The Travel Issue: Antigua in March

As we bobbed gently in our motor launch a few hundred yards offshore from one of the all-you-can-eat, compulsory-drinking-games-and-high-jinks resorts off the south-west coast of Antigua, our skipper, Prince, summed it all up. Passing us another beer as the sun went down, he nodded in the direction of the beach: "I worked there for five years, but now I can't imagine being anywhere but Carlisle Bay." We had to agree with him, and as he pushed the throttle and turned the boat, we thanked our lucky stars that that was where we were bound ...

Just eight hours by plane from the UK, Antigua is one of the most accessible Caribbean islands. In the early 18th century, this helped make it a commercial hub for the region and an outpost of the burgeoning British Empire. This naval legacy has left its mark on the island's landscape, from the historic port of English Harbour to the abandoned windmills that dot the lush hillsides.

If you know nothing about Antigua's history, you will almost certainly have heard that it has 365 beaches – one for each day of the year – or so the well-aired marketing mantra goes. Like all of the Windward Islands, the east coast is battered by the heavy seas coming in from the Atlantic and hence is craggy and wild, while the west coast is home to the more sheltered, sandy beaches. It was to the south-western corner of the island, and the parish of St Mary, that we headed from the airport, past dozens of tiny churches of many denominations, through tropical rainforest and eventually to the village of Old Road, wherein lies the Carlisle Bay.

And what an entrance! A wooden bridge leads from the drop-off point over a lily pond filled with resplendent carp, the way lit by Roman torches. It gives into a vast, airy reception-come-drinks area that is exposed to the elements, yet sheltered by huge plantation-style shutters. Soft, cream sofas and armchairs are there to welcome the weary traveller, while the bags are whisked off to the suite. A huge central display of tropical flowers gives a focal point to the whole space. This area also houses the bar – all polished, dark wood and endless bottles of tantalising liquors – and grand piano. I immediately feel at home, grateful that I won't have to look at any gaudy batik or tacky rattan furniture. And we hadn't even seen the room yet ...

We stayed in a beach suite, with a superb, sea-facing balcony and a spare room, plus a generously sized bathroom with a walk-in shower. The bespoke interior, by Mary Fox Linton, is soothingly minimal, and designed in mind of the fact that guests are likely to be spending their time on the beach, where ice-cold towels and fresh fruit are complimentary, and drinks from the bar and delicious snacks can be ordered throughout the day. Like room service under a palm tree, really.

The resort sits in the perfect horseshoe of Carlisle Bay, with views to the smouldering hulk of Montserrat 20 miles away. From the hotel jetty you can launch off on a Hobie Cat or windsurfer.

On-shore pursuits include tennis, watching films in the luxury screening room, and the Blue Spa, where I had a supreme cold stone massage. Ouch – in a nice way. There are two restaurants, both of which were consistently excellent: Indigo on the Beach for casual dining and East, which is more formal and serves Asian-inspired specialities such as the utterly moreish Thai lobster curry.

Although the place was operating at full capacity while we were there, it never felt crowded and the service never skipped a beat. And, more importantly, you're miles away from the enforced fun and games of the big resorts.

ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk) offers 7 nights for the price of 5 in an Ocean Suite, on a bed & breakfast basis, including return flights and transfers from £1,798pp based on two adults sharing (saving £961 per couple). Valid 31 May-29 August 2008. In 2008 high season (until 31 May) ITC Classics offers 7 nights in a Beach/Ocean Suite from £2,332 per person, B&B, including flights and transfers.

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