This pieds-dans-l’eau villa on Barbados’s platinum coast is one of the most expensive properties currently on the market. Nicola Venning finds out what that kind of money buys in this winter-sun playground.

It would be easy to live in Gardenia. Its large, airy rooms, soaring ceilings and striking views of the azure Caribbean combine with an all-pervading sense of relaxation. Despite being one of the island’s grandest beachfront mansions on the exclusive West Coast, it has an inviting informality. The impressive scale of the classically designed home, which is on the market for a bold $50 million (£31.9 million), is softened by mellow creamy-white coral-stone walls and an architectural playfulness.

The influence of Oliver Messel, the tastemaker and supporter of traditional Barbadian great-house architecture, who also lived in the area until his death in 1978, is apparent throughout: there are flattened stone arches, slender Grecian-inspired columns and light filigree metal and woodwork; the finishes on shuttered windows, doors and verandah are all in the famous Messel sage green. ‘Somewhere in the background is his relaxed classical architecture,’ explains Larry Warren, the architect who designed the nine-bedroom 10,495.36sq ft home approximately 19 years ago.

Gardenia’s comfortable elegance lends itself to outdoor living: the verandahs are wide, every bedroom leads to a balcony and the impressive gazebo, used for alfresco dining, sits against a backdrop of palm trees and ocean vistas.

Although there are some 90 beachfront homes on the West Coast, Gardenia is unique, partly due to its privacy. Set in the Garden area of St James parish, it sits back from the rather busy coast road in almost three acres of verdant seclusion (which is a lot on this prized patch of coastline). The mature tropical garden, which includes frangipani, bougainvillea and ylang-ylang, as well as magnificent 200-year-old mahogany trees and a tennis court, tumbles down to about 250sq ft of pristine beachfront.

‘This is a home for people who will winter here every year,’ believes Sam Mahon, consultant real-estate broker with Bajan Services affiliates of selling agent Knight Frank (020–7629 8171).

At this time of year, the annual pilgrimage of winter-sun enthusiasts begins and owners who ‘winter’ on the island will flock to the palm-fringed white beaches and crystal-clear sea to enjoy the warm temperatures as well as a host of amenities available locally. Fine-dining restaurants such as Cin Cin and Lone Star rub shoulders with the barefoot simplicity of charming (albeit increasingly rare) beach-shack bars. St Nicholas Abbey, an authentic converted plantation great house, which offers tours to the public, also has a popular restaurant and sells its own mature Bajan rum.

The Royal Westmoreland golf course and Barbados Polo Club vie to entertain the glitterati who flock here. Notable owners include Cilla Black and Sir Cliff Richard as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns multiple plots on the Sandy Lane estate. Local girl-made-good singer Rihanna opted for Westland Heights, a smaller inland development, when she bought a home for her mother.

Gardenia is one of only a dozen or so beachfront mansions on the West Coast in this price bracket; another currently on the market is Four Winds, a large Palladian-style mansion that sits in just over 21/2 acres on beautiful Gibbes Beach, one of the best areas of shoreline on the island. Owned by British financier Sir Martyn Arbib and also designed by architect Larry Warren, the opulent six-bedroom home has 350ft of beach frontage as well as a tennis court and swimming pool and is on the market for $55 million (£35 million) through Savills (020–7016 3740) and Knight Frank (020 –7629 8171).

Although most high-end beachfront homes tend to be in a classical style, there are also a few contemporary villas. Footprints is a modern, California-inspired, stylish, five-bedroom beachfront home in St James parish, with interiors designed by Kelly Hoppen. Sitting further down the price ladder from both Gardenia and Four Winds, it’s on the market for $12 million (£7.168 million) through Chestertons International and Knight Frank (020 –7629 8171). The home’s modern design includes fun features such as a discrete outdoor terrace bath from which you can take in the glorious sea views.

Traditionally, these prime beachfront homes are generally the most sought after although, currently, there is a wide range of properties for sale, especially in the $10 million to $25 million (£6.4 million–£15.9 million) price range. ‘Traditionally, we would not have as many homes on the beach for sale, which is an indication of a slow market,’ says Mr Mahon.

Agents estimate that prices on average have dipped about 20% since their peak in 2008, although some apartments, of which there is an oversupply, have seen falls of 30% and more. However, although often empty throughout the year, trophy beachfront homes on the West Coast have been ‘most protected being most in demand’, says Richard Young of West Coast Villas, affiliates of Sotheby’s International Realty (00 1 246 432 5050). ‘It’s only the truly wealthy who demand or can afford this level of luxury and privacy.’

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