With its enviable setting on the island’s prettiest beachy cove, and a B&B meal plan that includes complimentary afternoon tea and free sailing clinics, Carlisle Bay writes the book on affordable luxury in Antigua. No wonder stars of film and football descend on this corner of paradise to get away from it all, say our Caribbean experts.
Apart from its untamed rain forests, abundant castaway beaches and rich colonial heritage, the beauty of Antigua for UK holidaymakers is something more scientific; its line of longitude. Not only does its easterly Caribbean position bless its coastline with both Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean waters, it also means shorter – dare I say mid-haul – flight times compared to, say, Jamaica. Not to mention the rather manageable time difference of being only four hours behind.
Of course, another way of beating holiday jet lag is to get some rest on the plane, and with a la carte dining, 183cm flat bed and privacy screen, our Club World upgrade on British Airways added that extra comfort and class to our Gatwick to Antigua flight. Highly recommended. V. C. Bird International Airport is small and easy to navigate and the welcome is famously warm and friendly. Transfer via taxi to Carlisle Bay takes about 40 minutes and follows a route that showcases Antiguan culture and scenery beautifully. Colourfully painted houses & village schools; green-stone churches; dusty cricket pitches; corner stalls of sizzling streetfood; crumbling windmills, pineapple groves. The undulating jungle landscape offered a memorable first glimpse of our holiday to Antigua. Carlisle Bay lies in the sun-kissed south east of the island near Old Road Village.
The anticipation at check-in of seeing your hotel room is an exciting moment of any holiday to the Caribbean. I always like what I see, but I wasn’t prepared for my Beach Terrace Suite at Carlisle Bay. The impact on opening the door was jaw-dropping. A long corridor, off which guests access the bathroom & shower and second bedroom, led to a large bedroom & lounge. This in turn gave way to a private terrace with direct beach access, which makes the Caribbean Sea accessible in about ten steps across the fine white sand. It’s this ground floor setting, literally on the beach, that sets this room category apart.
At 732sqft, these accommodations are spacious to say the least, and benefit from a modern, uncluttered design style. High decking-wood ceilings and dark wood fixtures are contrasted by pale blue detailing and white soft furnishings to accentuate the bright, airy feel. With its immediate beach access this contemporary space would make a romantic retreat for couples, while equally doubling as a great HQ for families thanks to its expansive floorplan, double vanity bathroom and extra bedroom & study.
Bed & breakfast is included on all Carlisle Bay bookings. But this is a board basis with a serious identity crisis: daily afternoon tea is free! and can be delivered to you anywhere you like, from beach to room to library. Immersive activities like tennis & sailing clinics and non-motorised water sports are also complimentary. The breakfast, served at Indigo on the Beach Restaurant & Bar, is a combination of a la carte (full English, traditional Caribbean with saltfish & ‘float’ bread, smoothie of the day) and buffet (omelette station, fresh yoghurt, cereal and pastries) with bay views of Monserrat island.
Before my stay at Carlisle Bay I’d already heard about the pizzas at Ottimo! and I was looking forward to seeing what the fuss was about. Being somewhat of a pizza connoisseur, I look for a wood-burning oven to prove authentic cooking techniques, and Ottimo! didn’t disappoint. Its poolside setting makes it perfect for laid-back lunches and al fresco dinners. A selection of salads, pastas, sandwiches and antipasti using fresh natural ingredients round off the menu.
East restaurant, which specialises in Asian cooking, was another opportunity to sample global cuisine at Carlisle Bay. Stepping through the tall Indonesian-carved doors into the dark wood and fuchsia interior sets the tone for a culinary journey that spans Thailand, Bali and Japan. There is some debate as to whether you can get good sushi in the Caribbean. Case closed. There’s a reason why East is one of the best restaurants in Antigua.
From the interiors by Mary Fox Linton to the relaxed dress codes that keep the ambience low key, the vibe at Carlisle Bay is very much one of shabby chic. Signature design motifs recall upscale city hotels such as One Aldwych in London – perhaps Fox Linton’s most famous client – yet you can still eat breakfast barefoot if you wish. It’s this fine line between casual and luxury at Carlisle Bay that attracts everyone from families and couples to singles and celebrities.
A-listers such as Hollywood’s Cameron Diaz and Chelsea’s Tim Cahill are fans, and despite the hotel’s sense of jet-set exclusivity, the affordability makes Carlisle Bay accessible to all. It’s also packed with ways for the whole family to stay active and be inspired. Take a free tennis clinic on the nine-court tennis complex; get your sea legs with complimentary sailing clinics at the onsite watersports centre; hit the spa while staff (trained at the London City Guild of Nannies) entertain your little ones at the kids club; enjoy movie night in the screening room. Or, of course, you always could just kick back on a beach lounger and order afternoon tea…