I have always been more partial to the African subcontinent than the Caribbean myself, and yet each time I visit this cluster of rum soaked isles, I wonder anew at the vibrancy of life here. I don’t know if it’s the joyous shades of colour that the houses are painted in or the sharp contrast between the sparkling seas and lush greenness of the land. There’s something instantly uplifting about it though and it’s easy to see why the Caribbean has become one of those places with an ardent and loyal following returning year upon year, either revisiting old haunts or becoming acquainted with yet another of these cheerful islands.
My latest visit was to the sunny shores of Antigua. Together with it’s sister isle, Barbuda, Antigua is also known as ‘The Land of 365 Beaches’ due to the many white sand beaches that dominate the islands’ shores.
Tragically Hurricane Irma recently damaged a huge amount of Barbuda’s infrastructure, but fortunately Antigua was hardly touched and remains an idyllic holiday destination. Whether you’re a new visitor or an island devotee there are a few places that I would strongly recommend.
First and foremost for food it has to be South Point at English Harbour. With tables on a platform right on the water this has got to be one of the most wonderful settings, and whether you’re there during the quiet season as we were, or when the harbour is bursting full of yachts, the view over the water to the hills beyond is magical. With an extensive menu you won’t be short for choice but our recommendation would definitely be the sushi. Fresh, beautifully presented, and exquisitely put together, you just can’t go wrong.
Another gem we discovered by chance whilst navigating the island’s questionable roads/tracks, was Sheer Rocks on the south-west corner of the island. As the name suggests, the restaurant is built on a cliff overlooking the turquoise sea below. The views are superb, there is a beach nearby should you wish to lie on the sand after your meal, but if not then there is also a plunge pool by the day beds which provide the ideal spot for relaxing and sampling the various exciting cocktails on offer. The menu is a mixture of sushi and tapas and rosé lovers will be thrilled to discover the magnums of Chateau Minuty on the winelist. All in all a great place; either for a relaxed lunch, or to while away an entire day.
In terms of hotels I think the choice has got to be between The Inn at English Harbour, perfect if you’re looking for peace and quiet; Carlisle Bay, if the quintessential white sand beach is what you’ve been dreaming of; or The Mill Reef Club, if you’re lucky enough to snag one of the few rooms they make available to the public rather than members each year.
The Inn at English Harbour is small and intimate, with just 28 rooms spread on 19 acres of land. The hotel doesn’t accept children so you’re guaranteed a peaceful stay and it’s set in a wonderful location, close to the historic harbour of Nelson’s Dockyard with a shuttle boat to take you there and back. Designed in a very traditional, colonial way, this is the property to really evoke dreams of days gone by.
Carlisle Bay is located on the south side of the island, so you’re in proper Caribbean territory here in terms of the colour of the sand and sea. More modern in style than The Inn at English Harbour, Carlisle Bay probably attracts a slightly younger and more lively crowd looking for a modern take on the Caribbean classic.
Finally on the east coast of Antigua is the members-only Mill Reef Club. This is a beautiful 1,500 acre resort including 5 miles of shoreline. It’s a dream come true for keen golfers as the resort features a breathtaking 9-hole golf course, and the breeze coming in off the Atlantic ensures you aren’t going to overheat whilst playing. Conceived over 60 years ago, the club has always been very strictly members only in order to ensure the exclusivity. Many of these members own houses throughout the grounds, others visit to stay in the main clubhouse. However the clubhouse has now agreed with a few of their preferred partners that a few lucky outside guests will be able to stay here each year, bringing some new blood and a fresh perspective to this exquisite private club.
Overall I’d say that if your eyes are straying in the direction of the Caribbean then Antigua has got to be one of the best choices out of the islands. Maybe avoid the real hurricane season of August to November as many of the hotels and restaurants will be closed. Other than that though you’re good to go, the most popular times of year being from December to April but May, June and July being a great option for those looking for good deals and low season rates. Just don’t forget to pack some decent painkillers as the local Rum Punches really can leave you with a sort head the next day!