As a hotspot for water sports and breathtaking beaches, Antigua has an unbelievable amount to offer, on and offshore, as junior beauty writer Ava Welsing-Kitcher discovers.
“There isn’t a single bad thing about this place.” That’s the recurring thought that runs through my mind from the moment my eight-hour plane journey ends in Antigua, the Caribbean island that twins with neighbouring Barbuda to make up its own country. The weather? Spotlessly sunny, with the occasional overcast morning providing some respite (especially with a sprinkle of rain) in June, the ideal time to go before it gets too humid in August, or before hordes of tourists join the 100k-strong native population at Christmas. Every meal proves my theory that food in Britain is, well, lacking, and the fact that every other tree is bursting with mangoes, coconuts or papayas makes me think of our sterile supermarkets with resentment.
All of that aside, what makes Antigua particularly spectacular is its ocean. A vast patchwork of inky blues and bright turquoises peppered with sailboats and windsurfers, bordered by pure white beaches and low-slung palm trees. It’s like a postcard come to life, and the source of the island’s incredible water sport fame. With moderate winds and a bendy coastline that makes for perfect natural harbours (characteristics that drew Christopher Columbus to the island in 1493, and later prompting the British to label it as the “Gateway to the Caribbean”), it’s almost as if Antigua’s coast was made to host its reputable Sailing Week (27 April - 3 May), which welcomes Olympic windsurfers and eight-year-old laser sailors alike.
I’m currently sat in a laser boat (imagine a desk-sized dinghy with a sail), surrounded by such eight-year-olds zipping around in the waters. As they nimbly duck under the swaying beam (a move called a ‘tack’ which aligns the sail with the wind to give a burst of speed), I get whacked on the temple not once, but five times – and I’m not even steering the vessel, I’m just here for the ride. My week includes several days of water sports, spending almost as much time off the island as on it. After embarking on a mini voyage around Unesco World Heritage site Nelson’s Dockyard with On Deck Sailing, then kayaking courtesy of South Coast Horizons through a mangrove forest to a coral reef where I almost cure my fear of fish (holding a baby jellyfish will do that), then even more sailing, I’m pretty tuckered out and slightly jelly-legged.
Luckily, I’m resting up at three of Antigua’s finest resorts in between sailing sessions. First up is the all-inclusive Sugar Ridge, with its hillside mini-villas leading up to an incredible panoramic view complete with an infinity pool and a grand pagoda which hosts an excellent sunrise yoga class. With two restaurants on site, a huge Aveda spa, and the glass-like turquoise sea and snowy sands of Valley Church Beach a 15-minute walk (or three-minute shuttle ride if you’re lazy like me) away, it ticks many a box. Eager to explore the flora and fauna surrounding the resort, we pick mangoes and tamarind during a nature trail guided by the ultra easy-going Vorn Johnson from Hike Caribbean, an Antiguan legend whose extensive knowledge of botany (bestowed on him as a child by his strict but brilliant grandmother) and local mysteries makes it so much more than your average walking tour.
After another day on the water, I head to South Point for some R&R in one of their condo-style apartments. After a gourmet dinner of locally caught sashimi and the best night’s sleep in a vast and plush bed, I wake up to a balcony view of Falmouth Harbour peppered with colourful boats and a troupe of young sailors tacking under their leader’s instruction. They train for hours while I watch from the comfort of a deckchair on South Point’s small private beach. A 40-minute drive to the opposite north side of the island (buses operate everywhere except to the north region and the airport) brings me to Blue Waters Resort & Spa, a secluded space tucked into a postcard-worthy cove in Soldier’s Bay. The Cove Penthouse Suite is my home for a couple of nights, and the room has every luxurious amenity you’d ever need, including a clawfoot tub and a bed you actually have to climb up into.
I spend my last morning in a boxing class on the one of the resort’s three private beaches, the afternoon pool-hopping, daiquiri drinking and being massaged at the serene spa, and the evening at Ana’s Restaurant and Art Gallery, a charming (read: highly Instagrammable) pink and white bungalow nestled right on the beach. Sat underneath the fairy lights with a plateful of red snapper fritters and yet another delicious rum punch potion, I once again find myself struggling to find a single thing that’s wrong with this place.
Double rooms at Sugar Ridge from £155 per night (sugarridgeantigua.com), at South Point from £265 per night (southpointantigua.com), and at Blue Waters Resort & Spa from £265 per night (bluewaters.net), all including breakfast
Images: courtesy of Sugar Ridge/Blue Waters Resort & Spa