Andrew Marton 2015-07-01 06:10:12
THOSE ANTIGUA BLUES No, it isn't the Edenic lagoon intersected by a small footbridge that forever engraves Antigua's Carlisle Bay resort as the second coming of Shangri- La. That would be too predictable. Instead, it's the never-ending human touch that begins with the array of dazzling smiles from not one, not two, but five members of the staff who welcome me to this understated yet opulent resort. They offer amulets of hospitality from grapefruit-scented hot towels to scrub away the grime of a six-hour flight to a perfectly calibrated welcome cocktail dubbed the Carlisle Bay Refresher, a winning combination of pineapple, mint and soda. This secluded sanctuary is all-white umbrella and chaise-longue reserve and refinement. The rustling wind is its loudest natural-made sound. Antigua measures a mere 108 square miles, with Carlisle Bay located on its southern tip. The all-inclusive property boasts 82 suites, many of them outfitted with private terraces or patios, all of them affording full ocean views and easy access to the signature Caribbean cove. My bay suite — one of six newly refurbished, ultra-luxurious "suites" — is a single bedroom with a spacious terrace fitted with sprawling daybed. Inside, the feel is upscale cottage with white lines and tile in contrast to dark mahogany furniture. While it's tempting to decompress in the room, the ocean beckons. Boats are available to take you almost anywhere. I motor out to Cades Reef, due south from Carlisle Bay, and squint my eyes to spot hawksbill sea turtles ducking in and out of the water. Once underwater, I take in the inventory of a live crab, a blue-yellow striped red snapper, a small reef shark, a sting ray, and parrot and jack fish. When my commune with nature is satisfied, a 40-minute boat trip takes me past a stunningly verdant national park to English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard, named after the famous British naval commander, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. Instead of military vessels, Nelson's Dockyard is now refuge for the occasional mega sailing yacht. All kinds of royalty — from the authentic as in England's Princess Margaret to celebrities like John Travolta and Oprah Winfrey — have reportedly toured and moored at Nelson's Dockyards. Antigua only obtained its independence from Britain 34 years ago. Carlisle Bay is on the island's less-known southern tip, home to a lush rain forest. Also, numerous fishing villages in Antigua's south deliver the local catch directly to Carlisle Bay's tables. Perhaps the most famous site in all of contemporary Antigua is visible from a breathtaking hilltop vista overlooking Mamora Bay, flanked by the Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other. I see two sprawling structures connected to the famed rock-and-roll musician Eric Clapton. The first is his expansive hillside retreat. The second is his equally famous Crossroads drug-rehabilitation facility marked by a series of red roofs. Yet another spectacular lookout point is dubbed Shirley Heights, where Lookout Restaurant, on Sundays, features a steel band and, outside, you can enjoy a local feast of lobster, fish and chicken. Its spectacular harbor view shows why many flock there to cheer on their favorite boats competing in Antigua Sailing Week. I return to the tranquil bay, where I float on my back on the bathwater-warm Caribbean. I take in the kaleidoscope of blue sky and deep green of the palm trees and the tropical jungle-lush foliage nearby. And the Caribbean itself is an aquatic chameleon, varying in shade from turquoise to azure, from lapis to sapphire and cerulean. Antigua puts me in a blue mood. But only in a good way. THE DETAILS Carlisle Bay Antigua, West Indies A member of The Leading Hotels of the World luxury group; for reservations and other information: 866-502-2855; carlisle-bay.com; and email: email@example.com. Rates Garden suite rates range from $675 (April- August) to $1,050 (January-April), topping out at $1,500 during the holiday high season (Dec. 19- Jan. 2). Rates are subject to a 10 percent service charge and 12.5 percent government tax. Weather The high seasons for Carlisle Bay are pretty much identical to the rest of the Caribbean: From November-April, encompassing Christmas and New Year's breaks, Presidents week and Easter. The low (or rainy) season tends to run from June-October. Getting there Direct flights to Antigua are either on Delta from Atlanta or from Charlotte on United. American flies from DFW via Miami to the island. Dining Carlisle Bay has an on-property garden that produces everything from fresh basil, mint to ginger. Most of the fish is locally caught, starting with the signature red snapper. The lobster comes from Antigua's sister island, Barbuda. • The Jetty Grill Go casual and enjoy beachside lunches including its perfectly fried fish cakes, accented by a sweet pineapple relish, along with a Caribbean-flavored cole slaw. The "Bento" also includes a carefully seared shrimp accented by a zesty remoulade sauce. • East restaurant Sample an assortment of sashimi and sushi, each wafting the aroma of the sea. The spring rolls are fortifyingly rich, while the Thai fish cake has an appropriate crunch to its outer shell. The beef teriyaki is all about its remarkably tender Black Angus beef. Cocktails Carlisle Bay's house Champagne is the prestigious Billecart-Salmon. A glass-sized summary of Antigua's sophistication and tradition is a tumbler of aged rum, such as the Angustura 1919- with its fruity floral notes and deep caramel color. Its potency is 80 proof or 40 percent alcohol. Activities At Carlisle Bay, reef snorkeling, sunset yoga and sunrise Pilates, rain forest hike and other nature walks, cardio tennis, sailing and windsurf clinics, stand-up paddle-board, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing on the Hobie cat are free. High tea traditions In keeping with historic British ties to Antigua, Carlisle Bay serves a high tea each afternoon between 3-5 p.m. I choose an aromatic, lemon-grass infusion and then sample what will turn out to be one of the most addicting finger snacks I've ever tasted: A bun the size of a quarter, oozing blue cheese.
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