When I was a child, I stood on the cracked floor of this derelict olympic-sized swimming pool. I was with my mother, my father and my sister. From our Rockley Beach hotel we had driven to the northern tip of the island for the afternoon. That moment, that place, that pool has haunted me ever since.
Mystery surrounds this hotel. No one seems to know who owned it or why it was built in such an isolated area. Barbados’ north coast is wild, rugged and windswept. Here’s a photo of that same swimming pool in its heyday.
Here’s something I wrote describing that Caribbean adventure –
Over Christmas we escaped to Barbados and discovered paradise. I have perfect recall of the Air Canada jet parked on the tarmac and me stepping out of it. I can still feel the trade winds caressing my cold-chapped skin as I descended the metal staircase. It was my 10th birthday and we had travelled to this sun-drenched little isle for the holidays. Speeding along the littoral road in a taxi, we caught sight of the sea and gaped like country bumpkins out on a day trip. The island sky was vast with bold cloudscapes, and there was a glittering brightness in the air.
The Sweet Life was a plantation-style guesthouse with a frangipani tree gracing its front lawn. From our rooms we threw open the shutters and gazed onto a garden brimming with fruit trees. Gecko-lizards flickered across pathways and vanished into the jungle-like undergrowth. Intoxicated by the perfume and the heat, we shed our clothes and ran to frolic on the sands of Rockley Beach.
Bajan boys, shimmying nimbly up the trunks of coconut trees, slashed open the giant shells and offered us the water to drink. I had never seen a fresh coconut before. I had never seen a black person before. That evening we feasted on jug jug and spicy fishcakes while a steel band playing tinny music plinkety-plinked beside a pool. Drunk on the voluptuousness of the tropics and too many rum punches, Dad joined the limbo-dancing contest on the beach and wrenched his back. The next day he lay, subdued under a fig tree, while my mother, sister and I went into town to find me a birthday cake.
In bustling Bridgetown a new language floated in the air – it was the Bajan dialect spoken by the citizens, their lilting voices mingling with the smells and sounds of the marketplace. The next day we rented a sun moke and roamed the northernmost tip of the island. There was a cliff hotel, its setting dramatic and eerie as Atlantic waves crashed violently onto the rocks below. We stood on the floor of the empty swimming pool, then roamed the neglected property. A compass rose was etched into the crumbling patio tiles near the abandoned bar. Despite the heat we felt chilled. Imagining the ghosts of former guests to be present, we could almost hear the chatter of voices and the clink of ice cubes in glasses as groups of Mah-Jongg-playing visitors sat in lounge chairs and sunned themselves like sleek, contented reptiles. Shivering, we returned to Rockley Beach and hurled ourselves at the waves.
Two weeks later the DC-8 jet lifted off with a powerful thrust. Within seconds we were aloft, northbound to our snow-blanketed Canadian tundra. With the sound of Calypso music ringing in our ears, we quit paradise.
The last time I was in Barbados was with my parents in the 1990s. It’s time to go back.
I just found this video on YouTube and watched it, transfixed. Proof that the hotel really did exist, it wasn’t just a dream.
Wow. You’ve just transported me back to another time and place that sounds magical. Thanks so much for that.
Thanks for commenting, Deirdre.
we were there in 1968 for our honeymoon, the place was great and it was not abandonned……we had a great time, beautiful place, i can’t remember who the owners were, but it was a nice place to stay
Drove there today. Eerie… A big for sale sign outside. Something about Massy real estate.
You drove there today?? Awesome! Is the pool still there? It must be totally crumbled and disintegrated. I wonder who owns the place.
Yes, pool is still there with the diving platform bases as well. Both not in great shape. That pool was obviously huge…
I have been there for two weeks in 77 for a training camp with my waterpolo team. It was fantastic. Ever wanted to come back. But someday I heard that the hotel has been closed. These are the first pictures I saw from this beautifull place since over 40 years. Many thanks for bringing me back sweet memories.
Time for us to go back to Barbados too. It’s been awhile. Thanks for bringing back the memories.
It’s been awhile for me too, like two decades!
What wonderful memories you have, Juliet. Thank you for sharing. By the way, I really like your writing!
My memories are so wonderful (and sort of unconventional), that I’m writing a memoir! It should be finished sometime this year. Thanks so much for your kind comment.
when I was 12 or 13 which was 1966 or 1967, my family stayed there over Christmas Vacation. it was the only time we weren’t home in Massachusetts for that holiday. I remember it well. the landscaping was lush, that pool was amazing, we’d stand on surf boards and go the length of the pool, there was always a breeze. the beach, such as it was, was dangerous. it’s where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean meet or so we were told. the surf was rough and the undertow powerful. we only went down there once and the rest of the time we just used the pool. we stayed in an apartment, 2 bedrooms, I think 2 bathrooms, it was a long time ago. the restaurant there was very good, breakfast was a buffet with all kinds of fruits, pastries, meats and they had an egg station where you got your eggs cooked to order. I know there was a gift shop but I don’t remember it. there were bougainvillea and hibiscus, other flowers too including some orchids. my father was known all over the world for his orchids, we would always bring home some specimens from such trips and of course he knew someone on the island whose home, gardens and greenhouses we visited. I had no idea it was abandoned, on a whim I did a search and found this. the owners were Scandinavian, I don’t remember exactly which country. I do remember the man was blond and good looking. I wish I remembered more! I’m so glad you posted this!
What a wonderful memory you have, Minette! I’m sorry for the delay in replying. I just got back an hour ago from Portugal (where I disconnected from the internet.)
Wow. I remember too hearing the same thing, that it was where the Atlantic Ocean met the Caribbean Sea. So you and your family actually stayed there??
Have you been back to Barbados since? I’m dying to go back. I will go back.
Thanks so much for your comment and sharing that memory with us!
Although I’ve been other places I haven’t ever gone back to Barbados. Because of my father’s orchid connections, we visited the private home of a wealthy family when I was there. I remember how gracious they were. I wish I remembered more, it was a very long time ago.
I hope you enjoyed Portugal, disconnecting sometimes is good for us. 🙂
The resort was once owned by Vincent Jagdat Toolsie, he was diagnosed with MS, and retired due to his declining health. When he died, his kids inherited the resort that had by that time been neglected/abandoned for quite some time… last I heard his daughter bought out her two brothers and has been since trying to sell it…
Interesting! The location is really unique. I’m sure that a hotelier with vision could turn this place into a gorgeous and exclusive resort.
That’s my hope – it would make a lovely retreat resort and the Animal Flower Cave & fantastic restaurant as well as St. Nicholas Abbey are both nearby. Speightstown is coming to life again with many restaurants, art gallery, and so much more so North Point is not quite so far and isolated as it was in the 60’s & 70’s.
Hi Donna, I haven’t been back to Barbados since the early 1990s, unfortunately. I’d love to be there right now because the weather here in France is abyssmal. Thanks for commenting!
I remember spending a day there back in 1970 (or maybe the year before?) when the NPSR was up and running. We had lunch, spent some time in the pool, then poked around the property before heading back to our guest house/hotel (The Sweet Life of course!). Fond memories!
When we returned (1972 I think) it had been abandoned. Sad to see. It will be great to see it reopened. Are there any def. plans to do so?
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Just googled “sweet Life” and Rockley because I have memories of a holiday some 45 or 50 years ago and found your post! Do you know whether the Sweet Life still exists is some form or other?
Hey Andy. Are you saying that you stayed at The Sweet Life too? Wow. I don’t believe that it still exists because I’ve googled around and even used Google Map. I see no sign of it. But I plan on going to Barbados at the end of this year and I’m going to check it out. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for commenting!
Hi, yes! We had a family holiday there when I was (not actually sure! :-/) maybe 6, 7? Something like that. Don’t have very clear memories, except walking across the road onto the beach and swimming in the lovely warm sea 🙂
I stayed @ the Sweet Life twice in the late 1960’s early 1970’s when the place
was in full swing. Returned in mid 1990’s and saw that what was the Sweet Life
was now a nursing home/medical facility of some sort. It looked basically the same but lost all of it’s original charm. Sad to see, many fond memories there.
Abandoned olympic village: i went to have a look today…I have a few pictures if you’d like them?
Oh, gosh, yes! You’re in Barbados right now?? you can send the photos to email@example.com
Thanks a lot!
I worked for UTELL International in the 60’s and they represented North Point …. I actually spent a week there. Lovely property-delightful staff. The beach front was magnificent, but extremely rough surf. The General Manager Rolf Nielsen was from Norway & I believe lives in Toronto presently.
He was the president of the Caribbean Association and well respected.
Wow, that’s super-interesting! I remember that rough surf crashing onto the rocks below. I wonder if the property is still derelict. I haven’t been back for a long time. Thanks for sharing, Judy!
This hotel was in full operation 1966 when I was transferred to the Naval Base there. We stayed in the hotel until housing was available for my family. Owner of the hotel drove me to the base a few times.
There was a naval base there??! But, more importantly, can you tell us who the hotel’s owner was?? This place has been a mystery to me – and many others – for decades. Have you been back since, William?
The owners of the Sweet Life Hotel were Hannah and Peter Young, from
Canada (Toronto area as I recall). The names of the 3 young men who
worked there (bartender, waiter, etc.) were Earl, Winston and Stafford.
I stayed at Sweet Life several times in the 1960’s, have many fond
memories of the place, also Rockley Beach and the North Point Surf Club,
now vacant. I have super 8 movies of both places
Vielen Dank, dass Sie meine Erinnerung an das verfallene Hotelgelände wieder wecken!
Ich war dort vor ca. 20 Jahren. Es war Winter nach einer Forschungsfahrt und ich war damals allein auf Barbados angekommen. Eine Insulanerin hatte neben dem olympischen Pool aus weißen Korallen Muster gelegt und damit einen Korallengarten geschaffen. Ich habe oft daran gedacht.
Auch ich habe oft an diesen Ort gedacht. Ich sehe, dass ich nicht der einzige bin. Danke für deinen Kommentar.
I too have thought of that place often. I see that I’m not the only one. Thank you for your comment.
I’ve translated your comment into English – Thank you for bringing back my memories of the dilapidated hotel grounds! I was there about 20 years ago. It was winter after a research trip and I had arrived in Barbados by myself. An islander had laid patterns next to the Olympic pool made of white coral, creating a coral garden. I’ve thought about it often.
During my first visit to Barbados in 1968, we visited the North Point Surf Club which was
then open and doing well. We swam in the pool, had lunch in the restaurant and climbed
down into the cave below (you had to be careful of large waves crashing in). We had a
great visit. Sadly, the hotel was closed and abandoned during my next visit some years
later. As the old saying in real estate goes, “location, location, location” Being so far away
at the northern tip of Barbados was, I believe, its downfall.
Portland, Maine (USA)
Have you been back since? I’m dying to return to Barbados, haven’t been since the 1990s.
Last time was in 2000. North Point still abandoned, Sweet Life building converted to a nursing home or some sort of medical facility (I think I’ve told you this already..?)
Hello! Hannah Young is still living and turns 99 in March of 2022. She’s a friend of mine living in Southampton, Ontario Canada. We have many conversations about ‘The Sweet Life’ in Barbados. Hannah’s husband, Peter died 16 years ago. They ran the Sweet Life from 1965 till 1972 or ’73 I believe. Hannah tells the story of one year when she and Peter came back to Canada for a few weeks, they closed the hotel during this time. Everyone said they would never get their staff back when they returned. However, Hannah tells of she and Peter pulling up to the hotel and all of their staff lined up outside, waiting for them, and ready to return to work. Hannah loved it there. If there is any film footage of The Sweet Life Hotel, and some way we could view it, I know Hannah would be thrilled!
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am Hannah’s caregiver and friend.
I visit this place every time I’m back to Barbados. From what I’ve learned, the resort was a recreational facility for the U.S.Naval Facility (NAVFAC) Barbados personnel and families. The base was quite a neat place explore also as it had been converted to a temporary prison in 2005 when riots destroyed the Glendairy prison. The old facility has recently been converted once again to a Covid19 isolation facility. Last I had heard, the property had gone into receivership back in the 70’s and the family that has owned it for the last 30+ years now has it up for sale at 1.75 million USD.
“The property was first purchased by a local plantation manager in the 1950’s who acquired it for use as a weekend and holiday retreat. The foundation of the bay house he built can still be found on the property. He sold the property to an English couple in the early 60’s who dreamt of turning the property into a holiday resort. They fulfilled their dream a few years later when North Point Surf Resort was formed. The resort boasted 48 rooms with sea views, a private beach, an Olympic sized swimming pool and high diving boards.”
Wow, that’s super interesting, thanks for the info. I haven’t been back since the 1990s …
When I was around ten years old, my family spent the summers in Barbados. My fathers business Sunflight Holidays located in Toronto, Canada was expanding.
My father took up to this majestic hotel. I was awestruck by the size of the Olympic pool.
The reason for my fathers visit was to lure the General Manager of the hotel, A Norwegian hotel man named Rolf Nielsen to come and work for him in Canada. My father was successful and Rolf Nielsen, a large, powerful man of exceptional talent became a Vice President at Sunflight Holidays in charge of sales. As I entered the business, Mr. Nielsen helped guide me through my learning curve with his talent and wisdom. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Well, Eric, when I was in my late teens I worked at either Sunflight Holidays or Suntours located in Don Mills (on Don Mills Road). The company sold package holidays to travel agents which was a new concept in those days and very successful. I remember going on a “fam trip” to Acapulco, Mexico. Was Sunflight and Suntours the same company or two separate companies? So what happened to Sunflight Holidays? Is it still operating? In any case, thanks for commenting and following my blog! Good to hear from a fellow Canadian.
Sunflight and Suntours were the same company. They have been out of business since the early 80’s. I plan to go back to Barbados hopefully this winter and will take the trek to visit the place. Crane Beach also had heavy surf and it was there I learned to navigate the heavy undertows from the huge waves.
I recall going there as a teenager when Rolf was the manager .Sunday buffet by the pool was great. My father ended up woking with him in Don Mills after the gov’t clearances in the mid 70’s.
I came across this article while looking up information on the former North Point Surf Resort. Imagine my surprise as I started reading your story. I could very easily have written the exact same story. My first time visiting Barbados was in 1969. I was 9 years old and was on holiday there with family. We stayed in Rockley Beach, rented a moke for the week and drove up to NPSR. Such wonderful memories of that pool and the scenic cliffs. It was a beautiful resort, but it was very remote. Too bad it was abandoned. It holds many memories for those of us fortunate to have experienced it back in its glory. I also recall flying on Air Canada’s DC8. I hope to go back to Barbados again one day. Thanks for the memories.
Oh my goodness. It’s true, it sounds like we both lived the same experience! Do you remember where you stayed in Rockley Beach? The last time I was on that beautiful little island was in the 1990s. I too hope to return one day! Thanks so much for writing, Heather.