Carlisle Bay, Antigua: A blissful retreat set in its own private Caribbean cove

Carlisle Bay offers a wonderful place to stay on the enchanting and unspoilt island of Antigua, as Lilias Wigan found out.

‘There’s a beach for every day of the year,’ is something they’re fond of saying on the Caribbean island of Antigua. And while it’s a catchy line, we’ve never been entirely convinced of how much of a draw it really is for a visitor with a week or two to spare. Wouldn’t it be better to have one truly superb slice of paradise on your doorstep to enjoy the island’s harmony of relaxation, West Indian culture and natural beauty?

Thankfully, the Carlisle Bay resort offers exactly that, a secluded treasure that takes full advantage of a location nestled in a private cove in the south-west of the island set amid lush tropical plants, pristine sea and white sand.

Credit: Carlisle Bay / Christopher Heaney

This part of the island benefits from a light breeze, so the air is fresh and revitalizing rather than humid, and it glides gently in across private balconies through sliding bedroom into the 87 suites, which all face sweeping ocean views. The contemporary design of the rooms is aimed at understated luxury: think muted tones dappled with cyan blue furnishings that bring the sea’s colour indoors and an effortless wave of nautical chic that fills the expansive quarters.

The bathrooms follow suit, decked with double sinks, rainforest style showers and tubs that could drown a small hippo where you can have a dip while overlooking luscious jungle. The vast beds are gloriously comfortable and compete with their al fresco compatriots on the verandas, perfect for a daytime snooze in the shade.

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Credit: Carlisle Bay / Christopher Heaney

Down at the beach there’s just as much opportunity to relax, slinking into a beach bed or hammock for a blissful few hours – there are also floating, sea hammocks where you can while away the days semi-submerged in the glorious salt water.

The place isn’t just about relaxing in the sunshine — as you’ll see in the Things to Do section below, Carlisle Bay offers a huge range of activities — but for a place to do so the island is truly spectacular. This West Indian paradise is home to an abundance of Caribbean wildlife and plants and the hotel’s gardens are meticulously cared for.

A tenderly cultivated jungle of tropical species fringes the maze of pathways, giving privacy among bursts of rich colour and floral aromas. Palm trees sway in the breeze above skittering mongooses that scurry through the underbrush. Antillean bullfinch, bananaquits and hummingbirds dart about, perching mischievously on breakfast tables or natter around the lagoon-like pool. At the end of the jetty are flying fish under surveillance from beady-eyed brown pelicans – slivers of their scales glint enticingly above the water in the dipping sun, like a dance of samurai swords.

Achieving an informal sophistication, the hotel is a phenomenon of understated luxury. With a total lack of pretension while offering discreet and personal service, Carlisle Bay breathes authentic West Indian allure. The staff are part of the furniture – many of them have been employed there for over a decade and their natural charm permeates the grounds. The resulting, unique spirit of the place is catching – it’s no wonder so many guests return time and time again.

Credit: Carlisle Bay / Christopher Heaney

Food and drink

Indigo on the Beach, the main dining area of the four restaurants at the resort, is an open-air affair with spectacular views along the bay offering hearty salads, catch of the day (I’d recommend the Mahi Mahi), and European dishes. Live national music can be enjoyed on selected evenings. It also makes for the perfect breakfast spot to indulge on home-baked cakes and pastries, fresh fruit salads, stewed dates and prunes and, of course, anything from the extensive cooked breakfast menu.

For something a little different, the East serves eclectic Asian cuisine at dinner with a particularly exquisite sushi menu. Ottimo! is a casual poolside eatery where Italian food is cooked over a wood fire, while in the evening authentic island cuisine is dished up at the Jetty Grill, with grilled food and salads including goat curries and Caribbean jerk.

Credit: Carlisle Bay / Christopher Heaney

Things to do

Trekking Boggy Peak

Join the trek up Mount Obama’s ‘Boggy Peak’ – the highest point of the island. The guides are knowledgeable and informative on local wildlife. Learn how the Indians introduced silk cotton trees to make canoes, or how the locals still use orange tree leaves to make tea, and the liquid from cacti, hibiscus and aloe as shampoo or as antiseptic. Of course, these teachings come with a glittering of amusing anecdotes.

Keep the kids busy

Where Carlisle Bay succeeds most is in its ability to host families, couples and singles alike, all without disturbing each other’s experience. Families are housed at one side of the beach, near the Kids’ Club – a child’s nirvana with an abundance of toys, baby pool and inflatables as well as various creative programmes for girls and boys of all ages. There is a nanny service throughout the day, babysitting in the evenings and a private cinema that seats up to 45 and offers a selection of DVDs for both children and adults.

Sports on the beach

With an impressive mix of complimentary non-motorised sports available; from cycling, basketball, volleyball, sailing, peddle boats, paddle boarding, kayaking and wind surfing, to power-boat sports like jet-ski or speed-boating, guests of any age are spoilt for choice.

Underwater adventures

Snorkelling or diving on the nearby reef is unmissable. Cruise your way by private boat to ogle at the beauty of the Caribbean marine life. You’ll be entranced by the many shoals of fish sporting electric blue spots or jagged yellow fins; the little characters quiver and jab at volcanic coral, rummaging for algae. And keep your eyes peeled for Stingrays lurking under the sand – you can watch their majestic wings propel them, billowing and gliding to the next undisturbed resting ground.

Afterwards you can take a trip up the coast to visit some of the stunning bays — and some of those other 364 beaches — while enjoying lunch and a bar onboard.

Credit: Carlisle Bay / Christopher Heaney

Turtle spotting

Known as ‘a gift from the Gods’ by Antigua’s early Indian inhabitants, Hawksbill turtles bob their mottled shells on the water’s surface. They are protected around the island and you can watch their heads poke out from the sea in the early evening.

Spa treatments and shopping

After an active morning at the fully equipped gym, sunrise yoga on the jetty, or perhaps some tennis coaching on one of the nine courts, purge any stubborn stress at the Blue Spa. To rid tension I’d recommend the West Indian Massage – a blissful body kneading session with a choice of oils will leave you in a compliantly vegetative state. Nip to the sauna and plunge pool, with its award winning natural seaweed skincare products by VOYA.

The resort also hosts its own boutique gift shop with holiday essentials and beach fashion. Heidi Klein has collaborated with the hotel to design an eponymous Carlisle Bay inspired range of deluxe designer swimwear, available to purchase on site.