The History of Holetown and Fairmont Royal Pavilion
Amidst the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean is a tropical paradise with gorgeous turquoise shores, white sand and colorful fauna that is Barbados, home to Fairmont Royal Pavillion. Dig deeper here and you’ll find there’s much more to this island nation than just sun and surf, particularly in Holetown on the island’s western coast where a rich cultural history merges flawlessly with its scenery.
From The Start
For many, the story of Holetown begins in 1625 when Captain John Powell claimed the island of Barbados for British settlers. But, the island has a history that dates back even further because it had been occupied by both the Arawak and Carib Indians since 300 A.D. and was already well-known in Spain and Portugal. In fact, it is said that Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos first conjured the name “Los Barbados” (“the bearded ones”) in 1536 after spying the beard-like hanging roots on the island’s fig trees.
Two years after John Powell claimed the island, his brother Captain Henry Powell arrived with 80 settlers and 10 African slaves and established the settlement of Jamestown (now Holetown) in honor of King James I. The group’s welcoming party included a herd of Portuguese hogs presumably left behind by Campos in the event he might get hungry on subsequent visits.
Holetown boasts numerous physical reminders of its past, such as the Holetown Monument (Highway 1, Holetown, Barbados), a white obelisk statue that sits just outside the town’s police station displaying dates that don’t quite jive with the town’s actual timeline. Yet, for those who visit the island in February, this monument is the focus of a week’s worth of festivities that constitute the Holetown Festival. What began as a simple celebration of the island’s 350th anniversary has turned into an annual non-stop party that provides guests and locals with the perfect sampling of local culture, music and food, including historic bus tours, karaoke, pageants, street fairs and parades.
The police station next door offers its own historical significance as both the oldest local law facility on the island and the site of the St. James Fort. Remnants of the Fort can still be found on the premises in the ruins behind and in the 18th century archway at the station’s entrance. There are also historic iron cannons near the monument itself.
The St. James Parish Church (Highway 1, Folkestone, Barbados) is another popular attraction. Constructed shortly after the first British settlers arrived in 1628, this place of worship (first built from wood) was destroyed in 1675 by a hurricane. It was in serious need of renovations by the late 1800’s, was rebuilt with stone in 1875, and during the 1900’s the sanctuary and north porch sections of the church were added. Although the building itself has changed quite a bit since those early days, many remnants of the past remain, particularly in the church’s cemetery where headstones reveal the names of the many famed Barbadians and original settlers that are buried there. While the church is representative of the early settlers and their inspiring survival stories, it’s also indicative of the island’s inextricable relation with the slave labor that drove its farming industry for hundreds of years.
It took more than 200 years and three failed slave rebellions (with one particular grisly one called the 1816 Bussa Rebellion, or Easter Rebellion, where more than 900 slaves were either killed or executed) — before this began to change. British territories ultimately abolished slavery in 1834 in large part due to uprisings like the Bussa Rebellion and the Consolidated Slave, or Emancipation Act, which gave slaves the right to own property and testify in court while simultaneously reducing the fees incurred by slave-owners for emancipating their slaves.
In 1840, the Located Labours Act allowed freed slaves the right to live on land owned by plantation owners, but this didn’t keep the owners from evicting their new tenants. For this reason, many former slaves built homes that were easy to move at a moment’s notice -- easy both to assemble and disassemble.
These homes were called Chattel Houses, and they can be found all over the island. In fact, visitors to Holetown looking to pick up a souvenir or gift from their trip can visit a whole row of them (painted in vibrant colors) at the Chattel House Village (Highway 1, Holetown, Barbados), a shopping plaza filled with vendors of local arts and crafts. Just up the road, visitors will encounter 1st and 2nd Street, just off the main highway, a perfect place to unwind after a day of visiting historic sites — even though these streets also hold their own historical significance. The first two streets ever constructed on the entire island, this bustling mini-thoroughfare is where many who visit go for a sampling of wonderful local eats, nightlife and live entertainment.
Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Barbados History
Fairmont Royal Pavilion was formerly The Miramar Hotel, which was built in the 1940s as the first hotel to be constructed on the West Coast of Barbados. At this time, the property comprised just 12 rooms.
The resort was originally built adjacent to the winter estate of Sir Edward Cunard, scion of the Cunard family, owners and operators of the renowned Cunard Steamship Company and originally The White Star Line of Liverpool, England.
In 1987, Lynne and Mike Pemberton, the power couple from UK society, bought The Miramar. They were featured across Europe in society and lifestyle magazines and launched the Barbados chapter of the Variety Club International in 1995 by hosting a garden tea party auction at Glitter Bay. Guests included Joan Collins and Lord Banfield, and watercolors by Prince Charles were sold to raise in excess of $40,000. In 1985, Queen Elizabeth visited the hotel, traveling with Concorde from the UK.
In 1987, Mike Pemberton took the decision to redevelop The Miramar into the luxurious Royal Pavilion. Following a miraculously short renovation, the doors opened in December 1987 — just in time for Christmas.
The hotel was acquired by Princess Hotels in February 1996 and then became a Canadian Pacific hotel following the merger of these two brands in 1998. In October 1999, following the acquisition by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the property was renamed Fairmont Royal Pavilion.
Fairmont Royal Pavilion is situated on one of the most appealing of all Caribbean shorelines — the famous West Coast of Barbados. The site was discovered and named at the turn of the century by prominent Barbados businessman, George Manning.
Located beachfront on an 11-acre estate in the parish of St. James, the resort overlooks the Caribbean. Fairmont Royal Pavilion has been described as understated sophistication on the beach, and this world premier resort has built up an enviable position for service and luxury.
The pale pink façaded structure has an intimate European style and is set amidst exquisitely landscaped gardens with tropical flowers, water features and fountains. The hotel is situated 32 km (20 miles) from the airport, 12.8 km (8 miles) from the capital city Bridgetown and a half-mile from the nearest shopping center in Holetown.
The island of Barbados is known for its British traditions, tropical scenery and beautiful gardens. Fairmont Royal Pavilion reflects these same traits in service, landscape design and elaborate, colorful gardens.
The renowned landscape architect Fernando Tabora designed the gardens. Born and raised in South America, Tabora was also involved in designing the Parque Del Este in Caracas, Venezuela, and the Aterro Do Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1968, Tabora and his partner, John Stoddart, received the National Venezuelan Award for Landscape Architecture. Tabora is still consulted on landscape design at Fairmont Royal Pavilion.
Tabora landscaped the properties by blending natural tropical beauty with Mediterranean-style architecture. Much of the greenery and tropical buds offer shading, creating a feeling of privacy among the intimate courtyards, water features and larger public areas, many of which overlook the Caribbean Sea.
Fairmont Royal Pavilion features open-air atriums and pathways that are covered in Petrea Volubilas, a vine-bearing purple and white flower. Leading off the open pathways are the ocean-facing guestrooms on one side and secluded gardens on the other, where guests can escape to enjoy tropical breezes and the scent of tropical flowers. The property features several picturesque ponds where a variety of lilies float, including the white and red water lily, with the latter only blooming at night.
The estate’s entire flora is native to the region. Among the diverse greenery are more than 100 coconut trees; over 50 palm trees including Golden, McArthur and Sago; mango, breadfruit, cherry and banana trees; multi-coloured Frangipani trees; and numerous flowering plants.
Many of the trees and flowers have become rare specimens and offer interesting tales. When the Portuguese explorer, Pedro a Campos, charted the island in the 16th century, it was uninhabited. As the sailor took in the lush tropical surroundings, he spotted figs trees with clumps of bushy roots that resembled beards hanging from branches. From that came the name Barbados, which in Portuguese means “the bearded ones.”
Another interesting tree is the Traveler Palm, whose leaves hold water. For centuries, thirsty adventurers have broken off the leaves to drink. The Bird Claw, another Bajan native, is a vine that wraps itself around the trunk of trees and creeps its way to the top. It only flowers once a year in June, producing a profusion of beautiful yellow flowers that covers the length of the vine and the entire tree trunk.
For guests who want to learn more about the gardens at Fairmont Royal Pavilion, botanical tours are conducted every Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM. by one of the nursery supervisors.