Rough Guide: Of cricket, coconuts and ludicrous colonialism

Adam Vaitilingham, author of `The Rough Guide to Antigua and Barbuda',recalls never-ending beaches, feasts and victory celebrations

Best walk

People rarely associate Caribbean islands with good walking, but there are hikes on Antigua that take you to some beautiful, isolated beaches and coves. Best of all is the walk from Falmouth over Cherry Hill to the magnificent Rendezvous Bay. After climbing through unpromisingly scrubby bush, lined with sea grape and acacia trees (and the odd goat), you drop through a valley to a curve of fine, white sand backed by coconut palms and dotted with driftwood.

Best food

Most restaurants concentrate on tourist fare, but I always look for traditional Antiguan dishes. My favourites are "ducana" (sweet potato cooked with coconut and spices and steamed in a banana leaf) and pepperpot stew: a slow-cooked casserole of salt beef, pumpkin and okra, usually served with a cornmeal pudding known enticingly as "fungi". Particularly good at Joe Mike's, in St John's, or Jackee's Kwik Stop, near English Harbour.

Best celebration

Antigua is most famous for its cricketers, particularly star batsman, Viv Richards, who gave his country a massive ego boost in the years leading up to independence in 1981. Current local hero, Curtley Ambrose, took his 300th Test wicket in Antigua while I was there; the entire population seemed to be packed into the Recreation Ground and the party went on long after the players had retired to the pavilion for the night.

Essential visit

Though Nelson described Antigua as an "infernal hole" back in the 1790s, the nation has now forgiven him and named its superbly restored Georgian dockyard in his honour. It was from here that Britannia ruled the Caribbean waves, and it remains an elegant and evocative place, where memorials outside crumbling forts speak of sailors dying of yellow fever far from home. It is still my favourite place in the West Indies to catch a whiff of our ludicrous colonial history.

Best beaches

A 15-minute flight from Antigua, laid-back Barbuda is hardly touched by tourism, despite its rightful claim to have the country's finest beaches. Best of all are Palm Beach's 15 miles of dazzling white sand, interspersed with long stretches of brilliant pink - fragments of a myriad shells washed up over the years. I had it all to myself for a day.

Unlikeliest monarch

Covering just two square kilometres, and uninhabited, Redonda is the country's third island. It is still claimed as an independent kingdom, having been "annexed" by a Scottish trader, Matthew Shiell, in 1865. Though he never took up residence, Shiell abdicated in favour of his novelist son, and subsequent peers of the realm included Dorothy L Sayers, Lawrence Durrell and JB Priestley. Today, Leo V claims title to the throne, although allegedly he once abdicated after a night's drinking at his local in London's Islington.

FACT FILE

antigua & barbuda

Getting there

British Airways (tel: 0345 222 111) and BWIA (tel: 0181-577 1100) both fly direct from London, as do several charter operators. Fares start from pounds 199 in low season, rising to pounds 500 or more at peak times. LIAT flies from Antigua to Barbuda, and day-tours from Antigua can be arranged locally by Earl's Tours (tel: 462 0742). UK-based operators include Airtours (tel: 01706 240033) and Tropical Places (tel: 01342 825123).

Where to eat

Joe Mike's is at Nevis Street/ Corn Alley in St John's, and Jackee's is just outside English Harbour. Both will serve up a plate of `ducana' and `fungi' for around US$7 to US$8.

Further information

The weather is hot and sunny all year, but is usually best during high season: mid-December to mid-April. Heat and humidity can get oppressive in hurricane season (around August and September) but prices are lower.

Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board, 15 Thayer Street, London W1M 5LD (tel: 0171-486 7073).

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