BARBADOS BYWAYS - Caribbean, Calypso, Culture, Churches and Cricket.

by Chelle Koster Walton, Florida Travel Editor

I love exploring the old plantation homes for which Barbados is known. St. Nicholas Abbey (not an abbey at all, never was) is one of the oldest and most architecturally interesting -- only one of three surviving Jacobean style structures in the New World. Like most of the visitable plantation homes, 330-year-old St. Nick is furnished with fabulous antiques. Of particular interest are those made of local Barbadian mahogany. The owner still operates a sugar plantation there, and shows a home movie, made by his grandfather, of local life in the 1930s.

Sunbury Plantation House's owners are horse lovers, so besides the usual household and sugar-processing artifacts, you'll find vintage carriages, carts and buggies in the basement.



Sudbury Plantation Manor

Other unusual historical sites include some renovated signal stations, once part of a system of 11 towers used to alert remote planters to slave uprisings and mail arrival. Newly restored Grenade Hall Tower is the most informative of these, with an audio presentation and overview of the unique system. It belongs to an eco-attraction that educates visitors about native flora along a system of paved paths. Nearby, drive through Farley Hills National Park to see ruins of a burned-down plantation manor, and a great view of the Scotland District.

A tour through the Scotland District is a must: rolling hills of green, black-bellied sheep, cliffhanger views, ancient church steeples, banana groves. Stop in Chalky Mount, where potters use local clay to create traditional utilitarian ware. Then go for lunch at the Atlantis Hotel for classic Bajan food and a view of Bathsheba's wave-crashed shoreline.

Lovers of rum that we are, we couldn't pass up a visit to Mount Gay Rum Refinery near Bridgetown. The world's oldest rum maker, Mount Gay recently opened a new visitor's center, where a slide presentation and tastings toast Barbados's history and tippling tradition.

Bridgetown is not the Caribbean's most celebrated shopping district, but there are a couple of malls where duty-free shops cluster. Take your passport and airline ticket. I found the alternative shopping options more interesting: the crafts at Pelican Village, Rastafarian art at Temple Yard and market goods at Cheapside. Bridgetown's historic treasures include the synagogue, statue of Lord Nelson and one of the oldest Parliaments in the world. Guys in white powdered wigs, and all that.

On the outskirts of town, the St. Ann Garrison is another bastion of historical memories, particularly in the old military prison where the Barbados Museum presents local history in inviting gallery style. The new Children's Gallery is more hands-on, and not just for kids.

For an authentic slice of Barbadian life, with all its British influence and West Indian drama, take in a cricket match. Even if you don't understand the game (who does?) you'll enjoy the show on and off the field. In season, catch a pro match at Kensington Oval. Or look for the telltale white uniforms on any weekend drive through the country.

Another strong Bajan tradition holds up in the village rum shop. Part tavern, part political forum, and part restaurant, rum shops often serve West Indian specialties: fried flying fish, cutters (sandwiches in round salt bread) or fried chicken. The shop in Gregg Farm, St. Andrews, is known for its pudding and souse (a Saturday tradition -- you don't want to know the particulars!). Lexie's Bar in the fishing town of Oistin is a favorite for fresh seafood; John Moore Bar in north St. James is popular for its redfish and conviviality.

Celebrate the night dancing to live music at the clubs of St. Lawrence Gap. Afterward, a trip down Baxter's Road in Bridgetown for a chunk of fish fried by a streetside vendor in an iron "buck pot" is the thing to do. Calypso and reggae music blares from one end of the street to the other until 6 a.m.; thus its nickname: the street that never sleeps.

Save with a Heritage Passport

If you're a history or nature lover, buy a Heritage Passport for entrance into 16 sites ($35 US), or five ($12 US).

Separately, the attractions charge fees from $2.50 to $5. Children under 12 are admitted to attractions free if accompanied by a Passport holder (maximum of two children).

Many of the attractions are grouped nearby each other, which makes it easy to see three or four in one day. Some close on weekends. Purchase a Heritage Passport at any of the attractions, or by contacting The Barbados National Trust (809-426-2421). Ask about its private house tours and nature hikes in season.