Travel | June 9, 2023 7:15 am

The Oldest Property in Barbados Is Full of History and Charm

The Crane is a secluded paradise, which has been welcoming guests since 1887

Body of blue water with a bridge and tall building resembling a castle.
The Crane in Barbados is full of history — it's the birthplace of rum and grapefruit.
Ross Oscar Knight

As a frequent traveler to the Caribbean, I’m often asked if I ever tire of visiting different islands: If you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all, right? Well, not quite. Every island in the region has its own personality and distinct culture. My recent visit to Barbados revealed a place that was wild and beautiful and full of history, the birthplace of rum and grapefruit (yes, really). It was also one of the first islands to establish a nascent hospitality industry. All this led me to The Crane, a property that dates back to 1887 — the grand dame of Barbados hotels. 

The interior of the typical ocean view suite at The Crane.
The interior of the typical ocean view suite at The Crane.
William Chan

A Resort Steeped in History 

When I arrived, I found bright bougainvillea lining cobblestone pathways that connected the guestrooms, and my first-floor suite had soaring wood ceilings, limestone walls and plantation shutters that opened to a plunge pool and garden views. It was here that I would spend most of my mornings sipping coffee, and each morning, I flung open my plantation shutters, letting in the ocean breeze. 

During my stay, I learned that the resort took its name from Crane Beach, which once served as a harbor for ships; a crane helped transport cargo from ships to land. Around 1790, an 18-room mansion, Marine Villa, was built on the cliffs of Crane Beach. In 1886, civil engineer Donald Simpson bought the property, opening it as a hotel the following year; it soon attracted wealthy merchants, who were drawn to the area’s beachside setting. The original Marine Villa still stands and forms a part of the resort, with rooms featuring antique furniture and 200-year-old coral stone walls.

Over the years, the 40-acre spread has grown to include 306 units across 12 buildings, and at the center is the Crane Village, a collection of Victorian-styled buildings that house the fitness center, kids’ club, grocery store and two of the resort’s five restaurants and bars. One venue, The Carriage House, served as a stable for the Crane Beach Hotel 100 years ago. Today it’s a poolside bar offering casual bites and impressive views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Pool at nighttime with candle lights in front of castle-like building.
The Carriage House, which is now a poolside bar.
William Chan
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A Private Getaway 

I noticed right away that The Crane is quiet and serene. You won’t find any raucous pool parties or loud music thumping late into the night. Thanks to its secluded location, the resort has hosted many high-profile guests.

“People typically don’t come here to be seen,” says Mellissa Broomes, Crane Resort’s marketing coordinator. “They come here to disappear. We’ve welcomed some of the most high-profile celebrities who come to Barbados, and we protect and guard their privacy like our own, giving them the respite that they need.” 

That same level of privacy and discretion has also created a fierce sense of loyalty among guests. I talked to several people who had been returning for years, drawn to the property’s lush, isolated setting. Broomes also told me that the loyalty also extended to the staff, as many of the employees and their families had worked there for years. 

“This is really a family environment,” Broomes told me. “We have a bellman who works here, Errol, and his father Errol Sr. works in the restaurant — everyone loves the Errols. We also have some staff members who have been with us for 40 years. People come here, they love it, and they stay.” 

The beach in Barbados.
The Crane’s beachfront.
The Crane

A Spectacular Beach Front 

The Crane takes its name from the adjoining beach, lauded as one of the best in the world. The superior views are from the patio of L’Azure restaurant, which overlooks rugged cliffs and pink sand. 

The beach also has an interesting history. In the 18th century, it wasn’t deemed appropriate for women to swim, or “sea bathe,” in public — but in 1769, they were permitted access to a discreet bathing area, nicknamed “The Horse.” During my visit, I could see steps that had been cut into the side of the cliffs, which led to the area where women could enjoy a swim.  

Thankfully, getting to the water isn’t so arduous these days — a glass elevator or winding staircase transported me to the beach, where I spent a few afternoons reading on a lounger. 

Close to Barbados’ Attractions

The Crane is only a 15-minute ride from the international airport, so you’ll be enjoying your rum punch welcome drink shortly after landing. It’s also close to area attractions like the St. Lawrence Gap, with nightclubs, lounges and trendy restaurants. One night, I dined on a tasty dish of risotto topped with smoked lamb belly at Cocktail Kitchen. Another of my favorite meals was a surfside lunch at La Cabane, a hip restaurant that served up refreshing coconut martinis. I also had a quiet lunch at The Tides, a posh waterfront spot in Holetown.

At only 166 square miles, Barbados is a relatively tiny island, and on a good day, it takes about two hours to drive from one end of the island to the other, which means that many of the historic attractions can be explored over the course of a day or two. During my stay, I visited one of the oldest churches in Bridgetown, St. Mary’s Church, which still holds Sunday service; the last remaining sugar mill on the island, the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill; and St. Nicholas Abbey, a former sugar plantation built in 1658. 

I ended one of my days with a visit to Bathsheba, a beach town on Barbados’ eastern side, which is dotted with unique rock formations. As I stood on the shore looking out at the giant rocks, I thought about what made Barbados different from the other islands I had visited: It’s a slow-placed island with a rich, well-preserved history. Raucous pool party types, look elsewhere.