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Carlisle Bay, Antigua review: a hidden paradise

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Friday, September 13, 2019 - 1:34pm

It is absolutely impossible not to get into the Caribbean groove immediately when you are welcomed at an airport by a steel drum band playing Bob Marley tunes. This was what happened when I touched down in Antigua recently - possibly the best way to arrive anywhere in the world.

But before I could put down my luggage and start dancing, I quickly found myself whisked past the long snaking security queue, and ushered into a VIP line by one of Carlisle Bay, our destination hotel’s chaperones. 

This is beauty of staying at Carlisle Bay, everything is made easier and more pleasant – even the process of entering the country, for which, after a long haul flight, I was very grateful.

Hopping into the waiting limousine, I was driven along dusty roads through luscious vegetation, before emerging a short while later at the imposing gates of the Carlisle Bay itself. 

The luxurious beach resort, which was refurbished last year is made up of 82 suites, including its very own private bay. Overlooking the sea, it is nestled among coconut trees on one side and rolling hills on the other. And it sits on a beach with sand as white as talcum powder, adding to the feeling that we’ve landed in a Hollywood cliché of paradise.

Escorted to my bedroom (with a rum in hand), The Week Portfolio’s room looked directly out to the beach and the bay, meaning the shifting beauty of the sea was never far from view throughout our stay. 

Each suite has a large balcony, with its very own double-bed sun lounger, making it the perfect spot to watch the sun rise or set. Inside, the room boasts a large four-poster bed and masses of space to lounge around. The décor is stylish yet minimal, with Caribbean touches that add a joyous character to not just the bedroom but the entire resort.

Once unpacked we strolled around the grounds to take in the tropical flora and fauna that surround the hotel. Within hours of arrival, I had already lost count of how many crabs, turtles and birds I had spotted, not to mention a mongoose family, which darted into the bushes every time I approached.

My first morning at Carlisle Bay started with yoga on the jetty, which helped stretch out my jet-lagged muscles.

After the workout, breakfast beckoned at the resort’s beautiful Indigo on the Beach restaurant. The venue features an open-sided room which looks out to a broad terrace, from which the sea views remain gloriously uninterrupted while I annihilated my breakfast.

The menu includes everything from traditional Caribbean food to home comforts, such as a good old English fry up.

After breakfast, I made my way through the resort’s facilities, which are heavy on active outdoor options including water sports, gym classes and sports.

Renowned for its tennis, the resort features five floodlit courts allowing tennis enthusiasts to play a set or two anytime of the day or night (within reason), and novices to book lessons with a qualified coach.

After an admittedly not-terribly-skilful game of tennis, I took a few steps down towards the spa. With sauna and steam rooms and a broad catalogue of massage options, the spa is a perfect place to drive any residual tensions away.

Carlisle Bay also offers guided tours of the island and mountain hikes. Be warned, that these are not for the faint-hearted though. The climb I joined to the highest peak of Antigua left the whole group both out of breath and breathtaken – the view from the summit is the ultimate reward for the toil of the climb.

Later that evening, I took the recommendation of the hotel manager and headed to Shirley Heights, which not only offers one of the best views of the sunset on the island, but also regular Sunday night parties that attract masses of locals and visitors alike.

If relaxing on the beach is more your speed, my second day of activities – or rather inactivities – offered a good sense of the other side of Carlisle Bay.

Every sun lounger at the resort has its own cooling box, filled to the brim with bottles of water. Not that I ever opened them, mind you, as the beach butler was constantly topping up my rum cocktail. Feeling peckish and not wanting to move, I ordered afternoon tea on the beach. The array of sandwiches, cakes and tea was almost overwhelming; you are unlikely ever to go hungry here.

Throughout my stay, I mostly ate lunch at the Jetty Grill, which is a short waddle from the sun loungers. The menu unsurprisingly includes plenty of seafood, however there is also a range of meat options and delicious wines too.

In the evening, I would swap my usual attire of flip flops and bikinis to eat at East, the resort’s most formal of its four restaurants. Here I enjoyed black cod, oysters and yellow tail – all excellently conceived and rendered. If it were in the UK, East would be a destination restaurant in its own right.

For my final day, I hired the resort’s boat and crew to head out to a coral reef. The crew provided a running commentary of oceanic facts, all the while plying a small group of us with food and booze. I was pleased there wasn’t a test on what we had been told at the end.

Back on land, I was greeted again by the hotel’s smiling team, as well as that familiar bittersweet feeling that my holiday would soon be coming to an end. When I told the hotel manager that my only goal in life was to come back, he simply smiled and replied, “You will, all our guests do.”

Stay at Carlisle Bay Antigua from $600 (£482) per night, including breakfast and daily afternoon tea. carlisle-bay.com

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