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City Guides and Maps: Barbados
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Living on island time
(CNN) -- Barbados was once called the "brightest jewel in the English crown." Today, this enchanted isle remains one of the most unforgettable stops on a Caribbean jaunt.
Visitors might believe Barbados has collected nature's most magnificent scenery on its 167 square miles. Tucked away in the easternmost West Indies, the isle's lush rainforests rise and fall across rolling hills, and then stop suddenly before sheer rocky cliffs. With an average annual temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 F), golden sands invite leisurely days and lead to the edge of the warm sparkling Caribbean waters.
Beauty aside, this West Indies island is possibly most famous for it rich, and sometimes fiery, rum. Barbados boasts 1,600 rum shops, or about 10 per square mile.
A trip here would not be complete without a first-hand look at how rum is made, beginning in the sugar cane fields. Workers still hoe sugar plants, just as theyıve done for centuries. In the days of old, windmills were used to grind the cane to a pulp and squeeze out the juice to form molasses and sugar.
By 1850, Barbados had about 500 active sugar mill plantations and close to 500 windmills. The windmills, second only to Holland's in number, were later replaced in the rum-making process by the steam engine. Island visitors can stop by the Hutson Sugar Museum for a closer look at the process of transforming sugar cane into sugar.
Once the sugar is refined, it goes to the distillery, where it's transformed into an alcoholic specialty. The Mount Gay Rum Distillery has been making rum continuously since the 1800s and now produces 500,000 gallons annually. Daily tours give tourists a behind-the-scenes look at the process. Here, rum is blended and then left to age in charred oak barrels, which actually gives rum its flavor.
"The longer you age a rum, the darker it becomes, so rum that's only been aged a few years is very light," explained a distillery representative. Stating that older rum is more flavorful, he said, "some distilleries will add coloring like caramel to it, but at Mount Gay, it's all through the natural aging process."
Of course, the tour would not be complete without a tasting of Mount Gay's extra old rum, which has been aging in barrels for 12 years.City Guides and Maps: Barbados
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