GREY London Februaries can be hard to bear, which is why Antigua’s sun, sea, sandy beaches – and direct flights – make it a regular haunt for Brits in search of winter sun. This year there is a real buzz around the island, largely because of the re-launch of Rosewood’s Jumby Bay resort, which has just undergone a $28m makeover.
Jumby Bay, set on a 300-acre private island two miles off the mainland, was named the World’s Best Caribbean Resort in 2007. Ninety per cent has been rebuilt, with 28 new lavish suites and 40 remodeled guest rooms, a chic new spa, a veranda bar and restaurant, and a dramatic brasserie with an infinity pool. It’s quite an event in the Caribbean.
There’s something quite James Bond about Jumby Bay. You are collected by boat close to Antigua airport and are whisked to the island, where staff greet you on the jetty with fresh rum cocktails and scented towels before showing you to your room. It’s very slick.
There’s a range of accommodation, from the hut-style “Rondavel” rooms perched on the hillside with small verandas and hammocks, to the swish new suites set back from the beach. They have just the sorts of luxuries you’d expect – Nespresso coffee makers, fully stocked fridges, wide screen televisions and iPod docking stations.
For those who want something more exclusive, private homes can be rented which come with staff and access to the compliment of Jumby’s hotel facilities. They range from two to four-bed Harbour Villas complete with infinity pool, private beach and open-air lounges, to mega mansions such as La Casa and Hawksbill Cove on the far side of the island that sleep 10 – and come with jacuzzis, bowling greens, separate beachfronts, private cinemas and tennis courts. It’s easy to see why they’re popular with celebrities.
The whole thing has the feel of an upscale country club – there are no cars, just golf carts and bicycles. The service is relaxed but attentive, and the staff know guests by name.
And then there’s the beach. Ah, the beach. It is, as you’d expect, picture postcard stuff, with perfectly aligned palm trees, glistening white sand, hammocks and transparent turquoise waters. Antigua is a beach-lover’s paradise, and there are 365 on the island (according to the tourist board, anyway).
The resort is family friendly, especially at half-term, but when I was there the focus was definitely more adult, and all about relaxation. There are no motorized watersports and the emphasis was on calm. You can do yoga, visit the Sense spa or splash about in the gardened pool. The bar here is great for cocktail hour, with open loggia, dark wood furniture and jungle murals on the wall. Its like a 1930s colonial gentleman’s club.
Other activities also include birdwatching. Jumby Bay supports the Hawksbill Project, a conservation project on the island, and from 1 June to 16 November researchers track the nesting ecology of the hawksbills, and guests can be woken and witness nighttime nesting activity. And on the main island, nature-lovers might enjoy the Zip Line canopy tours, which allow you to get close to Antigua’s rainforest (www.antiguarainforest.com).
For those who want a break from the tranquility, boats to the mainland run every hour until midnight, so its easy to dip in to Antiguan night-life and sample sunset cocktails at Shirley Heights’ Look Out (an institution). On Deck, a local sailing company, also offer chartered Catamaran tours around the islands to snorkel, sunbathe and collect conch shells. (www.ondeckoceanracing.com.) For golfers there is the nearby Cedar Valley Golf Club, with an 18-hole course with sea-views (www.cedarvalleygolf.ag).
Antigua is attracting a lot of attention at the moment – Jumby Bay is the highest profile new launch, but the island has also recently welcomed Sugar Ridge, a boutique resort on the west coast, with 60 sea-view rooms and a 6,000-square-foot Aveda Spa. In English Harbour, the new Nonsuch Bay Resort has 62 luxury holiday apartments built around a beach. With the winter weather here to stay, it’s looking more attractive than ever.
Stay seven nights for the price of six at Jumby Bay from £4,120 per person, based on two sharing a Rondavel Room on an all-inclusive basis; return economy flights from London Gatwick with British Airways including boat and car transfers. Based on 19 June 2010 departure. Contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897515 or visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk.