Where the Heart Is: Feeling at Home at The Sandpiper Resort
Barbados offers every kind of accommodation, from luxury hotels to furnished apartments. The best properties are the ones that know how to make guests feel welcome and appreciated, which is especially important on an island where visitors fall in love with the country and return year after year.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
Built in 1970 by Budge and Cynthia O’Hara, The Sandpiper Resort is one of the best. It’s the perfect mix of boutique hotel chic and relaxed, family-run business. Winding garden paths draped with red-flowered Pride of Barbados trees and blossoming bougainvillea lead past two pools, a peaceful beachside bar, a gym, a tennis court and a complimentary water sports kiosk (you can even snorkel to a nearby shipwreck). Spread throughout are fifty rooms housed in modern bungalows whose design ranges from upscale-rustic suites (think spacious terraces, king sized beds and sleek kitchenettes) to newly built, all-contemporary luxury villas complete with private outdoor plunge pools.
Seated in The Sandpiper’s open-air bar and breakfast area, where some of the island’s top jazz pianists and steel-pan players perform weekly, co-director Wayne Capaldi explains that he’d already been working at the resort before he married into the O’Hara family in 1990. Capaldi was born in Barbados but left for school in Canada when he was fourteen. After university, he returned to his roots (“Just the bloody weather”, he says) and took a job at The Sandpiper. “My then boss, now father-in-law, thought it was a good idea to hire me for one year. I don’t know why he did”, he says, laughing.
Perhaps Capaldi’s future father-in-law foresaw the success the young man would be; he’s helped turn the property into a resort reputed for its professional staff, exquisite restaurant, friendly bar and more-than-comfortable accommodations. And he and his wife Karen now have three children attending school in England.
The Sandpiper first opened as a twenty-two-room sister property to the O’Hara’s nearby Coral Reef Club, but in the 1980s, at the behest of Capaldi, it doubled in size. Then last summer, they knocked down a former private villa on the property and built the Beach House, a modern, three-suite bungalow adjacent to the sundeck and beach. “The suites can be taken separately or opened up and taken as one villa for families”, says Capaldi.
The upstairs Curlew suite whispers honeymoon. Sliding wooden panels separate the spacious living room and bedroom. The desk and drawers are made locally, he explains. The wall-to-wall ocean view of nothing but blue expands as we step onto the living room-sized private terrace complete with a fully stocked bar, dining table and private plunge pool. “The suite was done by our interior designers out of London,” Capaldi explains, “but my wife Karen does most of the decorating.”
Even The Sandpiper’s older suites are a mix of modern and chic. Rain showers and adjacent bathtubs are stocked with neroli- and jasmine-scented toiletries from The White Company in London. Marble and stone line countertops while sleek glass coffee tables contrast Victorian drapes and plush cushions.
“The word I like to use to describe The Sandpiper is sexy”, says Capaldi, comparing its boutique feel with the family’s other property, the Coral Reef Club. “We’re roughly half the size and we probably have a more contemporary feel. But I think it’s the intimacy of this resort, its size, that people tend to favour.” Its small size makes it feel intimate, but also makes it feel safe. You can leave your bag on a beach chair all day and not worry. You can even borrow the pair of yellow goggles that hang from the wooden sundeck. (I waited all week for them to be reclaimed by their owner or to be stolen by someone wandering up from the public beach, but they never were, so I instead spent the week sweating out my cynicism, rehydrating Barbadian style with rum punch and juicy papaya.)
But Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper have more in common than the spa they share – both value their loyal guests. “About 85 per cent of the clientele return year on year”, says Capaldi. One of those guests, Kenneth Layton, has been staying at The Sandpiper for more than thirty-five years. He comes twice a year, this time bringing ten family members including children and grandchildren. He comes back because of the team, he says. “You’re not just a number here.”
At the Wednesday night cocktail party at The Sandpiper’s beach bar – called Harold’s Bar – I meet a group of teenage girls who’ve been coming every summer with their families since they were kids. Some know each other at home in England; others only see each other in Barbados. And although they’ve attended the weekly cocktail party for more than a decade, this year they’ve finally graduated from lemonade to Harold’s expertly mixed rum punch. In fact, everyone at the party seems to know one another, creating a family feel into which I’m welcomed as a first-timer. Before heading out for the evening, the girls stop by Capaldi’s dinner table at The Sandpiper restaurant to wish him a good night, like old friends or a favourite uncle. He’s known them for more than a decade, after all. Harold himself is another longstanding feature of the resort. He’s manned the bar for almost thirty years, and can be found there most days from late morning into the early evening. “I still have a smile on my face so I’m still enjoying it”, he says. He’s seen the kids grow up, too, and even created a non-alcoholic kids’ cocktail menu so nobody felt left out. “Now they can look at the menu and have their own signature cocktail.”
For Capaldi, like for his guests, being back in Barbados is a dream come true. He likes not having to worry about what to wear to work (“It’s always nice”, he says). And on days off he likes to relax just like his guests, by going sailing or getting together with friends at the beach. “I love it here. You get up in the morning and the sun is shining. If a little rain is the worst we get, I can live with that.” Besides, in Barbados, sunshine is never far away.