By Melanie Reffes
With the hashtag #LoveAntiguaBarbuda, new marketing campaign called ‘Warm up Their Winter’ and the coveted ‘Caribbean’s Most Romantic Destination’ recognition at the World Travel Awards, Antigua is on a romance roll. The largest of the Leeward Islands, Antigua is adored for its scenic harbours, spotless stretches of sandy perfection, big yachts, small sailboats, fine dining, funky mom and pops and top-shelf resorts at the water’s edge.
Popular with couples worldwide, the island is picture-perfect for a tropical wedding, anniversary celebration, honeymoon stay and encore vow renewal ceremony. “We are the only country in the Caribbean with no residency requirements in order for couples to get married,” said Colin James, CEO, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, “our population is 90,000 people and we perform 1,200 weddings a year which is the highest per capita rate in the world and something we are quite proud of.” www.visitantiguabarbuda.com Twitter @Antigua Barbuda.
On Old Road in Saint Mary’s on the southern coast, Curtain Bluff is not only the oldest exclusive hotel on the island, it is also one of the prettiest. On twenty landscaped acres, the all-inclusive is framed by a pair of sandy beaches and following a major facelift completed this fall, is rolling out the welcome mat for twosomes.
First opened in 1962, 72-room and suite hotel built by the late Howard Hulford and his wife Chelle who lives in the resorts stunning Bluff House impresses with a repeat guest rate upwards of 65 percent and a regal guestbook that includes British rock royalty like Sir Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel and Eric Clapton. Loyalty extends to the stellar staff with an average length of service at nearly three decades. “The resort is family to so many,” said Rob Sherman, managing director, “many of our staff grew up here and many of our guests have returned generation after generation.”
Twelve one-bedroom Bluff Suites are honeymoon havens with plenty of privacy and big comfy beds. Worth the splurge is the divine Hulford Collection including the Cliff Suite tucked into the hillside with a spacious living room, separate bedroom, marble bathroom, infinity soaking pool and a second terrace that salutes Surf Beach. Grace and Morris Bay Suites are two spacious suites on the third floor of a Caribbean-style villa. Fronting Surf Beach, the airy suites are outfitted with blue marble bathrooms and a palatial verandah with a Jacuzzi. For big broods, the suites can be linked to a Junior Suite and for bigger broods, the entire floor with four bedrooms can be booked as one. For sweeping views of the sea, check into the Terrace Suite at the top of the bluff decorated in calming blue décor and accessorized with an infinity edge plunge pool, roomy terrace and a siesta-ready daybed. www.curtainbluff.com
The story of the resort reads like a romantic novel. Sir Howard Hulford was a young American pilot when in 1957 he flew over what would become Curtain Bluff. From the cockpit of his plane it was love at first sight when he spied the craggy finger of a headland with the rugged Atlantic Ocean on one side and the calmer Caribbean on the other. On this speck of paradise stood one solitary tamarind tree which is still there and the centerpiece of the resorts main restaurant. That speck of land was his dream come true when together with his elegant wife Chelle took the leap and built their new home high on the bluff. With spectacular views of Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, fast forward to today and Curtain Bluff is the oldest exclusive resort on the island and the hands-down favorite of families, couples and singles looking to get away from the fray at home.
Get Up and Go
Four championship tennis courts are flood lit for night play. Three tennis pros offer lessons and the Tennis Pro Shop stocks a wide variety of clothing and equipment. For those who prefer squash, an English-built court aims to please. A fitness center, classes in aerobics, Pilates and power walks on the beach are calorie-burners and for the more devoted, weight training sessions and personal trainers are available.
For day trips, snorkelling to Cades Reef, scuba diving, paddle boarding, windsurfing, Hobie-cats, kayaking and waterskiing fit the bill. Rounding out the resorts roster of fun stuff to do, there’s barbecues on the beach, swimming with the stingrays, yoga on the gym deck, golfing at Cedar Valley and Jolly Harbour and ziplining at the Antigua Rainforest Adventure Tour.
Six bars from a specialty rum to a watery swim-up plus a poolside grille, juice and coffee bar and a trio of restaurants keep hunger and thirst at bay day and night. Serving breakfast and dinner, Tamarind Tree is a combo platter of fine dining and local charm with candlelit-flecked tables at night. Open-walled with a terrace canopied by the limbs of the regal tamarind tree, Antiguan lobster tail is a must-try and a scoop of yummy house-made coconut ice cream the dessert of choice. Sunday brunch is a standout with a delectable array of West Indian signatures and American favorites. For breakfast, start with a strong cuppa Joe, and move on up to a scrumptious omelette, French toast and croissants hot from the baker’s oven.
At Sea Grape on Bay Beach, lunch buffet is spectacular with a picnic basket spread of Caribbean specialities. The barbecue on Wednesday comes with a side of steel pan and for dinner, Italian fare does pasta proud with the signature spaghetti drizzled with basil pesto. For the midday munchies, there’s snacks and afternoon tea at the Sugar Mill Terrace and for a sunset toast or night cap, the bars stay open late.
Under the watchful eye of French-born Executive Chef Christophe Blatz who has been overseeing the kitchen for twenty years, the menus at the restaurants change seasonally. Honing his culinary chops at Les Ambassadeurs in the Hotel du Crillon Paris, the Chef trained with rock star chef Alain Ducasse. “We are a sustainable resort, “the Chef smiles showing guests his spotless kitchen, “we get eggs from a farm less than a mile away, local fishermen bring us their catch of the day and our limes and sweet potatoes come from nearby farms. “Fun for couples who like to eat, cooking classes are held every Tuesday or on special request. Priced at $70.00, per person, the class is taught by Chef Christophe and includes an eat-what-you-cook lunch and a bottle of wine. In the pastry kitchen, Chef Maurine works her magic with cookies, addictive donuts and her savory breads studded with sun dried tomatoes and green olives. Sharing kitchen space, Chef Andy’s banana bread is so good the resort will pack a loaf for the trip home. “Folks in our cooking class learn how to slice and dice a fifty-pound wahoo, whip up a green papaya salad and bake those ditch-the-diet chocolate cookies,” adds Chef Christophe.
For those who enjoy a fine glass of white, red or bubbly, sign up for tastings with the sommelier in the impressive underground wine cellar. “We have more than 400 varieties,” smiles George Williams, sommelier for more than three decades, “there is a bottle for every occasion and every budget including an extensive selection from around the world. “For weddings, there’s plenty to choose from for an intimate reception or a white tablecloth dinner. “I recommend Cupcake Chardonnay for a wedding reception,” adds George William, “it’s a light and bright variety, just like the perfect wedding and for a toast, a sip of Louis Roederer ‘Cristal’ 1994 is divine.”
Refresh, Relax, Renew and Repeat
Aromatic, fruity and too-good-to-resist, Tropical Escape Crème Wrap with papaya and pineapple, Tangerine Dreams salt glow and the Water Lily Wrap are popular rub downs at The Spa. On the bluff with views of the Caribbean Sea and the petite isle of Montserrat, the 5,000 square-foot spa marries a Caribbean vibe with a state-of-the-art haven for rejuvenation. Five treatment rooms including one for couples come with private balconies and all the sea views you can soak up in an afternoon.
Pretty as a picture, the spa is a showstopper with open air walkways, waterfalls, relaxation room with water views and a ten-person hot tub overlooking the ocean. For couples, Champagne and Caviar facials and Green Coffee Wraps are tres romantic.
Tale of Two Beaches and a Pair of Pools
Bay Beach is action-central with a jetty at one end for dive trips, water-skiing and rides on the inflatable raft called the Super Mable. Protected by Cades Reef where the snorkeling is sublime, the waves are calm enough for kids and the perfect host for kayaking, swimming and Hobie Cat sailing. Take five in loungers under shady palapas, stroll on the sand to the Beach Café and Bar or stay put for cold drinks and ice lollies delivered by the beach concierges.
More fun in the water at the two-lane lap swimming pool, heated adults-only infinity pool and for the active crowd, there’s basketball and bocce courts. Oozing privacy around every palm tree, Surf Beach is the least crowded of the two beaches and a couples-magnet for the quiet sandy stretch, beachfront day beds and swinging hammocks that keep a beat with the ocean breeze.
Those Little Extras
• Wooden ‘do not disturb’ signs on the doors
• Fire pits for a cozy cuddling
• Oyster and caviar bars for special events
• Cookie buffets for wedding parties (we recommend the chocolate chip!)
• Poolside cabanas with Wi-Fi and ceiling fans
• Room service from 6 am to 11 pm
• Yummy snacks in the room like coconut wedges made by Raw Island Foods in Antigua.
• Crab racing and chocolate-making classes at the Kids Club
• Make it Legal
Ask wedding coordinator Wendy Eardley anything about arranging the big day and she’ll give you a bouquet of suggestions from rehearsal dinners and scenic ceremonies to photographers, steel pan bands, spa treatments, bottles of bubbly and, of course, bridal bouquets. “We host twelve weddings a month from intimate celebrations to parties of up to 150 people,” she says showing honeymooners to their suite, “our Bluff House is where our owner lives but it’s also a gorgeous spot for a wedding ceremony at sunset.”
Designed for couples, romantic packages include a gratis June wedding package when a Junior suite is booked for seven nights and four-night honeymoon packages that include roundtrip Town Car airport transfers, cozy dinner in the garden gazebo, couples massage, sunset sail on a yacht and bottle of champagne on arrival. Package prices start at $6,260 from January 3 – April 3 and $3,660 through August 17. Add-ons run the gamut from a bridal bouquet, photographer, funky band and seaside cocktail party to the reception dinner, wedding cake and all the paperwork needed to make it legal. http://curtainbluff.com/rates/specials-packages/
Created in 1974 by Howard and Chelle Hulford, Old Road Fund was named after the village outside the resort’s gates. Courtesy of the generosity of both guests and locals, the fund has raised more than $US 1 million for university scholarships, medical aid and funds that send kids to tennis camp in the US. More recently and in response to the September hurricanes, $100,000 was given to the National Office of Disaster Services to assist with relief efforts on the sister island Barbuda. Encouraging local students to pursue careers in tourism, scholarships are offered to Miami Dade Community College and Florida International University.
Donations to the Old Road Fund are tax-deductible and easy to make either by adding an amount to your resort bill, leaving a check at the front desk or mailing a donation to:
Curtain Bluff, P.O. Box 288 St. Johns, Antigua, West Indies
Save the Date
On Christmas Day until the clock strikes midnight, revellers head to Nelson’s Dockyard for the annual holiday Champagne Party.
For couples who plan ahead, Antigua Sailing Week at English and Falmouth Harbours is on the calendar from April 28 – May 4.For guests staying at Curtain Bluff, the turnaround marker of the prestigious race is directly in front of the Bluff House. www.sailingweek.com