Carlisle Bay, Antigua

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Caribbean Carlisle Bay, Antigua
The resort is embraced by a stunning landscape.

Where do movie actresses cast as scientists who also happen to be sexy blondes spend their vacations? Maybe Carlisle Bay, where a woman with cover-girl looks ambled toward the beach carrying—what, an iPhone? A fanzine? No, a book. By Stephen Hawking. Other guests I saw there included an Italian family with two multi-lingual children, a retired English couple with a fondness for afternoon tea, and a fortysomething tennis-playing couple with twentysomething stamina.

What these vacationers had in common gets to the heart of what Carlisle Bay, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is all about. This 80-suite resort on Antigua’s southwest coast is a low-rise hideaway with a white sandy beach, cuisine aimed at sophisticated adults, well-run programs for children, and exceptional watersports, spa, fitness, and tennis facilities. It’s for people who prefer sailboats to jet skis, thin-crust pizza to Domino’s, and pickled wood to pickled humans.

“Carlisle Bay distinguishes itself the minute you arrive,” says Jamo Ladd, luxury travel advisor at Virtuoso-affiliated Park Avenue Travel. “You are met by staff and led across a bridge over a koi pond to the lobby. At night, the water reflects the flames of torches, and it’s quite a sight.” Almost everything in the open-air lobby is white, with one centrally placed table where flowers offer an accent of color while gracefully camouflaging the WiFi router.

suites vs. suites

“Another good thing about Carlisle Bay is that it has an adults section as well as a family section,” adds Ladd, “allowing it to appeal to both markets.”

The huge (18 by 45 ft.) Garden and Ocean suites for couples are in 2-story buildings that stretch south toward the Watersports Centre and Jetty Bar. My suite was typical: The desk and couch in the frou-frou-free sitting area faced a sliding door and private patio; this being a ground floor Ocean Suite, the patio led to a lawn and then the beach. Behind the sitting room, a bedroom on a platform seemed so far from the window that I could lie in bed, immodestly attired, and look at the beach without people peering in. Or so I hoped.

A door behind each side of the king-size bed led to the bathroom, so neither occupant had to stumble around the bed at 3 a.m. Right inside one of the doors was a Gaggia espresso/cappucino machine whose rich, fresh coffee kept this reporter wired for four days straight.

The 2-story, family-oriented suites are by the main buildings and pool. The Beach Suites have an oceanview master bedroom, a bedroom for kids, a shared bath, and a terrace or balcony. The 3-bedroom Carlisle Suites have an oceanview master and sitting room, two children’s bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchenette. The corner “B” Carlisle Suites offer especially expansive views.

restaurants and grandma’s sate

Afternoon tea, which a staffer served me on the beach, was classic Olde England: mini-sandwiches, scones and preserves, cookies, fine teas, etc. I restrained myself in anticipation of dinner, which turned out to be a good thing. Entrees at open-air Indigo on the Beach include dishes like tender Cajun tuna with haute hush puppies and a subtle spicy sauce. “What is this sauce?” I asked a server. “Lentil-mustard,” she replied. They should bottle it.

“We offer superb food through three distinct restaurants,” says Thibaut Asso, director of sales for North America, “and a fourth restaurant, opening [this month] by the jetty, will serve salads,
grills, and wine.” Maria Caruso, independent travel consultant, Signature-affiliated Frosch Travel, whose husband is a restaurateur, agrees. And speaking of the jetty, Caruso urges couples to arrange a private dinner there. Between the food, wine, discreet staff, and the stars, she says, “I’ve never experienced something so romantic!”

The breakfast menu at Indigo on the Beach includes omelets, home-made granola, and a flavorful saltfish-and-eggs dish with plantains. I ordered that saltfish breakfast almost every day, followed by a quick liaison with “Lady Gaggia.” The even more casual poolside eatery, Ottimo!, serves antipasti, charcuterie, sandwiches, and superb wood-oven pizzas at lunch and dinnertime. Ottimo! also has a children’s menu that isn’t only chicken nuggets and fries.

Museum-quality Balinese doors lead to East, the premier restaurant, which serves sushi, sashimi, Thai green curry, sates, etc. When general manager Jonathan Reynolds hired the Balinese chef, he encouraged authenticity, not Franco-Sino fusion. Reynolds told the chef, “Prepare dishes the way you’d make them for your grandmother.”

adult hikes and kids’ camps

Ladd recommends the morning rainforest hikes, “which introduce Antigua’s ecosystem and afford great views from the top of a mountain.” Other popular activities include Pilates/yoga classes, tennis clinics, and snorkeling trips. Parents may enroll their children in the Cool Kids Club (for ages six months to 6 years), which is available most weeks. Crew Blue (for ages 7-12) and Crush (13-19) operate during school vacations.

That a resort with fewer than 100 guest units has nine tennis courts (four lit) says something about the clientele. I watched one of the pros modify a guest’s serve, then went upstairs to the fitness center with its state-of-the-art gear. Later, spa manager Carol Richards-Simon welcomed me to the Blue Spa, exclaiming, “This is where the magic happens.” She was right. After a West Indian massage by an exceptionally skilled massage therapist, I wandered into the resort’s library, a spacious room with comfortable chairs, artwork, and books that ranged from Michael Crichton to Oscar Wilde to Hockney’s People. Peeking into the screening room by the pool, I saw some children watching a Disney movie.

Boat check-out at the Watersports Centre was painless; I signed my name and sailed off on a Hobie-Cat. Upon my return, a staffer volunteered to help me tack better, and he really did. Another day, on a stand-up paddleboard, I spotted bathtub-size turtles right off Carlisle Bay’s beach.

a salute to eric clapton

People call Antigua the sailing capital of the Caribbean because its coves and deep-water harbors have sheltered sailors for centuries, so one day Carlisle Bay’s concierge booked some of us for a 4-hour tour aboard one of OnDeck’s 41-ft. racer/cruisers. We headed south and then east to English Harbour, where the Royal Navy established a dockyard in the 1700s. The historic site is named after Lord Admiral Nelson, but this naval installation actually predates Nelson, and there is nothing like it in the entire Caribbean. Another famous man whose name came up was Eric Clapton, whose lonely-at-the-top villa commands a bluff above the sea.

“May I take the helm?” I asked skipper Cheyenne Warner. “Sure,” he said, handing over the wheel. That sloop flew; most fun I’ve had since “Eric Clapton: Greatest Hits.”

Carlisle Bay’s own 32-ft. boat offers sunset cruises, excursions to Nelson’s Dockyard, private charters, fishing, and snorkeling trips to nearby Cades Reef. There I snorkeled over a rainbow
coalition of fish, while 200 ft. to the south, moored boats indicated the presence of divers on the deep side of the reef.

Antigua is said to have exactly 365 beaches, which a few of us attempted to count one day on an excursion to the west and north along the leeward coast. After running out of fingers and toes, we gave up and just admired the many C-shaped beaches that are only accessible to small craft. Our boat entered the harbor of St. John’s, which is worth a quick look but will never put Nelson’s Dockyard out of business, then retraced our route, passing an occasional pleasure boat in a cove where the skipper and first mate were dallying. Nice, but Carlisle Bay’s beach, with its chaises, hammocks, tea, and butler service, seemed more comfortable. We headed back.

Rates from $612.50 (including taxes/fees); packages include an all-inclusive option.

getting there

Several airlines offer nonstop flights from North America to V.C. Bird Airport (ANU) in Antigua, including Air Canada and Westjet (from Toronto); American Airlines (JFK and San Juan); Caribbean Airlines (Miami, Newark); and US Airways  (Baltimore, Charlotte, Philadelphia).