Divine Days and Dreamy Dusks

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Discovering the luxury side of Antigua at Carlisle Bay
By Leila Stocker

Mud-splattered, cobweb-strewn and dripping wet with rainforest drops, right then left, I soldiered up the steep, slippery terrain. And at just after 5am, more than once I wondered exactly why I had chosen to fast ascend a shadowy mountain in the West Indies. Yet using the dim glow of a handheld flashlight, I sweated on – navigating a path up Signal Hill on the tropical island of Antigua.

Following my nimble local guide Junior, my hope was to catch a Caribbean sunrise. So after forty minutes of scrambling under interwoven branches, pushing through stem grasses and hurdling gnarly roots, I reached the top – a flat lemongrass plain, overlooking the whole of Antigua. Having rapidly finished our route, for which Junior usually allows guests up to two hours (in broad daylight I might add), a pleasing sense of achievement ensued. And after 10 minutes of island small talk, regular as clockwork the potent amber sun pressed its way up above sea level; dousing the luxuriant Antiguan clouds a pinkish hue. Setting back down the mountain, thousands of white butterflies rose above our heads, as we rustled our way through the citron-scented sward.

And so scaling a pitch-black peak at an ungodly hour, (albeit in the name of a rather divine experience), became my first gratefully-received, yet totally-unexpected Antiguan encounter. Having booked a sojourn at the very smart Carlisle Bay resort some months back in a bid to combat the winter blues, I checked into what possibly might be the most understatedly lavish resort I have stayed in yet. The dawn hike, a surprise check-in recommendation from Larry the cultured concierge, was the first in a series of heart-flipping island moments.

On arrival a zen-like Japanese-style wooden bridge lies above a pool of lazy carp, leading guests into an expansive atrium, filled with lilies and sculptured armchairs. Sumptuous sofas carried the resort’s colour scheme – a chic aqua blue set against a pure white. While the pale silver vaulted ceiling kept me cool, I sipped on the first (of many) rum punches.

Entrance by night

My 770 sq. ft. Ocean Suite (one of five different suite options) was located at the designated adults-only calm end of the beach however, perfect for serenity and calm. Split-level, it boasted an open-plan bedroom-sitting room and exceptional ocean views.

Carlisle Bay is where the upmarket British set stopover in Antigua. And there is a resolute reason – set on Antigua’s south coast the luxury resort is positioned over bottle-blonde sands, palms and turquoise water, with a backdrop of soaring emerald green rainforest. But that’s just the location – the five-star resort offers unsurpassed facilities, underpinned by a firm can-do attitude. Perfect indeed for guests visiting the Antigua Charter Yacht Show in nearby Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, which took place in the week I visited.

Antigua has always been favoured by the Brits. In 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on the island and christened it Antigua, taking the name from the Sevillan church Santa Maria la Antigua. Following settlements of Amerindian societies, the English then settled en force 1632. So perhaps it was no surprise that most fellow guests I met were also British, gratefully grasping some sun, while their Home Counties homes endured December downpours.

While whipping up a storm on a Hobie Cat, chasing sea turtles on a kayak or knocking tennis balls on one of the resort’s nine hard courts, I encountered smart, like-minded Brits. And some were simply happy to enjoy the view of Carlisle Bay’s beautifully flat cove. I happily chatted to more guests on the twice-weekly, one hour reef snorkelling trip, spotting an Octopus, and a myriad of brightly coloured marine life.

Visiting neighbouring Falmouth Harbour, eying up the gin palaces of the Antigua boat show, I felt the need for a vessel of my own alchemy. The Pavilion Bar’s cocktail list did not disappoint. The list of rum, gin and vodka infusions with an undeniably Caribbean flavour, set to please even the most serious of mixologists.

View of Montserrat from Indigo

Foodies need not worry either. Indigo restaurant offered a fantastic selection of meat and fish mains. My tropical Mahi Mahi with plantain side was a plate I’d be happy to receive in a Michelin venue. Mornings were a joy too, with a daily-changing smoothie, selection of mueslis (Bircher was moreish) and a long list of breakfast mains. As pancakes are a weakness, I indulged on several occasions, feeling (slightly) virtuous with my pineapple topper.

Arguably the best dining experience of the resort is the weekly Jetty Grill BBQ. I dined on lobster, shrimp, scallops and tuna, seasoned and grilled right in front of my beach table. Salads were fresh, flavoursome and plentiful.

Carlisle Bay also offers all staying a complimentary afternoon tea, which can also be served ocean-side. As I sipped Earl Grey and nibbled finger sandwiches and scones, toes in sand, I mused on how undeniably pleasant it felt to be a (agreeable) Brit abroad.

The daily Kids Club suitable for children aged six months to six years is supervised by qualified childcare professionals. This makes the resort an obvious choice for stressed city parents, needing an upmarket vacation. All toddlers appeared in high spirits when passing by, on the way to their next amusing kiddie activity.

The resort’s Blue Spa offers calming treatments in a zen-like atmosphere. My 50 min massage sent me to sleep, though my slumber was perhaps encouraged by the morning mountain hike. With 10 different types of facial, 12 types of massage, 13 spa packages and numerous beauty packages, there is something on the menu for even the pickiest spaficionado.

So having experienced Carlisle Bay, it was no surprise to find the rich and famous visit too. Eking out the last few hours of solar rays before the dreaded airport run, I spotted racing supremo Eddie Jordan bobbing in on a rib from his gargantuan yacht. Taking a leisurely stroll along our very own beach he then took lunch at the Jetty Grill – affirming Carlisle Bay is nothing but Formula One.

Carlisle be back…

The Details

Find the best flights to Antigua using award-winning travel search site momondo.

Room rates at Carlisle Bay start from £460 per night for double occupancy and include tax, service and breakfast. For enquiries about room rates and reservations please contact reservations@carlisle-bay.com or call the resort on +1 268 484 0002.  For more information on Carlisle Bay, please visit the website at www.carlisle-bay.com

Carlisle Bay on Antigua has a 40% off early booking offer for summer 2016, for any bookings made by 31st January 2016 for stays from 18th April to 30th November 2016. The price includes VIP fast track assistance on arrival at the airport, accommodation, all meals and wifi. This offer is valid on ocean and beach balcony suites only and guests must be staying a minimum of four nights.  Carlisle Bay, www.carlisle-bay.com, reservations@carlisle-bay.com/+1 268 484 0002

Gatwick Express is the non-stop direct service between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria, running every 15 minutes. Customers can get 10% discount when they book online at www.gatwickexpress.com.

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