Little Barbados may be only 21 miles by 14 miles - but it is possibly the most resilient of the Caribbean islands. It has even survived the global recession largely unscathed.
The island has always been a favourite with the British, thanks to its colonial connections, its natural beauty and accessibility - BA offers a dozen direct flights a week from London and Virgin Atlantic flies there daily. Barbados also offers home buyers choice: from the most opulent multimillion-pound villas to good-value lock-and-leave beachfront apartments.
"Barbados is the safest, most mature property market in the English-speaking Caribbean," says James Burdess of estate agents Savills. "There is some oversupply of apartments and prices have fallen by up to 20 per cent since 2007 in some places but rental yields remain strong, a major incentive for owners, and the island continues to improve."
A welcome dose of retail therapy
One improvement is Limegrove, a glitzy shopping and residential centre in west coast Holetown, still settling in but a big upgrade on what is on offer generally across the island. Along with bars and bistros there are 70 boutiques with some impressive brand names including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Theo Fennell, Cartier and Louis Vuitton, plus a spa and new-style cinema.
It's the brainchild of long-time islander Paul Altman who spent five years and more than £30 million developing the 10-acre site because, as he says, "Barbados has everything except good shopping."
Behind the boutiques, Limegrove has 56 apartments and townhouses for sale. The spacious three-bedroom houses are decorated in an airy New England style and have recently been reduced from £538,000 to £443,000 and achieve a £3,165 monthly rental. Off-plan one-bedroom apartments of 550sq ft are £189,900.
For owners looking for sport rather than shopping, Barbados is hard to beat. Royal Westmoreland is a much-loved private, gated estate with some impressive colonial-style homes and pretty cottages among its 200 properties — all set in lush vegetation.
It is also an award-winning golf resort, 10 minutes from the coast and homes have been bought there by sporting celebrities such as Wayne Rooney and former cricketer Michael Vaughan. This established St James playground has 750 lovingly landscaped acres but there are plans for further expansion and another golf course.
The peaceful setting, together with easy access to the prized west coast beaches, are among the main attractions for owners.
It was bought in 2004 by down-to-earth Cumbrian farmer-turned-caravan park owner John Morphet, 56, after he sold a large chunk of his UK business to Legal & General for £100 million and went on holiday — to Barbados. He visited the Westmoreland, liked what he saw and two years later bought it.
Though he still confesses to preferring lambing to sunbathing, Morphet spends about a third of his time at his home in Barbados, which he shares with his partner (he has been married twice and has five children).
The rest of his time is spent in happy tax exile on the Isle of Man on a 20-acre estate, with his vintage car collection, a helicopter, 40 sheep and a large mansion. He is now working on a new venture, turning redundant golf courses into leisure parks. "I am a workaholic so it would not suit me to be in Barbados all the time," he says. "I don't play golf, I don't sit on the beach, I fall asleep in the theatre but I do like working."
And he has worked hard to upgrade the Royal Westmoreland, where the chief executive is affable Brummie and former Gleneagles golf pro Greg Schofield. An important move came in 2006 when Morphet bought the Mullins Beach Club and Spa — a short private bus ride away — and added its facilities to the Royal Westmoreland homeowners' membership package, which includes a gym, tennis centre, four swimming pools, golf club restaurant, barbecue bistro and bars. Three-bedroom villas at Royal Westmoreland achieved an impressive seven per cent rental yield last year, showing demand for top-drawer resort homes on Barbados remains strong.
Property ranges from one-bedroom apartments priced at £271,545 to custom-built villas in expansive plots from £1.42 million. Newly released three-and four-bedroom semi-detached villas at Sugar Cane Ridge in the heart of the resort start from £775,400 with annual maintenance of £8,230. Homes feature much prized coral stone and open-plan interiors.
Up in the cool hills
Apes Hill is a newer resort, built 1,000 feet above sea level, with a golf course and views to both the Caribbean and Atlantic. It is also home to green monkeys and a rowdy bird population.
It has one of the island's four polo fields, an equestrian centre and beach club membership at Port St Charles Yacht Club. The resort has proved slow to expand, though plans include a spa, gym, tennis centre and new clubhouse. Some 146 of the 198 plots of land have been sold even though it remains without clubhouse facilities.
Remaining plots start from £240,500 and completed three-bedroom villas from £791,200. Annual maintenance charges average £7,560.
Luxury on the West Coast
In prime St James a few steps from the beach, fully furnished two- and three-bedroom apartments at Beach View start from £315,850 for 1,372sqft through Savills. Beach View operates as a family-run hotel and apartments rent for up to £475 a night. The resort was built two years ago and has sold well. Annual maintenance averages £4,550.
The most talked-about new development on the west coast is One Sandy Lane, a Bajan equivalent of London's One Hyde Park. The eight opulent, five-bedroom apartments, each of about 9,500sq ft, are a short stroll along the beach from the prestigious Sandy Lane Hotel and come lavished with marble, state-of-the-art biometric security systems and a permanent onsite staff of 38. And the starting price for all of this luxury? A cool £13 million.
CONTACTS AND FACT FILE
* Savills: 020 7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk/abroad
* Royal Westmoreland: 01524 782649; www.royalwestmoreland.com
* Apes Hill: www.apeshillclub.com
* Limegrove: www.limegrovebarbados.com
* Allow two per cent for legal costs when buying and 10 per cent for selling costs.
* The island does not impose any capital gains tax
* Several large estates have negotiated duty-free purchases of furniture, saving up to 50 per cent import duty.