Planning a winter escape to the Caribbean with minimal travelling and maximum privacy? Rosalyn Wikeley reviews Carlisle Bay, a mesmerising spot along Antigua’s southern coast where luxury takes on a new, simplified meaning…
Wedged between majestic palm trees and Antigua’s lush mountainous landscape, Carlisle Bay Resort is a whitewashed playground for understated wealth and custodian to one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean.
The direct 8-hour flight from London and 20-minute car journey to the hotel makes this escape a nifty one (as far as the Caribbean is concerned). And where nifty travel usually summons crowds, here, the entire 1.5 km bay is owned and governed by the hotel, its delicious serenity guarded for jammy guests.
The entrance to Carlisle Bay has an Ian Fleming sensibility to it: the koi fish ponds flanking the pathway to the main hotel, the golf buggies, the vast, Colonial-style lobby with French louvres, the beautiful people gliding past with towels over their shoulder. It’s all rather Dr No with a stylish and blissfully understated vibe.
And, peppered along the preened grass before its green meets the bay’s pristine sands are the rooms, mimicking the white-washed plantation style of the main lobby. Their large balconies are characteristic of the Caribbean, as are the pink Bougainville flowers creeping up them. Inside, the soft cream palette with touches of blue and walnut colonial furniture suggest a tech-free zone. Yet, buried cleverly into this nostalgic island picture are the modern musts, making Carlisle Bay a workable refuge for those needing to send the odd email on the balcony while sipping a rum punch.
Speaking of, a vibrant array of fruity cocktails can be decadently ordered from the sunbeds along the bay’s front where waiters keep an eagle eye out for thirsty guests, or from the glistening pool area, wrapped in palm trees, luscious plants and an outdoor pizza oven.
The hotel boasts three restaurants which differ enough to keep any culinary cabin fever at bay. The main restaurant, Indigo on the Beach, packs the money shot with crimson sunset performances across the bay most evenings. Here the breakfasts are a global and Caribbean patchwork (and fruity), the lunches fresh and the dinners candle lit with a fine-dining rhythm.
East is the hotel’s delectable Asian option – one of first a la Carte Asian restaurants with an Asian chef to grace the Caribbean, and the Jetty Grill at the far end of the beach feels more tropical and isolated, its amber candlelight reflecting on warm, juicy steaks and shiny glasses of rosé. Over-indulgence is almost a prerequisite here with the dizzying array of activities on the menu.
Tennis lessons on one of the nine groomed courts are a must, as are the sunrise yoga classes on the jetty – a euphoric experience, even for the anti-yogis. Having completed the guided hike into the jungle, the complementary kayaking, paddle boarding and windsurfing along the bay, the pièce de résistance activity has to be the boat trip, a tour of Antigua’s sun-kissed coastline, armed with a snorkel for the reefs and cool beers for the ride.
Back in the spa, masseuses pummel out any knots from the flight. The low key, open building allows the sea breeze and calming noises to spill in and set the tempo.
It’s this isolation and sensory calm that imprints itself indelibly in the memory of Carlisle Bay’s visitors. The gentle lap of warm sea to lower your heart rate, the dramatic Caribbean sky pressing down on a cobalt blue horizon, the unfussy rooms that give you space to think and rewire.
As a restless ‘anti-resorter’ who feels compelled to explore every corner of any island, my own preconceptions were soon washed away with the tide – along with those pesky homegrown anxieties.
“Do you ever get bored of it?” I challenged the barman one evening while gazing out across the moonlit bay. He chuckled at the inquest: “no Miss, it is lovelier every day.”
Doubles from £495 in low season and £824 in high season (for a Garden Suite). carlisle-bay.com