West Indian shrimp, grilled with pesto and Chablis hollandaise, and the local Bajan fish stew. Every season brings new delights, from lion shark to local pork loin roasted with Mount Gay rum. An extensive and worldly wine menu and a mouthwatering dessert menu finish things off.
But Luna is about more than just food. It offers first-class service in a uniquely local setting. Waiters are swift and efficient but never hover. Candles suffuse the terrace with a sense of communal intimacy. The fresh sea breeze ensures a coolness that further aids the hum and thrum of contented conversation. Laughter tinkles, glasses chink – this is how a hotel restaurant should be run.
And Little Arches is about more, itself too. It also benefits from that one ever-present but imponderable quality: location. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, the swift uplifting rush of that early light cannot but lighten your heart. It beckons you down to the shore to collect shells and wander the white sand. Later, go for a plunge, float in the swell, and steam and sauté in the sun.
It’s also situated just a stone’s throw from Oistins Bay Gardens. Every night is fish-fry night at the outdoor Oistins market, all wooden benches and old-fashioned hospitality. Friday however is doubly so. People come from all over the island to eat chicken and sailfish grilled or fried before your eyes, and then to linger on, drinking rum, and enjoying the strains of live Bajan music, heavy with Jimmy Cliff and old-style Jamaican ska. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, as one expects in an island that embraces its reputation for cordiality and safety. A hearty plate of fish, caught overnight or that day, will cost no more than 30 Barbados dollars (around US$15 or £10). And at the end, you can collect fish scraps from the vendors in the fish market and feed the sea turtles.
Little Arches is a gem. It won’t break the bank – prices are very reasonable for an island that tends to attract the upper echelons of the tourism sector. It is unpretentious, burstingly friendly and gloriously located, while also offering peace and quiet for those seeking solitude. It is, in Stylebible’s humble opinion, the best hotel on the island, though it fills up early, often with visitors who return year after year. Little Arches is a great corner of a great corner of the world, and is not to be missed.