Bay Beauty

New Antigua resort has a British accent

By: David Swanson

CARLISLE BAY, Antigua Antigua, part of the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, delivers the Caribbean’s specialty long, luminous beaches in abundance. A new island resort, Carlisle Bay, offers your clients a refined outpost for elegant pampering. Created by Scotsman Gordon Campbell Gray and opened slightly over a year ago, Carlisle Bay is a striking, utterly contemporary resort intended to complement his esteemed boutique hotel, One Aldwych, in London. Located on the south coast, away from most of the island’s limited action, Carlisle Bay is a stone’s throw from Antigua’s long-established Curtain Bluff resort. The two inns serve as bookends for the village, which sits at the base of Fig Tree Drive, a road through the island’s most verdant valley.

Carlisle Bay visitors pass a lily pond as they enter the sprawling Pavilion, with its wooden jalousie shutters and planters carved from giant tree trunks. The ambiance is sedate and monochromatic what little color there is comes from splays of purple orchids but the handshakes are warm and the hand towels chilled.

All 88 rooms are suites, and almost all boast unimpeded sea views from Frette-outfitted beds. An orchid sits on a dark wood cabinet and a matching credenza supports a tray of improbable fruit, blood-red cherries the first time I’ve encountered them in the Caribbean. The fruit appears to be the only dash of color in the room no floral print bedspreads here.

The design by Campbell Gray and Mary Fox Linton is rigorous, but as you spend a little time in the suite it becomes more comfortable. It doesn’t hurt that the room is well stocked with nifty niceties: Gaggia coffeemaker, proper bedside reading lights, flat-screen TV, chic New Zealand bath products and a deep bathtub with a view into the mangrove lagoon that backs the resort. There is a 17,000-square-foot spa that was in its final stage of gestation during my visit and a 45-seat screening room that plays two movies nightly (“Rear Window” and “Private Benjamin” are typical selections). A small but lavish library is stocked with a mix of classics and eclectic coffee-table books ranging from the traditionalism of Ansel Adams to the frisky erotica of Pierre et Gilles. Outfitted with a well-equipped watersports center, the beach is pretty and fine for swimming, though it doesn’t boast the iridescent, tourmaline glow that Antigua’s most beautiful beaches can brag about. Unfortunately, a river carries silt into the bay at one end. During my visit I saw more people hanging by the pool than on the sand.

Perhaps owing to the reputation of One Aldwych, most of the guests during my visit were British, and there’s a notable reserve to the interactions. But the largely Antiguan staff is gracious without being stiff, unlike some upscale resorts where personalities are neutered in favor of by-the-book protocol.

Another Carlisle Bay strength is above-average resort dining. One restaurant, East, sits behind Balinese doors, in a hermetically sealed black room with chairs adorned in blushing pink slipcovers. East’s Philippine waitress and Thai chef served a pan-Asian menu that was surprisingly good, and authentic unheard of in the Caribbean. Indigo on the Beach is the open-air dining room; it features a grill and many organic menu items.

One negative: The sterile buzz of fans and air conditioners can be heard throughout the hotel, particularly in the restaurants and bathrooms, obscuring the natural island sounds of lapping waves and fussing birds.

When not ensconced at the resort, Antigua rewards with low-key sightseeing and beach combing. Countless taxi drivers have informed me that the island has 365 beaches, “one for every day of the year.” While more marketing hype than reality, the slogan does reflect the bounty of coves and strands that scallop Antigua’s perimeter.

The island also has an important sea-faring history. Scenic English Harbour was home to the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and Admiral Nelson’s Dockyard, a regional facility for ship repairs. It’s the only Georgian-style dockyard left in the world and now a National Park. The sailing spirit thrives here today, particularly during Antigua Sailing Week, the region’s premier yachting event, held in early May.

The Details

Carlisle Bay rates start at $950 during high season (from $1,050 over Christmastime), and from $595, May 1 through Dec. 18. Rates include a full breakfast and an afternoon tea.
The hotel is closed Sept. 1 to Oct. 15.
The hotel adds an 18½ percent tax and service charge, and pays a 10 percent travel agent commission.


Westin Grand Cayman Spared
Location is everything, as the saying goes. But luck ain’t bad either. The Westin Casuarina Grand Cayman happens to have both. Not only is the luxury resort located on Grand Cayman’s renowned Seven Mile Beach, but the hotel was largely spared the destruction of Hurricane Ivan, which blew through the island in September. Other area hotels some just down the beach from the Westin were not so lucky, as a recent on-site inspection proved.

“There are some hotels here that won’t be able to open for at least a year,” said Dan Szydlowski, the Westin’s general manager. “And some will probably never open.”

The Westin, however, sustained only minimal damage and is open for business after just a couple months. Besides a few thinned-out trees, there is little evidence of the hurricane. What’s more, the hotel is booked solid, with occupancy around 80 to 90 percent, according to Szydlowski.

It’s easy to see why. Besides the hotel’s white-sand beach, it features a meandering pool with swim-up bar, impeccable service from its staff and two top restaurants. In addition to its Four-Diamond Casa Havana Restaurant, Ferdinand’s Caribbean Cafe offers elegant dining in an open-air setting just steps from the sand.

Kenneth Shapiro