Paradise found: A journey to Antigua with Carlisle Bay

Words by
Charlotte McManus

12th July 2018

A gem of a resort on the warm shores of the Caribbean, Carlisle Bay combines luxury with laidback island living

Synonymous with pristine beaches, sparkling turquoise waters and refreshingly laidback living, the Caribbean is an ever-popular choice for a tropical escape. While visitors are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to picking the perfect island to stay on, Antigua is a serious contender for a top trip. Picture-perfect shoreline aside, there are lush jungles teeming with wildlife, quintessentially Caribbean villages with houses every colour of the rainbow and interesting history to be found in sites like St John’s and English Harbour – the island also missed the brunt of hurricane Irma, meaning everything is open for business as usual. Moreover, at only eight hours flight from London, Antigua is surprisingly doable for a shorter break.

After a picturesque drive from the airport, all wooden houses, winding roads and wandering livestock – be sure to stop for a photo op at the candy-pink Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – we arrive at Carlisle Bay, following a bridge over a koi-filled pond to be greeted at reception with a cool citrus cocktail. Ideal for a laidback island getaway, the resort is elegant yet understated with typical Caribbean-inspired architecture. Each of its chic 82 suites comes with floor-to-ceiling windows and an ocean view, along with a private terrace and day bed. Additionally, Carlisle Bay has recently partnered with luxury swimwear label Heidi Klein, meaning guests can add to their holiday wardrobe at the dedicated Heidi Klein pop-up shack on the beach. No matter how bulging your suitcase, do save room for one of their lovely kaftans or bikinis.  

After a tour of the palm tree-lined grounds, our group makes its way to the resort’s East restaurant. While Asian cuisine may not be at the forefront of your mind while in the Caribbean, East does it very well – and with its ornate, dark wood-carved décor, complete with painted screens and dragon statuettes, it’s an undeniably lovely spot for supper. Tempura and dim sum make for light options in the heat, paired with a refreshingly light red.

After a refreshing snooze to the sound of breaking waves, breakfast is served with a view at the open-sided Indigo on the Beach, where you can step from your table straight onto the sand. Alongside a modest buffet, à la carte options include eggs, pancakes and fresh juices. Do keep an eye on your food, or you might find that your mini croissant has been purloined by the island's small yet fearless birds that are only too happy to join a laden table.

As part of the cheery service at Carlisle Bay, staff are more than happy to organise excursions so you can experience the best of island life, from rainforest hikes to jaunts on the hotel’s cruising yacht. One highlight is a bracing speedboat tour; the perfect way to view the gorgeous coastline and get to some of Antigua's attractions. We visit English Harbour and the cultural heritage site of Nelson's Dockyard, so called for its historic associations with Britain's greatest admiral, who often stayed here on his travels (you can even stop in at his former house, now the Dockyard Museum). Its blue-shuttered houses are charmingly dilapidated, while fragrant frangipani trees flourish everywhere. A sense of Englishness pervades, right down to the odd cannon and even a red phone box. Stop in at the Galley bar and try the lethal Nelson's punch if you dare - our local guide claims most tourists can't handle more than two.

It’s soon time to clamber back aboard the speedboat before casting anchor for a spot of snorkelling, guided by our captain and first mate. The deliciously warm waters teem with colourful coral and fish, and we even spot a nurse shark among the reefs – thankfully harmless, we discover, after some panicked splashing. The crew serve a picnic lunch on board our vessel, which goes very nicely with bottles of ice-cold rosé.

Once back on shore, our sportive skills are put to the test in a tennis lesson – tennis is a key component of Carlisle Bay's active offering, and there are nine courts available to play or practice in, including three floodlit ones for evening bookings. Our coach, Clifton Simon, is a friendly pro who has played for Antigua, and despite my appalling serve even manages to improve my game a point or two.

We round off the day with dinner at The Jetty Grill, a relaxed, adults-only restaurant on the beach where authentic Caribbean fare is served with good wines and flickering torchlight. Stuffed to the rafters with curried goat and spicy jerk chicken, we amble over to the open-sided Pavilion Bar for a nightcap cocktail -  soundtracked by a live local band.

Not being one for long lie-ins – and it does seem a shame to snooze the day away in such a gorgeous place – the next day I am up with the lark for a Sunrise Pilates class on the beach. As we stretch and contort on the small wooden jetty, the brightening sky and gently lapping waves make for a lovely setting for exercise, though the morning breeze was a nuisance for our lightweight mats. The rest of the morning is taken up with a relaxing session at Carlisle Bay’s Blue Spa. After getting our zen on in the bijou steam room and plunge pool, a West Indian Massage proves a wonderful way to unwind, and leaves us smelling delicious with fragrant oils.

While many of Carlisle Bay's guests come to relax and get pampered, there is much to do for those who want to get active and explore. On our last day, we decide to try out a rainforest hike, which is carried out with small groups of guests and two knowledgeable guides. Leave the bikini at home and bring bug spray and sensible shoes, for the excursion gets rather intrepid. After an hour's bracing uphill hack through dense tropical foliage, we are treated to a breathtaking view of the island from several lookout points - ideal for holiday snaps, though you will probably decide against selfies after the humid hike.

Carlisle Bay’s beautifully appointed glass-walled library is the perfect nook for an afternoon read, when the sun is at its hottest

While some of our group decide to bike around the island, I plump for an altogether more easygoing yoga session back on the beach, where a curious stingray comes to judge our downward dog. Afterwards, Carlisle Bay’s beautifully appointed glass-walled library is the perfect nook for an afternoon read, when the sun is at its hottest. After one last supper at Indigo – their fresh seafood and fish is hard to beat, be sure to request the catch of the day – it’s sadly time to make our way back to the airport, where an overnight flight takes us back to London ready for morning.

Rooms from £420 per night, including breakfast and afternoon tea. For more information about Carlisle Bay, visit Classic Collection Holidays (; 0800 047 1064) offers 7 nights at Carlisle Bay, St Mary, Antigua from £3039 per person between April and December, and from £4099 per person between January and April. Prices based on 2 adults sharing a garden view suite on a bed & breakfast basis, and includes return flights from London Gatwick, private transfers, UK airport lounges and fast track through customs on arrival in Antigua.