21 May 2024

Looking down on English Harbour from Shirley Heights
Sorry Admiral Nelson, you were wrong about Antigua!
Our great naval hero hated the island - but Harry Denning finds it's one of the most stunning in the Caribbean
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he comments would have made the most caustic TripAdvisor feedback look restrained. It was a 'vile spot’ and ‘infernal hole’. The dyspeptic visitor’s name? Horatio Nelson, who, in July 1784, arrived in Antigua aboard the 28-gun frigate HMS Boreas. Still, he did bring home a nice souvenir: a wife, Fanny Nisbet, from the nearby island of Nevis. More than 230 years later, it was to Antigua that I took my wife. And I can vouch that Nelson's verdict was wholly misjudged. Antigua, with reliable breezes, sheltered coves and easy pace, has become one of the Caribbean’s modern yachtie hotspots. The frigates may be gone, but in their place are the galleons of the mega-rich.
Nelson's Dockyard
The Copper and Lumber Store at Nelson's Dockyard
whitewashed and inspired by the tropical palette of the artist. It was the perfect spot to bask with a Kindle in hand as miniature geckos skittered along the walls and West Indian whistling ducks fluted saucy calls at us from the water’s edge. We were not entirely indolent. We borrowed a pair of canoes and paddled along the coast, past Giorgio Armani’s clifftop villa and into nearby Deep Bay. A glorious golden horseshoe, it's misnamed – being the site of Antigua’s most famous shipwreck, The Andes, which sank here in 30ft of water in 1905.

I slipped off the canoe with a mask and snorkel to spend a mesmerising half hour exploring its rusted skeleton as the shoals and corals provided a magical kaleidoscope. We headed to the Atlantic side for the second half of our week – via a detour for a grilled snapper lunch at the wonderful Inn at English Harbour. Nonsuch Bay is a development of high-end apartments, centred on a private beach and sailing centre.

There's a flotilla of dinghies and keelboats for every ability and instructors blessed with skill and patience. My wife headed out with Devon, her unflappable teacher, while I attempted to push a Hobie catamaran to America’s Cup speeds. We would meet back ashore for lobster paninis and passion fruit coladas, under the supervision of the resort’s charismatic head chef, Mitchell Husbands. So relaxing and romantic was our week in Antigua that my wife declared it ‘better than our honeymoon’.

Original article published in Feb 2016. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Yet there's plenty to attract landlubbers too. Just 14 miles by 11 miles, Antigua plays host to a variety of small resort hotels. We started off at the Galley Bay Resort on the north-west coast. Its 98 rooms include a clutch of lovely Gauguin Cottages - thatched,
"The shoals and corals provided a magical kaleidoscope."
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