From a tired-looking Gatwick straight to a spanking new airport at Antigua. It is now a major European hub for the Caribbean with eleven flights a week from London. Tourists comprise of 65% Brits and 30% Americans. It is also home to Oprah Winfrey, Eric Clapton, Silvio Berlusconi and Giorgio Armani.
Even on the sleepy, seductive, neighbouring island of Barbuda it’s all reputedly about to change. The 94-year old lady who owned the former K Club on the south shores where the Princess of Wales stayed to avoid the paparazzi, recently turned down an offer from Berlusconi for the property. However, she is now in talks with Robert de Niro and Jamie Packer who are apparently prepared to spend 25 million dollars to revive the resort.
The famous Carlisle Bay has played host to George Bush, Roman Abramovich, the Duchess of Cornwall, John Travolta, John Kerry and Michael J Fox.
Indeed, you might think all this might cause these Leeward Islands to have lost some of their authenticity. And this is what I needed to discover! I wanted to get into the spirit and its history. I wanted to find out what is unique to these islands.
There’s Redonda but it’s merely an uninhabited rock. There’s Montserrat, which is less than thirty miles away. St Kitts and St Nevis are also viewable from the southern tip at Johnson’s Point. But I landed at Barbuda. Renowned for its pink beaches caused by the erosion of seashells, this island is where to ‘fly and flop’ as they say in the travel trade! Remote and liberating in equal measure.
Here I got to witness the loveliest of all Caribbean beaches. It’s what the locals call “The River”, a seventeen-mile long stretch of pure, innocent, transparent blue water lapping onto this pink untrodden sand, offset every now and again by the idyllic shade of a palm tree. The island’s one town of Codrington is flat and slightly unforgiving but charming in its sleepy cowboy film setting.
Over to Antigua. Often when I travel I pick up a recent Yellow Pages to get a quirky fact or angle. It’s normally in the table drawer between the beds and beneath the Gideon Bible! In it I found the list of surnames. Quashie and Pompey are two former African names still in use. As for professions there were specific headings for Exterminators, Hurricane Protection, Ice Cream and Frozen Dessert Manufacturing and Distributors and Sun Glasses.
I then picked up a glossary of local vocabulary. As a linguist I wanted to discover more about Antiguan Creole. It has several words of West African origin such as ‘bassa bassa’ (fooling around); ‘fungee’ (boiled cornmeal); ‘nyam’ (to eat greedily); ‘yampi’ (a mucus exuded in the corner of the eyes especially after sleeping) and ‘warri’ (a game played with marbles).
“Two-man crab can’t live in de same hole” is a famous Antiguan saying but the island’s status of National Hero is shared by the two men to date: Vere Cornwall Bird, the ‘Founder of the Nation’ who gives his name to the airport and Sir Vivian Richards, ‘the master blaster’ batsman after whom the new cricket stadium is named. I got to recall childhood memories by taking a selfie at Sir Andy Roberts Drive named after my own Antiguan hero who brought recognition to the island as the first West Indian cricketer before the team developed fully into their devilish prime.
Antigua has immense beauty. The hills create some wonderful vistas. None more so than the view from Shirley Heights of the English Harbour, a naturally formed series of bays and enclosures that suited Admiral Nelson in his three-year sojourn on the island. Elsewhere Half Moon Bay and Valley Church Bay delight in different ways. The former for its symmetry but agitated waves and the latter for the calm and endless spread of bright blue water. Knee deep out to sea for over two hundred yards!
And this is where to find the elusive Hawksbill, Leather-backed and Green turtles. They are truly a brief encounter. They pop their heads up to breathe, sense the presence of humans and paddle themselves away to immerse in their privacy.
The two islands are very definitely safe from the fear of gross intrusion. The hotels and resorts I stayed at were fresh in their own vibe. They felt natural in their décor, be it polished or weathered. The materials were a blend of natural wood and wicker with a pleasing lack of anything synthetic. The custom-made furnishing was often neutral or nautical. The ‘bleached-out’ wooden floors would match the coconut-tree trunks with a wonderful harmony. Wherever I was, I was led to my room along paths of brilliantly coloured flowers often consisting of rows of orange and yellow flamboyants. The setting was very clearly in homage to the sea. And it’s the sounds that have stayed with me even upon my return. The song of the birds, the whispering waves and the swoosh of the trees. And the Calypso! Remote and liberating. And assuredly authentic!
Adam travelled via Gatwick Express with The Holiday Place which has been creating award-winning experiences for over 30 years’. Their holidays range from luxurious to adventurous and cater for all budgets and requirements. The Holiday Place is offering fantastic packages to Antigua from £889 per person for a 7 night stay, including accommodation, flights and all taxes. To book call 020 7644 1770 or visit holidayplace.co.uk. Adam stayed at Barbuda North Beach (www.barbudanorthbeach.com), Carlisle Bay (www.carlisle-bay.com), Keyonna Beach (www.keyonnabeachresortantigua.com) and Nonsuch Bay Resort (www.nonsuchbayresort.com).