Sunshine, palm-fringed beaches and free-flowing cocktails - this Caribbean hotspot ticks all the stylish vacay boxes
Winter is here. We love feeling festive with mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas markets, but come next month if all you’ll want is to escape dreary January (February or March), you can’t beat sunny Antigua. With direct flights from Gatwick, temperatures hovering around 26ºc from December to May, ‘a beach for every day of the year’ – yes, that’s 365 – and feel-good vibes by the champagne bucketload, this little Caribbean isle is the ultimate winter getaway. Plus the time difference means that despite a nine-hour flight, you can leave drizzly London in the morning and be sipping piña coladas on the beach by late afternoon – bliss.
The place to stay: Curtain Bluff
Cocooned by tall, swaying coconut trees and surrounded by lush tropical gardens, Curtain Bluff resort on the south side of the island is an Instagrammer’s dream. It has simple, plantation-style architecture and is nestled between two pristine private beaches – Surf Beach, which has crashing waves, and Bay Beach (top), a perfect curve of sand with calm water. This is a fully inclusive luxury resort that’s refreshingly informal and friendly. As soon as we step into the light, airy lobby, we’re welcomed with warm smiles and ice-cold drinks – rum punch? Yes, please! And the hospitality continues throughout our stay, including an invitation to a weekly cocktail party hosted by the resort’s owner, Chelle Hulford, in her glamorous home. It isn’t surprising that 65 per cent of guests return year after year, especially when we also discover there are two sensational restaurants, myriad water sports, top-notch tennis courts, a gorgeous swimming pool, a great gym and a stunning spa. So, whether you want full-on activity or to chill out by the sea with a cocktail in hand, Curtain Bluff has got it covered.
A room with a view
All the 72 spacious bedrooms are set on Surf Beach and come with heavenly ocean vistas through sliding glass doors. Book a ground-floor junior suite so you can skip from king-size bed to swaying hammock in seconds. I often had the beach – and a charming member of staff offering towels and refreshments – to myself. Here, it’s easy to lose hours in the shade of a rustling palm tree with a good book, listening to waves crash on the shore. The sound of the ocean is ever-present, often accompanied by a chirpy chorus of cicadas at twilight. And frankly, there’s nothing better than waking up hearing the sea, stepping straight out on to powdery sand, then tucking into a leisurely breakfast on your terrace – winter, what winter? Inside, the space has a chic seaside feel – think pale timber ceilings, cream stone floors and wicker sofas – with splashes of Caribbean colour in the turquoise cushions and vibrant beach prints. In the roomy bathroom, you’ll find a double sink, huge bath and walk-in shower, along with luxe Molton Brown products. Want to go all out? You’ll love the recently refurbished Hulford Collection suites – cue cool white and blue interiors, stylish roll-top bath and dreamy private plunge pool overlooking the sea.
Things to do
If you can tear yourself away from Surf Beach, parasol-clad Bay Beach is popular, yet it never feels overcrowded. Backed by verdant green hills dotted with candy coloured houses and with views across to Montserrat island, it’s paradise. There are loungers, hammocks and plump daybeds to laze away the day, but if you’re feeling energetic, swim in the calm azure sea or the curvy swimming pool and hit the free water sports. As well as Hobie Cat sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and paddleboarding, you can whizz round the bay on waterskis or snorkel among shoals of brightly coloured tropical fish on twice daily trips to beautiful Cades Reef. Back on dry land, join a Pilates or yoga class on the outdoor yoga deck, workout in the gym or thwack some balls on the championship tennis courts. After all that exertion, head for the oceanfront spa, an insanely relaxing retreat at the top of a winding path brimming with palms and bursts of vibrant bougainvillea. Book a late-afternoon massage (from $110 for 60 minutes) and tune into the sound of the surf before taking a dip in the Jacuzzi to watch the sun disappear into the ocean – bubbles and fizz optional, but definitely recommended.
Where to eat
You can dine beside the sea or beneath the branches of a tamarind tree, but wherever you choose, the food is superb – and it’s all included in the price. The Tamarind Tree is the resort’s main restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served. Here, the tables are shaded from the sun in the morning and flickering with romantic candlelight in the evening when every night a different band strikes up and guests hit the open-air dance floor. For breakfast, tempting as it is to eat your body weight in banana bread (it really is that good), you should try the pancakes, French toast and eggs Benedict too, as well as the traditional island dishes – perhaps not all in one sitting. The five-course evening menu changes daily, but expect Caribbean, French and Italian fare, including delicious fresh fish, succulent meat and desserts to die for. Down on Bay Beach, the lunchtime buffet at The Seagrape is legendary. Fill your plate with everything from a mouthwatering array of salads to seared tuna steak, moreish mahi-mahi and spicy jerk chicken. Once a week there’s also a beach barbecue served to the beats of a steel band. At night, the restaurant is transformed into an intimate dining experience limited to 40 guests. Follow the trail of twinkling tiki torches down to the sand, then feast beside the sea on the catch of the day washed down with a cool glass of rosé from the well–stocked wine cellar.
You really must
Meet Lulu and co. the sociable stingrays. At Stingray City Antigua – note, not an actual city, but a reef off the coast reached by speedboat – you can swim among wild rays in translucent waist-deep water. They are free to come and go as they please, but seem content to stealthily glide past tourists, occasionally stopping for a feed and a cuddle. Feeling brave? Hold out your arms and let one of them snuggle in or hoover up food from the palm of your hand. Half an hour from Stingray City and Curtain Bluff, Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour is worth a visit. It’s the world’s only surviving Georgian naval dockyard and was once home to Horatio Nelson, but nowadays you’ll see swanky yachts bobbing in the marina. Stop by for lunch at Boom, which has a tasty menu, beautiful harbour views and a swimming pool that’s literally steps away from your table. Another great place to dine is Catherine’s Café on nearby Pigeon Beach. Day or evening, there’s a cool, laid-back vibe, tables on the sand and delicious French cuisine. High above English and Falmouth Harbours, Shirley Heights is a must-see, not only for the best view on the island but also the famous Sunday afternoon barbecue. From 4pm to 10pm, locals and tourists gather at the Lookout to eat, drink and merrily watch the spectacular sunset. Expect panoramic views, loud calypso beats and plenty of partying.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua, has deluxe rooms from $700 (about £540) a night, plus 22.5 per cent taxes.
This is based on two adults sharing on an all-inclusive basis.
British Airways flies direct from London Gatwick to Antigua from £522 return.
For more information on Antigua, see visitantiguabarbuda.com