24-Hour Room Service: Carlisle Bay, Antigua
A haven of Caribbean perfection
Saturday 16 January 2010
Let's be clear. Carlisle Bay is situated right bang in the centre of about the most beautiful bay you can imagine. It's small (compact, yet not dinky) and kidney-shaped (so you can see a six-year-old from almost anywhere). It has bright white sand (seriously, it's not even a little bit yellow), and a freakishly sparkly sea (it's pale iridescent green and you can see trumpet fish and bright red starfish even if you merely go for an ankle-deep paddle).
Basically, if a hotel in this particular spot just built a few ramshackle fluorescent blue buildings, cooked the odd fish and potato concoction and occasionally handed round a towel, it would still be the most wondrous hotel on earth.
Happily (mainly because I'm just not that into fluorescent blue) Carlisle Bay decided to make a little more of an effort. All the rooms on the resort echo the crescent shape of the bay, and they all have a wall of glass that opens out on to a deck right to the beach.
I'm going to be frank: it's all about the beach here. There's no "just walk that way for 10 minutes and you'll hit the sand" or "the beach? Oh, the hotel shuttle service can take you there straight after breakfast". Carlisle Bay is the beach. You can hear the sea when you go to sleep and you drink your first cup of coffee with your toes in the sand. If you're not that keen on buckets and spades and, well, shell-collecting then you should stop reading now and book something else immediately.
So you know how normally the good stuff in hotels is the stuff you pay for? Well, breakfast here is free and it is quite simply delicious. It is also easily the best meal you'll get in the hotel. Just so you can picture it – there's cinnamon French toast, fresh jams and just-out-of-the-oven bread and croissants. There are buttermilk pancakes served with bananas that will make you cry out "You're kidding. That good?" and the crispy bacon is extraordinary.
There are two restaurants in the hotel. Indigo is right on the beach and is beautifully done. It's completely open and has a high white clapperboard ceiling. The floor is polished dark wood and the tables are covered in perfectly starched white linen. The other restaurant is called East and serves Asian cuisine. It opens only at night and is more formal: deep red and air-conditioned.
It's worth saying that you can eat anything from any of the menus almost anywhere you like, whenever you wish. I saw a man order eggs Benedict next to the pool at 4pm. Fair enough...
I realise it's quite unusual to dedicate a whole section of a review to one person, but you haven't met Linda. I'll be honest, I am a lucky human being and I've had a few massages in my life. I have never had a massage quite like Linda's. Basically I think she might have jumped up and down on my back. Go to Carlisle Bay and ask for Linda and she will get rid of every knot you've ever had. She is the best masseur I've ever laid down in front of.
If you want your kids to get some exercise but you fancy a lie down yourself, then the kids' club is incredibly useful. It's run by the super-smiley Suzette and is clean and tidy and full of Lego and glitter, pretend kitchens and work benches.
In the southern part of the island in the parish of St Mary's, half-an-hour's drive from the airport and capital St John's. There's little development in the area, which remains largely unspoilt.
The owner and designer of Carlisle Bay is Gordon Campbell Gray, whose portfolio also includes One Aldwych (a fancy hotel in London: think flock wallpaper and van der Rohe Barcelona chairs).
At Carlisle Bay the rooms are seriously chic and very lovely areas to hang out in. If you've stayed in a hotel in the Caribbean before, then if I tell you there are no brightly coloured toucan-inspired duvet covers or loud wallpaper you will know that I mean it when I say Carlisle Bay is different.
The décor is more reminiscent of a Manhattan loft. There are different sizes of room, but the décor is the same in each. The one bedroom beach suites have a much larger bathroom and are grander than the two-bedroom suites, but these are great if you have kids – and the main bedroom is still really big.
The bed frames are constructed from dark wood, the floors are made up of large slabs of pale limestone and the sofas are impressively white.
A luxurious camel-coloured oversized armchair and ottoman sat in the corner of my room, next to a mahogany reading light.
If I go on to say that the shampoos and body creams that crowd round the marble bath top are by cool beauty people REN then the picture should be complete. The rooms are also stocked with trays of different fresh fruit and posh coffee machines as well large televisions boasting 50 American channels. I know, I know. You're on holiday so why on earth would you watch cable? Sure. But a club sandwich and a Seinfeld, just the once? You know it makes sense...
Carlisle Bay, Old Road, St Mary's, Antigua, West Indies (001 268 484 0000; carlisle-bay.com)
Doubles start at US$694 (£463), family suites at $1,151 (£767), including breakfast and tea.
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