Antigua… an island where the word paradise applies

I wasn’t off the plane in St. John’s, Antigua for more than half hour, on my way to the first of three hotels, before my driver, Glen and guide, Mario made a bet with me. They knew I’d be staying at the top rated accommodation on this lush island and already decided which I would like the best. Having a gambler’s bent, I of course, agreed to take part in this non- paying but serious wager. They didn’t tell me their choice but within minutes of reaching Curtain Bluff Hotel on the southern shore, I needn’t have gone any further.

Spotting Curtain Bluff, my gut reaction was this is ‘it’. After all Curtain Bluff has been a top favourite and rated in Conde Naste Traveller as the number one resort in the Caribbean.

Coincidently it was also the 72 room hotel’s first day open after being closed a few months for some renovations and addition of a new spa. What a surprise to learn that they were filled to capacity and most of the crowd already settled in. It was also Antigua’s Annual Tennis Week which the hotel has hosted for years. Rackets in hand, the tennis buffs looked spiffy dressed in tennis white and yes, mixed with sleek black.

Yoga class at the Carlisle Beach Hotel

The stunning and soothing sandy beach
at Carlisle Beach Hotel

“What’s the name of the bird with that loud tweet,” I asked Henrietta at the front desk. “It isn’t a bird at all. It’s a coquille, a very small brown frog with a very large sound.” The cacophony of their sound was continuous and an indigenous signature of the island.

Walking through the high ceiling, open sided, white wicker decorated lobby into the, restaurant through the library to get to the concrete walkway which lead to my suite in one of the similar looking villas, I felt I had arrived at the Mecca of the Caribbean.

It wasn’t easy tearing myself away from this no-key suite (they trust their staff and guests and never have to worry about lost keys or plastics that’s don’t work) to get to my appointment at the newly opened spa for the ½ hour foot reflexology.

Nepal born, Indian trained, Shanti asked me to wait for her on the terrace, the relaxation area overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Already seated was a group of annual repeat guests who were happily celebrating toasting the spa, their champagne flutes full. It was, after all, well past midday. I followed Shanti to one of the four treatment rooms. (There’s one couple treatment room, always booked with honeymooners).

All done, my feet felt as though I was walking on a cloud or perhaps more topically, ‘gels’.

Darkness descends quickly and I hadn’t had time to orient myself. Admittedly, I am ‘directionally handicapped’ but luckily I had seen a small white pencil-like item on the desk and before leaving, popped it into my bag. It was an indispensable flashlight which not only lit the way but featured a glut of little lizards scurrying about.

Dinner is always somewhat frustrating for a woman on her own. Sitting back to back was another single woman. Wendy Walker Drake turned out to be the perfect person to meet. The founder of Ecolink, an environment company, she’s a consultant for Curtain Bluff, a hotel keenly interested in sustainable tourism.

It’s Alsatian born Chef Christophe Blatz, 14th season, he told me with his so sexy accent. Recognizing that many guests like to cook as well as tan, he hosts classes in his kitchen with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 20. And for 2 hours, the hands-on group creates one of Blatz’s own tropical creations. As for the wine, Rob Johnson, one of the hotel’s shareowners, is nonchalant about his duties. “I tell funny stories and uncork the wine.”

Next morning Glen and Mario were ready to show off their island. Rainforests Canopy has eco tours. No way would either of them contemplate being harnessed and suspended over the flora and fauna. I had that experienced in Costa Rica and loved it. (Open 7 days from 8 am – 6pm. Fig Tree Drive, Wallings. Tel 268 562 6363, email –

The two were more enthusiastic about historic Nelson’s Dockyard, once a port and hurricane refuge. It can be traced back to 1671. Most of the buildings were built between 1785-1792 and today it is one of the best examples of adaptive use with a marina, art gallery, museum, self- catered apartments and a restaurant. (Parks Commissioner. Tel 268 460 1397

Every Sunday at Shirley’s Heights, the steel band can be heard as far back as the parking area, the enticing odor of barbeque invades the air. From here, the spectacular view of the sunset over Nelson’s Dockyard is legendary.

To compare accommodations, my next move was to the newly opened Hermitage Bay located on the West Coast. The long road leading to the entrance was a pitted, bumpy road and dusty. How good could this out of–the-way hotel be at the top of my list, I wondered. But I was in for a huge surprise. Stunning, is the first word that came to mind staring in the lobby and the open sided restaurant overlooking the water. Up the hill was my cottage style suite with the wrap around terrace decorated with white canvas chaise longues and a private plunge pool. A flat screen TV put me back in touch with the world. The room layout with the mix of dark wood floors and furniture against light walls was larger than most hotel rooms and lead into a huge large bathroom and the piece de resistance – an outdoor shower.

I put my foot down next day and told Mario, I couldn’t do the touristy thing. I had to ‘experience’ this exceptional 25 suite hotel.

Environment is of major importance “ensuring that we conserve water”. Food products and produce of the highest quality ingredients are from local farmers. And with all the mosquitoes and sand flies, their much needed insecticides are environmentally safe and eco friendly.

I finally agreed to tear myself away from this marvelous hotel and went to St. John’s, the big city. It’s where the huge cruise ships dock. As I had feared, two white monstrous cruise ships were visible from a distance; the cafes and shops throbbing with off- the- ship tourists. However, I do admit, the city is charming with a few original colourfully painted wood buildings. It’s also home to the famed local designer, Calvin S.- many young women dream of his designing their wedding gown and renowned Hans Smit, a Dutch born jeweller, with a sleek shop and unusual designs, The Goldsmitty.

Glen and Mario were still waiting for my ranking. At that moment, my vote was for Heritage Bay, (How fickle I am) but then I moved over to the Carlisle Bay Hotel where each of the 80 rooms face the sea. From my large interior seating area and attached balcony, I could see Montserrat, the island that was almost completely wiped off the map by a volcano in a few years ago. The large light, public area was filled every evening before dinner while we listened to either a pianist or a local band in the neutral coloured spacious area. But the big surprise was that the excellent, young executive chef Michael Stenekes, comes from Ontario with an awesome c.v. He has already worked at Fat Duck in England (said to be the best restaurant in the world), also Niagara-o –the-Lake’s, Prince of Wales and Jordon’s, On the Twenty, to name just a few.

Lobby floral arrangements at the
Carlisle Beach Hotel

The spa, Blue, is managed by Canadian Michelle Bunbury from Mississagua, Ontario. It’s a sleek, shiny 6 treatment room area. Aromatherapy Associates are the products used and my facial left me glowing. Early each morning there is a Pilates class in the gazebo. Mamanda was one tough but excellent instructor.

The weekly barbeque on the beach of Indigo Restaurant, was a friendly gathering and where I met a couple from Ireland and their 10 month old baby. No names but he certainly knows his hotels since his father owns one of Dublin’s most famous hotels. There were many tots during breakfast but they all seemed to disappear during the day. The hotel has one of the cutest child-friendly, well trained nanny-staffed quarters. Even the toilets are a tiny version. From the white Frette bed linens to the in- room Gaggia espresso machine plus the daily delivered fresh fruit, I was now completely confused about rating the three hotels.

Glen and Mario were now pushing for my preference. Some gambles are tied. I never asked their vote since it didn’t seem important. As we know, hotels are about service and destinations are about attractions. The biggest winner is Antigua.

Carlisle Bay, Old Road, St. Mary’s
Tel 268 484 0000

Hermitage Bay
Tel 268 562 5500

Curtain Bluff Hotel
Tel. 268 462 8400

The Goldsmitty
Redcliffe Quay St. John’s
268 462 4681