Tag Archive: Tour Barbados

Barbados’ liquid gold

Perhaps nowhere else on the planet has sugar so dominated a culture and economy as in Barbados, and the islanders learned more than 300 years ago that cane syrup distilled into rum was worth far more per pound than the raw product.  The syrup was at first shipped back to England for processing, but plantation owners and investors soon began building their own distilleries locally.  The Mount Gay Rum distillery, opened in 1703, still survives and continues to produce one of the world’s legendary rums.

Driving through Barbados' cane fields

Driving through Barbados’ cane fields

It’s around midday on a sunny Sunday when I ask directions of the hotel clerk and set out with friends in a rented car into the island’s interior in search of Mount Gay.

Outside of Bridgetown the roads quickly become country lanes that slice through acre upon acre of sugar cane which stands so tall that we seem often to be driving through green tunnels.

The roads are deserted and the directions seemed straightforward enough, but over an hour later we’re still crisscrossing the cane fields on country lanes so familiar to the natives of an island just over 20 miles long and 15 miles wide that many highway intersections are unmarked.

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

We’re just about to give up the search when we come upon a man walking along the side of the road carrying a sack over his shoulder.

We pause to ask directions and he tells us – to our delightful surprise – that he works at the distillery and will gladly take us there in exchange for a return lift.

Mount Gay's famous rums on display near the gate.

Mount Gay’s famous rums on display near the gate.

This happy coincidence turns out to be only the beginning of our good luck, for although the distillery is closed on Sunday he ushers us through a locked gate into an empty compound to begin a private tour.

Mount Gay distillery, Barbados 03

This place is a time machine

Our impromptu guide walks us around the yard before leading us into a laboratory-looking room where the progress of fermentation and distillation is monitored, and quality of the finished product is controlled.

A quick primer on the chemistry of rum

We get a quick primer on the chemistry of rum

This is all very interesting, but what I really want to see is some of this golden elixir in the making, and my wish is shortly granted.

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

A  mill tower stand  silent

A mill tower stand silent



We head back out into the tropical sun, across the yard, and past the silent ruin of an old sugar mill.

Under a simple canopy sit wooden vats that look a lot like giant hot tubs, brimming with a smooth, thick, brown mash.

Rum in the making

Rum in the making

Its surface is broken from time to time by gently surfacing bubbles and the syrupy sweet smell of sugar hangs heavy in the air.

I breathe deeply, taking in the exotic aroma until it seems to fill my head.

On the way back we drop our guide at his destination and continue to marvel at the happenstance which created yet another of many memorable days.

But there’s more yet to see on this island than its size might suggest.  My next Caribbean post takes you along on a a visit to Barbados’ Andromeda Botanic Gardens, where the tradition of English gardens is meets a rainbow of tropical flowers toeye-popping effect.

Click here for the Mount Gay Rum web site

Read more about my visit to Barbados in earlier posts:

Basking in Barbados

Barbados’ great houses


Barbados’ great houses

Plantation great house, Barbados

The historical plantation great houses of Barbados are peepholes into the lifestyles of wealthy sugar cane planters who dominated the island’s commerce, culture, and politics for nearly 300 years.

Plantation great house, Barbados

Country lanes may cut through fields of sugar cane rather than English hedgerows, but formal gardens and Georgian architecture indelibly mark the tropical countryside as indisputably British.


Great house formal garden, Barbados

Marble tub in a great house formal garden

The British settled Barbados not long after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and the introduction of sugar cultivation soon after transformed Barbados into the British Empire’s primary sugar exporter and the jewel in its colonial crown.   Cane juice extracted by grinding mills was shipped to Britain for refining and British capitalists arrived to assemble large sugar plantations from landholdings of smaller farmers, many of whom were relocated to the fledgling American colonies.

The prosperity fueled by this “white gold” continued into the early part of the twentieth century until the widespread adoption of less expensive beet sugar finally upended the plantation economy.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Among the most notable of the plantation great houses is Sunbury, which was built in St. Philip’s Parish around 1660 by one of the island’s first settlers.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Its ownership has passed through seven families, and the house has survived not only a hurricane in 1780 that likely removed much of its roof, but also damage sustained during the slave rebellion of 1816 and a fire in 1995.


Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Furniture destroyed by the fire was replaced from other collections and items made available for purchase by numerous Barbadian families, and Sunbury House now houses one of the country’s best collections of antiques.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

The casual elegance within its rooms exudes the tastefulness of old money that ably evokes the feeling of a homeland half a world and centuries distant. The house is spacious and rambling.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Bright tropical sun floods through windows open to trade winds that keep it remarkably comfortable.  Furnishings in many of the rooms seem to freeze them in the moment that the plantation finally ceased operations.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

In other rooms the furnishings reach back into the days before running water.



Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

The antiques here include not only furnishings, but items used in daily domestic life and machinery used in the last century to cultivate the land.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Such authenticity leaves a sense that the owners have stepped out for a short while, to return at any moment.

Sunbury plantation great house

I found it hard to wander through these rooms without an acute awareness that the wealth they reflect was built on the backs of slaves who early on replaced English indentured servants in performing the labor-intensive process of sugar cultivation and harvesting.

By the time Parliament abolished slavery in 1833, more than 200 slaves worked the Sunbury plantation.

Unlike in the U.S., their full emancipation was preceded by 6 years of apprenticeship and their owners were compensated by the government.  As in the U.S., many of these freedmen and their descendants continued to work the land until mechanization displaced most of them.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

At its peak, the sugar industry cultivated 80% of Barbados’ arable land and accounted for 90% of its export revenue.  Today tourism accounts for nearly half of the nation’s foreign exchange, and my trip so far still leaves lots yet to see.

Watch next for an account of my visit to the Mount Gay Barbados rum distillery!

Until then, check out my related post, Basking In Barbados, for a look at more of this engaging island.