Antigua has one of the driest climates in the Caribbean and is served by direct flights from the UK, so it’s easy to see why the island is popular with Brits.
It has a good mix of resorts and 365 beaches – one for every day of the year, the tourist board proudly claims.
However, those prepared to venture away from their sunloungers will find Antigua is also historic, romantic and a lot of fun.
From the start of the sugar-growing era in 1684, to the arrival of Horatio Nelson in 1784 and the abolition of slavery in 1834, the key landmarks in Antigua’s history have been well-documented.
Most historical landmarks are to be found in the 15-square-mile Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, the only Georgian dockyard in the world and an important source of information about Nelson’s arrival – and subsequent demise – at English Harbour.
Visitors can watch a presentation about the island’s history at Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre and, from Shirley Heights – the harbour’s observation post – see as far as Montserrat and Guadaloupe.
For a history tour on a smaller scale, suggest a day trip to the capital St John’s. Here the cathedral, along with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, will give visitors a taste of culture while still allowing time for shopping and eating out.
Neighbouring island Barbuda has been historically tied to Antigua for centuries through the slave trade and sugar-growing era. It’s a 20-minute flight or three-hour boat trip and there are shipwrecks, reefs and the Frigate Bird Sanctuary to explore when you get there.
The Caribbean is famous for romance, and Antigua is no exception. Most hotels offer wedding, honeymoon and renewal of vows packages with ceremonies commonly taking place on the beaches, in gardens and under decorated pagodas.
For something different, suggest the Copper and Lumber Store in English Harbour. One of the original buildings used by Lord Nelson, the property is now a boutique hotel. All the rooms are fitted with period furniture after an extensive restoration project.
Other locations for weddings include Betty’s Hope, a restored sugar mill or one of the platforms on the Rainforest Canopy Tour.
Couples getting married at Curtain Bluff can hold the ceremony at owner Harold Hulford’s house – at the very tip of the bluff itself, with far-reaching views of the Atlantic and Caribbean.
For romance without the ceremony, Sentio has been in operation on the island for more than 10 years. The yacht can be privately chartered for full or half-day trips, as well as sunset cruises from Curtain Bluff hotel. Food and wine can also be provided.
Trade winds create ideal conditions for sailing. Antigua Sailing Week was held for the 40th time on the island in May, with 200 yachts competing. Clients don’t need to own a yacht to enjoy it – they can watch the action from viewpoints along the west coast.
In the evenings, locals and holidaymakers join the sailors to dance, eat and drink the night away. The 41st Sailing Week starts next year on April 27 – booking a hotel early is advisable.
If clients enjoy the water but want to learn about the ecology of the island too, suggest a day out on Adventure Antigua’s Powercat catamaran – they’ll learn about the area’s mangroves and reef habitats, and there are plenty of opportunities for snorkelling.
Sunsail’s Club Colonna resort on the northern tip of Antigua has year-round crosswinds, creating particularly good sailing conditions.
The Antigua Carnival is 10 days of vibrant music, costumes and pageants, all celebrating emancipation.
Major festivities at the 2007 carnival in late July included the Miss Antigua Pageant, the Panorama Steel Band and music competitions. Calypso, soca and reggae bands provide much of the entertainment. Dates for the 2008 carnival have yet to be announced.
Sunday night barbecues at Shirley Heights Lookout Bar are hard to beat. There’s a steel and reggae band to dance to while supping rum punch, tucking into the barbecue and watching the sunset. Arrive by 4pm to bag your spot.
When the cricket’s on, there’s only one place to party – the Sticky Wicket restaurant at the ground just across from VC Bird International Airport.
Try the Sticky Wicket Burger or Spin Bowler Dip, wash it down with local Wadadli beer or English Harbour rum and visit the new West Indies Cricket Hall of Fame, all while keeping an eye on the action.
ITC Classics offers seven nights at Hermitage Bay in a Beach Cottage suite from £2,129 per person, all-inclusive, including transfers and Gatwick flights with British Airways. The price is based on December 10 departures.
Caribtours offers one week’s all-inclusive from £2,195 per person twin-share in a deluxe room for stays between November 3 and December 7 2007. This includes flights with British Airways, private transfers and a lounge pass for London departures.
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