A place to switch off in perfect peace
The Inn at English Harbour, Antigua
You can choose between various gorgeous views at The Inn at English Harbour, although you would never guess as much from the hotel's nondescript hilltop entrance. View One comes as you are ushered through reception into a 19th-century stone house with walls as thick as an Englishman's castle. Now an old-world, elegant cocktail bar, hung about with nautical memorabilia and antique maps, its windows give glimpses of turquoise, gold and green below. Out on the adjoining terrace, the panorama proper opens up, rolling down over terraces to English Harbour and its yachts, and across the water to Montserrat and its brooding volcano.
View Two comes as you are driven down, through 19 acres of palm trees and pink hibiscus, to the hotel's second level and the rooms, set in gardens which lead to a pool and then to a private beach. The hammocks and sun loungers here give excellent close-up views of the harbour and its bobbing boats, all the way around the bay to the restored military lookout, Shirley Heights.
Staff provide towels, chilled water and coconuts to sunbathers. The Inn prides itself on this sort of simple, old-fashioned luxury. Beige stealth wealth or the lurid bling of so many five-star hotels, is not in evidence here. Rather it mixes discreet service with characterful, Antiguan laid-back charm.
Its split personality is reflected in two restaurants, one on each level. The Reef, a white-painted shack down on the beach, serves excellent eggs and coffee at breakfast, crisp salads for lunch and complimentary tea and cookies in the afternoon. In the evenings, guests are driven up to rather more formal fine dining on the Terrace. Substantial steaks or the catch of the day – king fish with coconut, mahi mahi with chili and mango – are served by candlelight as the harbour twinkles below.
If you never wanted to leave the grounds, you could be perfectly content. There is a small, basic spa and a rather stuffy gym, which could do with an update. Far more fun to borrow a snorkel or kayak and explore the bay, or swim out to one of the rafts for turtle-spotting. Or wait for the evening cool and make use of the floodlit tennis courts.
For those looking to explore further afield, the concierge can arrange a day's 4x4 safari taking in sugar mills, coral reefs and a few of the island's beaches (said to number 365), or an evening bus to Shirley Heights (otherwise a half-hour uphill slog) to watch the sun set as a steel band plays. If you're feeling flush, The Inn's yacht, Xenia & Faye, can be chartered for $2,000 (£1,333) a day, based on 10 sharing, including lunch. Green Island is an unforgettable two-hour sail to the east.
Distances on Antigua are small – at just 13 miles across, the island would fit inside Inner London with room to spare. The Inn is a 30-minute drive from both the airport and the capital St John's. It's a world away from the busy, all-inclusive resorts of Jolly Beach, and favoured by yachting types, who flock in for Sailing Week in April.
For the rest of the year, The Inn is tranquil but far from cut off. Throughout the day its free water taxi putters around the bay to the smart cafés of Nelson's Dockyard in minutes. From here, it is a short walk to the millionaires' docks at Antigua Yacht Club and neighbouring Falmouth Harbour. At dusk, the water taxi stops and it's back to normal taxis, which can be expensive.
There are 28 rooms at The Inn, housed in a cluster of two-storey, white clapboard buildings set back a few yards from the pool. There are also two, simpler, beach cabanas. Refurbished in 2008 by Italian owners, the hotel is colonial in style with hints of Grand Tour elegance: four-poster beds draped in white muslin, polished dark-wood floors and Venetian blinds, hefty mahogany furniture and ceiling fans. Bathrooms come with vast twin porcelain sinks. The roomy ground-floor deluxe suites give out on to terraces through French windows. The smaller upstairs suites have lofty ceilings and balcony views.
Each room has an iPod dock, flatscreen television and free, but patchy, Wi-Fi. I thought one of these was malfunctioning until I was told that the beeping noise at twilight was a whistling tree frog. You can't switch him off, I discovered, but in such peaceful surroundings, it was easy enough to switch off everything else.
The Inn at English Harbour, Antigua (001 268 460 1014; theinn.ag).
Doubles from US$545 (£363), half board; a week's package costs from £1,575pp with flights (020-7666 1234; westernoriental.com).
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