Wake up. From bed to the nespresso machine: three steps. From there to the door to my private ocean-view terrace: 14 steps. Part the curtains; the sun’s crept up, it’s a balmy 26 degrees outside, even if it’s only 7am. Still being on London time has its advantages when you want to catch an early swim. From the terrace to the warm, Caribbean waters of Carlisle Bay: 56 steps. To my left, a few healthy types are stretching out for pilates on the private jetty. I’m tempted, but not as tempted as I am by the fresh papaya being laid out in the restaurant a couple of minutes to my right. This is how every day starts for me in Antigua; delicious choices, none of which are wrong.
Carlisle Bay is a sprawling resort, tastefully arranged along a secluded stretch of Antigua’s south coast. The numbers: 87 suites, four restaurants, nine tennis courts, 42 seats in the private cinema, and 17,000 square feet of spa. The spa is where I get to work on arrival, after a deep sleep, and a deceptively strong massage therapist works out the kinks both from the nine-hour flight, and an ill-advised marathon the previous week. Sure enough my legs feel marvellous afterwards, and I have a sauna all to myself to finish it off.
My suite is on the ground floor, meaning I can literally walk in a straight line from my bed to the sea, only stopping to slide the door open. The suites are tasteful and understated, all white tiles and powerful air conditioning, which is an absolute must when it gets steamy outside. The restaurants onsite include local delicacies as well as Asian fusion, and almost everything can be ordered to the loungers on the beach, but breakfast is definitely the highlight. We always start the day at Indigo, the restaurant right on the beach front, with a cool breeze blowing in off the water. The traditional breakfast includes saltfish, but most days I make do with mango, watermelon, papaya and whatever egg-based delights they’re whipping up.
After a relaxing afternoon, we ease into the evening, and Sunday nights in Antigua mean one thing: the barbecue at Shirley Heights. This is a real Antiguan institution: live music, punchy cocktails and mountains of meat at the former fort that sits above English Harbour. We stop off on the winding drive there to take a few pictures over the cliffs; a young couple are taking some extremely brave selfies on the windy bluffs, and over the water there’s a palatial compound belonging to Eric Clapton. When we finally make it up to Shirley Heights, the party is winding up: the views are unbeatable as the sun sets, and a steel drum band is wrapping up a blistering set that has locals and tourists dancing merrily together. We pile into the jerk chicken and cocktails as a reggae band takes the stage: this is definitely a party you don’t want to miss if you’re on the island on a Sunday.
Monday morning rolls around and it means only one thing: cruise the bays on a boat. Carlisle Bay has you covered from pretty much any type of watersport, and on this fine morning we set out with Marvin and Captain Riviero to check out the sights to the east. The Caribbean sun beats down relentlessly but we can hide under the canopy with a cold drink; to my right, about a mile offshore, one of the world’s largest sailing yachts, the magnificent Maltese Falcon, has dropped anchor; previous charterers include Tom Hanks and Larry Page.
Our first stop is Nelson’s Dockyard, now a beautifully preserved UNESCO heritage site. The dockyard museum has some wonderful photos of the dockyard’s restoration, and some startling facts about its history: the below-deck conditions on the boats in summer were so grim and disease-ridden more than 30 per cent of the seamen living there died and were buried in the harbour. Thankfully nowadays it’s a gorgeous spot, with some fine restaurants and well-tended gardens.
Back on the boat, and after a quick lunch of local delights (and a couple of beers), it’s time to hop in and go snorkelling by the reef. Schools of little barracuda drift by, along with the odd turtle, and the ocean is so calm and clear that we can spot the fish from great distances. It’s a shame to climb out but it’s probably wise, given the strength of the sun against our pasty English bodies. Besides, we have a few more idyllic beaches to check out before dinner.
The final activity I sample is a rainforest hike, trekking for a couple of ours up to signal hill, one of the highest points on the island. We pass the old irrigation systems that used to channel fresh water around the island; we eat mangoes right off the tree, dodge hermit crabs, and wade through fragrant fields full of lemongrass, before taking in the breathtaking views back across to Carlisle Bay on one side, and to the north on the other. The cricket ground, airport, and the bustle of St John’s are all visible in the distance. Thanks to the ill-thought-out decision of some plantation owner to introduce the mongoose to the island to control his snake problem, there are very few natural predators here – a massive beehive is the most dangerous thing I see all day.
Carlisle Bay is a handsome and peaceful resort with all manner of activities and hospitality, but there’s no getting away from what makes it so special: the staff. Luxury resorts can sometimes take attentiveness too far, and you feel like you’re being mithered rather than relaxing in peace. Carlisle Bay’s staff, to a man and woman, know just when to appear when you need something, and are so friendly and charismatic that they really do add something to your stay. It’d be a great place even without them; with them, it’s incredibly hard to leave.
Carlisle Bay is featured in the Leading Hotels of the World. For more information, including details of their current 40% super saving advanced offer, visit www.carlisle-bay.com.