NESTLING in warm Caribbean waters, sun-kissed Antigua washes over you, covers you in sunshine, and leaves you feeling as laid-back as the locals. The island is a prime wedding and honeymoon destination, but is also perfect as a place to turn over a new leaf. I’m used to spending my time off doing as little as possible – other than overdoing it on the cocktails – but the aim of my Caribbean break was to kick-start a healthier lifestyle by following the health and well-being programme recently launched at Antigua’s new Verandah Resort & Spa.
Having landed at the small airport near the capital of St John’s, we bumped along the roads past mango trees and brightly-painted villages to the windier, north-eastern coast that was to be our home for the next few days. The Verandah Resort consists of 200 villa-styled suites, and I was staying in one of the private, sea-facing bungalows, which was spacious yet homely and comfortable – and the perfect place to seek refuge when the occasional tropical thunderstorm passed over.
The health and well-being programme included water-sports, tennis, hiking, sunset yoga and ocean fit, a kind of sea-based aqua aerobics. We were also encouraged to take part in a daily five-minute meditation exercise to clear the mind and reduce stress, as well as other simple relaxation techniques (although no-one is pressured to get involved if they don’t feel comfortable with any of the activities).
There is an emphasis on healthy eating, and, with the help of British nutritionist and author Suzi Grant, the resort has created a well-stocked health bar in the main restaurant, brimming with a great choice of salads and freshly-cooked island cuisine.
But once again, there’s plenty of choice to suit all tastes and diets, and the top-notch chef serves up a daily menu which mixes Caribbean with other influences, enabling guests to dip in and out of the “healthy options” as they wish; reassuringly, alcohol is not banned completely, although low-sugar cocktails are suggested as the recommended alternative.
SABAI STONE MASSAGE
The spa is also an integral part of the well-being programme, and guests can sample a wide range of treatments here, including a sabai stone massage, a detox seaweed wrap, and a nutrient-rich caviar and pearl anti-ageing facial. Alternatively, the two private beaches are also a place to while away a few hours.
There’s more to the Verandah than just lying about, though. You can take a dip in one of the two pools or take a walk or run up through the trees at the far end of one of the beaches to one of the area’s landmarks, Devil’s Bridge, where the sea crashes under a natural outcrop of rock.
Alternatively, you can go snorkelling at Long Bay, in waters teeming with fish.
Day-trippers are also catered for. One of my favourite excursions was the catamaran cruise which took us out past Devil’s Bridge to explore the island’s coastline. After enjoying a free-flowing stream of rum punches, we moored in a secluded bay and donned snorkels and flippers. If you’re feeling brave, it’s also worth taking a trip to the calm side of the island to the area known as Stingray City (www.stingraycityantigua.com), where you get a chance to swim with, and stroke, these majestic creatures – as long as you keep well clear of their tails.
Back on dry land, you can shop in the bustling capital of St Johns in the north-west of the island; the town has a deep harbour able to accommodate large cruise ships, and there’s a thriving market of local produce, arts and crafts here, as well as air-conditioned malls selling clothes and jewellery. On the south-eastern coast you can pay a visit to English Harbour, Antigua’s evocative historic district, focused on Nelson’s Dockyard, which was developed as a base for the British Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It’s easy to see the attractions for the many rich and famous people who own homes here, as the island is beautiful, and the islanders are as warm and sunny as the weather – you couldn’t hope to find a bigger welcome anywhere in the Caribbean. With any luck, all this healthy living might just rub off, so that you really do return home re-energised, rejuvenated and ready to live at least a slightly more relaxed lifestyle back in the real world.
Seven nights at The Verandah Resort & Spa from 1 May–30 June from £1,129pp all-inclusive, based on two sharing. Includes direct flights with BA (www.ba.com) and transfers (0844 879 8015; www.tcsignature.com). The Verandah Resort & Spa is part of Elite Island Resorts. For Suzi Grant’s “use your holiday to look and feel 10 years younger” guide, see www.eliteislandresorts.co.uk. Sister resorts include St James’ Club and Villas and Galley Bay. www.antigua-barbuda.org