It doesn’t take much to convince anyone to take a trip to the Caribbean - those images of white sandy beaches, turquoise skies, and vibrant rum punches are littered all over Instagram, and that pang of envy as you stick a postcard from an older relative on the fridge is pretty much all you need to book your flight. But why Antigua, and what should you do out there? I visited the stunning island, and these are my thoughts…
Where to stay?
I actually stayed in three different hotels, so it depends what you’re after:
Think pink: Villas at Sunset Lane will be top of everyone's Instagram feeds
Villas at Sunset Lane
Quite often, I prefer staying in smaller hotels, so my night at Villas at Sunset Lane was rather peachy - not just because the hotel itself is pink (but more on that later), but because of the family atmosphere and bright, airy rooms. My room was large and luxurious, with a view of the pool on one side of my bed, and a bathroom (complete with a hot tub!) that was almost bigger than my flat in London on the other.
I was also lucky enough to meet one of the chefs who gave a demonstration on how they cook fish - fresh garlic, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar is all you need - and it was to die for. By the pool, there are a couple of rooms to receive a massage, which really helped me unwind on my first afternoon in the Caribbean, so worth booking early on. Finally, the hotel itself is bright pink, which I couldn’t get enough of for Instagram; it looked like a doll’s house!
Start your mornings with a cup of coffee and a dip in your private pool at Sugar Ridge...
Wanting luxury? There’s a reason why you’ve braved an eight-hour flight to come here, so giving yourself some extra indulgence will make the trip worthwhile. Sugar Ridge is everything you picture in a luxury hotel: stunning pool, fabulous bar, and rooms that almost make you not want to leave the resort. Some rooms have a personal plunge pool (so if you’re sunbathing on your balcony, you have somewhere to dip your toes in), making your stay that little bit more private, so I can imagine it would be perfect for a honeymoon.
I absolutely adored the food as well; one morning I sampled the ‘Antiguan breakfast’ of eggs, okra, salt fish, and Johnny Cakes which could rival any full-English fangirl (a title that I’m not afraid to give myself), and they also offered a buffet one evening with some of the best jerk chicken I tried out there. The entire hotel felt ultra-calm, so if you’re visiting the island to really recharge your batteries, you’d come back refreshed… and certainly tanned.
Step back in history at the Great House
The Great House
If you’re someone that prefer something a little different (i.e., if your usual TripAdvisor search includes ‘hidden gem’), then this one's for you. The Great House is one of Antigua’s last sugar plantation ‘great houses’, and is packed with 350 years worth of history, which the kind and attentive staff will be willing to tell. The house has now been restored to a boutique hotel, with each room being full of character. I stayed in the ‘French Suite’, but I loved the living rooms and outdoor areas where you are free to roam; although recently refurbished, they still contain pieces of the past, such as Chippendale furniture and bookshelves heaving with classics.
The gardens were also incredibly beautiful, with many spots to put your feet up with a book (or two!), and the pool was large enough for such a small number of rooms. By the end of my stay, it really felt like ‘home’, so I think it would be perfect for a larger group - say a hen party or extended family visit, to make the most of having the house to yourself.
What to do?
...Aside from laying by the pool with a rum punch in hand? Well, I did try a handful of activities on the island, and these are my thoughts:
I'm not as scared of this stingray as I look, promise!
Whatever idea you have about stingrays being scary, forget it! Take a trip to Stingray City and I can promise that you’ll get the best Instagram photo of the trip; the sea is that picture-perfect shade of turquoise and the stingrays are the size of your arm-span (the reason I know this is because I was encouraged to ‘cuddle’ them!). I can’t recommend this enough - the team that run the activity were so friendly and it was the most beautiful part of the ocean.
Delve into the past at Betty's Hope
I think seeing an old plantation is imperative for anyone visiting the Caribbean. It's not one of the most pleasant parts of history, and I think especially as a Brit, you really have to reflect on the legacy of the Empire. Although it was small, the museum had plenty of information, with a clear journey throughout the room. However, there were no loos or places to buy water/food nearby so I'd advise families to remember that if they bring their kids.
The delicious feast we created!
Admit it, you’re probably not as well-versed in Caribbean food as you are in other cuisines, but there are tonnes of flavours that you must try. At Nicole’s table, you are taken through jerk marinade, pineapple salsa, and coconut custard tarts. You read that correctly: a lot of Portuguese migrants moved to Antigua in the 19th century, so that famous custard tart finds its place on the table, with a coconut twist. I can’t wait to try it in England! Jerk marinade can be used on a wide variety of meats, and we also added it to tofu - it’s so easy to make, and super versatile. Plus, Nicole was an absolute delight to teach us, and we all ate the meal in her stunning home.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, you HAVE to make some time to relax by the beach. Wherever you’re staying, and however good their pool may be, nothing really beats a rum punch and the sound of the (very calm) waves.
Virgin Atlantic flies directly from London Gatwick to Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport – from £502 return