Guilt free relaxation is the best way to sum up Antigua for me. You could go to the capital for a few hours, you could explore the island and take in the sunset up at Shirley’s Heights with rum punches and a BBQ and you could head into English Harbour with the yachts and restaurants, or not.
Antigua is beautiful and the beaches are absolutely stunning. The gentle shelving sand and clarity of the water make it such a joy to swim in the sea that we hardly went near the pool and when the pools are as beautiful as we saw that really is saying something.
The Antigua tourist board’s strapline is “The Beach is just the beginning” but for us it was pretty much the middle and end too and this is why I love the island so much. There are very few places I know of, apart from somewhere like the Maldives, which has the same level of ability to make the busiest person relax.
We visited two properties and although I am writing about them both they do not easily compare and they offer a very different feel and experience. Whilst we loved both it is important to choose the right one.
I first visited Carlisle Bay shortly after it opened about 7 years ago and am happy to report the property has not expanded and changed but gently added to the original relaxed, stylish and laid back atmosphere. It really does have the coolest library in the world and beautiful bedrooms. It attracts a lot of families and caters well for children with the Beach Suites having an extra room behind the parents’. What it does not do however is forget that parents still like detail and quality and they have found a wonderful way to combine catering for kids and a sense of style that I know a lot of our peers enjoy.
The food is absolutely fantastic and the choice of three restaurants in such a small property is a real find. They serve several lunch options on the beach too so if you are thoroughly engrossed in a book there is no need to move. There is also afternoon tea, which again can be served to your sunbed, and if you do try this, have the scones. I am not sure if it was the setting and joy of having afternoon tea with sand on my feet but they were absolutely delicious.
The only other guests on the beach were a group of incredible pelicans diving for fish and snoozing on the boats moored up in the bay and birds busy building nests in the bougainvillea and that is just the way we like it.
Jumby Bay is a private Island about ten minutes from Antigua with villas, privately owned houses and the hotel. I have been sending clients to Jumby Bay for 14 years and the property underwent a big renovation a few years ago so I was very keen to see what had been done.
Every room comes with bicycles to explore the island or just pootle about between breakfast and the beach and what I really want to stress about Jumby is a sense of space. It is so rare to find a beach that can be yours alone with a picnic at lunchtime or to not hear anyone else on the main beach because there is no one near you.
The rooms are amazing and the new ones by the beach are enormous with stunning lounges, verandas and incredible bathrooms with an outside tub. Some have pools and the two Rosewood Suites are wonderfully luxurious. The older Rondavels have a more colonial feel and get more breeze up on the hill so have their place too. We did not have a key the whole time, which again was such a breath of fresh air and if we wandered off to the beach from the veranda we would just shut the door behind us and stroll down there with our hats and books.
The food here was really wonderful and they have three different restaurants plus beach service. The Estate House is a calm and civilized place to have dinner. The Pool Grille is just what you would want at lunchtime and the Veranda is again brilliant.
The staff’s attitude here is a huge selling point for me. They all have a spring in their step, ask how you are doing and leave everyone I saw interacting with them smiling. It may seem a small thing to mention but these days it is so hard to find the genuine enthusiasm and warmth with no compromise in service.
Jumby is certainly deluxe and comes with what you would expect from such a property. There are Nespresso machines in the bedrooms, there are IPod docks and a wonderfully stocked mini bar at your disposal. You have a front garden as well as huge veranda but you find the real luxury is in the feeling it gives you being there. We would often cycle past people en route to breakfast and the smile I noticed people giving each other was almost saying “can you believe it… isn’t it fantastic” and the smiles back said “yes”.