Christopher Columbus thought the Caribbean island of Antigua looked so pure that he named it after the church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Seville.
Five centuries later, and the island now has enough temptations to turn the most chaste visitor. From its sweet black pineapples to ultra deluxe hotels such as Carlisle Bay, it’s the place to indulge Caribbean-style.
The destination is set to become even more popular with UK holidaymakers next year, as a result of a recently launched Excel Airways flight from Gatwick. It stops off at St Kitts on the outward journey and is direct on the return.
Beach lovers will be in their element in Antigua – there’s one for every day of the year – but there is plenty more to keep visitors occupied. We’ll just focus on the southern half of the island from the great beach at Ffryes Bay, round the coast to Nonsuch Bay. A new rainforest canopy tour is due to open here, climaxing with a 60-foot controlled parachute jump – see antiguarainforest.com.
Take the Fig Tree Drive, a route winding from the coast up to the Parish of Saint Mary in the volcanic hills of the south west of the island. At the top is Fig Tree Hill, but don’t expect to see fig trees – figs are actually what Antiguans call bananas.
The route is dotted with landmarks from Antigua’s history, including tumbledown sugar mills. Avis offers car hire from VC Bird International Airport from £28 per day.
Nelson’s Dockyard, a British Navy base during the Napoleonic wars, is now part of a national park which includes Shirley Heights and English Harbour. The old naval buildings have been restored, and now house the Dockyard Museum, shops, hotels and restaurants. Royal Caribbean International has an Antigua Highlights Tour taking in Nelson’s Dockyard from £24 per person.
The new Xtreme Circumnav tour, run by former Olympian Eli Fuller of Adventure Antigua, takes visitors around the island’s coast on a 45ft offshore racing boat. There are five stops, including swimming with stingrays at Stingray City Marine Park, and Hell’s Gate, where the Atlantic and Caribbean seas meet. Alternatively, try the gentler ‘Antigua adventure by catamaran’, which focuses on Antigua’s history and ecology. Virgin Holidays offers the catamaran excursion from £55 per person.
OJ’s Bar and Restaurant is a casual beach restaurant famous for its red snapper. There’s an upper deck called The Tittle Lounge and décor includes washed up items from the shore.
There’s jazz on Fridays and live entertainment on Sundays. Sup a local Wadadli beer and watch the waves lap the shore.
Harmony Hall, near Nonsuch Bay, is one of the best places to eat on the island. This art gallery-cum-hotel-cum-restaurant is set in an old sugar mill and serves Italian food with a Caribbean twist.
The bar, called The Mill Bar, is in the original mill building and serves wine and cocktails all day. The restaurant is only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays so you need to book well in advance. However, special group booking reservations will be taken during the week.
Soak up the atmosphere at the SeaBreeze café, which serves cocktails by night and coffees, light lunches and pastries by day. It also has a smarter Marina Restaurant, complete with harbour views, serving Italian food.
Where to stay
St James’s Club is a great family sell, offering a huge variety of accommodation from standard rooms to villas. Facilities include watersports, a spa, tennis courts and a nightclub and casino.
The St James’s Kidz Club caters for children between the ages of two and 12 years. It’s open from 9am right through to 10pm (apart from an hour at lunch), and its organised activities include crab hunting and limbo dancing.
For a boutique option, sell the Admiral’s Inn in Nelson’s Dockyard. The hotel, in a former Navy tar store, has colonial charm with dark wood floors and antique-filled rooms.
Such is the detail at the all-suite Carlisle Bay hotel, that when a shipment of orange floats arrived they were returned because they didn’t fit with the colour scheme. It has a spa, film room and two excellent restaurants: Indigo on the Beach and East.
- Who flies there? Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, BMI, First Choice and Excel Airways (inaugural flight was December 18)
- Flight time: Approximately 8 hours, 40 minutes
- Transfer time: Around 45 minutes
- Time difference: GMT -4 hours
- Currency: EC Dollar; £1 equals approximately EC$5.35
- Language: English
- Weather: Temperatures average between 24C-28C. It rains most between October and December.
Virgin Holidays offers seven nights at Admiral’s Inn from £649 per adult based on departures between Nov 1-Nov 23 2007. Prices include return Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick, transfers and accommodation on a room only basis. Prices may be
subject to a fuel surcharge.
Kuoni World Class offers seven nights at Carlisle Bay Antigua in a beach suite with breakfast, including flights with British
Airways from Gatwick, private transfers in resort and use of the airport lounge in the UK. Prices for November 2007 are from £2,537 per person twin-share.
Gold Medal offers seven nights at the four-star St James’s Club from £1,175 per person, twin share on an all-inclusive basis. The price includes return flights with Virgin Atlantic and is valid for departures between October 12 and December 7, 2007. It includes a special offer,staying seven nights for the price of six.