Travel: Antigua, Island in the sun

PUBLISHED: 17:53 27 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:02 20 February 2013

Travel: Antigua, Island in the sun

Travel: Antigua, Island in the sun

Katie Jarvis glides through the trees and wanders the beaches of glorious Antigua, home of bridled quail doves and the rich and the famous.

Katie Jarvis glides through the trees and wanders the beaches of glorious Antigua, home of bridled quail doves and the rich and the famous.

There are various ways to explore the verdant forest on Antigua. You could hike through lush vegetation, weaving between the sticky-gummed Jatoba tree and starry-flowered Caribbean Princewood, while blessing the broad-canopied mango for its protective shade. Overhead, bridled quail doves idly coo through the heat that mutes your every sense, while a black whiskered vireo sings out its non-nonsense advice, Cheap-john-stir-up!

Or you could hang in mid-air, staring somewhat mournfully at the trees hundreds of feet below, as I do. At this distance, they look like so much broccoli on a plate. Although my elevated status is terrifying, I most certainly dont want a closer view.

I negotiated the first of the series of zip wires that whizz you through the forest, with a brittle veneer of insouciant panache. Its a heady experience, gliding through the trees like a red-necked pigeon; the Antigua Rainforest Canopy high-wire adventure has become one of the islands top tourist attractions. But then comes a zip wire over a valley that stretches (in my mind at least) almost as far as the eye can see, while its depths remain hidden by a carpet of tree-top leaves. I wont get stuck in the middle, will I? I plead. Of course not, laughs the ranger, as he fastens my harness securely to the guide wire. As if.

And he swings me off on my journey that lasts all the way to 10 feet short of the comforting platform at the end of the wire. Use your arms to pull yourself over the last few feet, the chap at the other end calmly tells me. But, no. I prefer the whimper-and-pathetically-wait-for-rescue option. Its so much more me.

One of the best ways to get the measure of Antigua is from above. When we arrived at this sun-drenched paradise, our plane wheeled its way along aqua-marine pathways, between rugged outcrops of islands topped with forest-green, like a white gull looking for a comfortable perch. A 747 feels too unwieldy to land anywhere on this delicate archipelago a little chain of islands that seems to mark where a child has skimmed a pebble across the unbelievable blue of the Caribbean Sea.

As we descend, closer to the bobbing waves, ribbons of golden beaches stream into view; but unlike the crowded Costa Brava or showy St Tropez, these sandy strips dont seem to know theyre beaches. Sparsely populated some deserted they kick their heels, idly smoking under a hot sun thats tempered by a constantly playful breeze.

As we walk from the plane along the hot tarmac of VC Bird International Airport named after Antiguas beloved first Prime Minister the sound of aircraft engines is replaced by calypso. Rawdon Edwards, in his white suit and dark shades, sings an official welcome, while an island girl hands out rum punch. Boy, you just dont get that sort of thing at Gatwick.

Ah, Antigua. You think of it as a hedonists paradise and, of course, it is. No doubt about it. Thats obvious from the minute we drive into St Jamess Club, hidden away on its own 100-acre peninsula, which fringes the sea to the south east. Our suite has a balcony overlooking that same intense blue of a sheltered bay. There are two intimate pools within a few seconds of our door, and a bar that serves unlimited drinks as part of the all-inclusive package; glasses of white wine, beer, soft drinks, as well as more of Antigua-in-liquid form: ubiquitous rum punch thats as plentiful as the sea.

The laidback local lads call to each other in strange staccato style: Marning, How tings? How you a go? Me yah.

What language are you speaking? I ask them.
English! they laugh; but you cut words out, see.

This is an island where you simply dont do more than you have to no wonder celebrities flock here. One day, we hire a catamaran and bounce along that ridiculously blue ocean, warm spray in our faces, craning up at the multi-million-pound cliff-top homes (the majority of which seem to be owned by Eric Clapton).

Our boat anchors by an almost-deserted beach, where one lone sunbather is dwarfed by the huge stretch of perfect sand. As we swim ashore, she shouts out, Come and have some rum punch! In the scrub behind, her family lolls round a make-shift camp, doling out ice-cold drinks to us, complete strangers. Within 20 minutes, Ive heard her colourful life story; theres no cold-weather reserve here.
Ian and I breakfast each morning to the rush of the ocean, watching the cheeky yellow-breasted bananaquit birds steal leftovers.

Their bills are curved for digging nectar out of flowers; but its much easier to swoop into guests rooms where they sift through drinks trays until they find the sugar packets, which they peck open and guzzle. Their shockingly untidy nests are in stark contrast to the beautifully-maintained hotel grounds in which they squat. At night, as we dine at one of St Jamess waterfront restaurants, the sound of squeaky bicycles turns out to be the chirping of tree frogs, once revered by the Arawak Indians as kindly spirits.

On Sunday, we visit Shirley Heights where a weekly steel-band-and-barbeque party replaces the 18th century soldiers that would have used its stunning views to far less comfortable effect; and Nelsons Dockyard, formerly a naval yard that was frequented by Horatio as a young captain serving in the Caribbean. Now restored, its a fascinating mix of history and shopping.

Slaves, of course, were a feature of the shipping routes that skirt the island; slaves who toiled in Antiguas many sugar plantations, which proliferated in the 18th century. On a visit to the impossibly-romantic Galley Bay resort, we spy a now-decorative old molasses pot in the middle of a bed of pineapple plants. But its just a gentle reminder of an horrific past. Today, Galley Bay is an adults-only hideaway where you can roll out of bed in your individual Gauguin cottage, straight onto the white beach. Here, we are treated to a his-and-hers massage, out in the open air, before dining alfresco, too, on a sophisticated fusion of Caribbean and European dishes.

This is an island of contrasts, from the pink houses and bright yellow churches of the locals, to the obscenely huge yachts docked in Falmouth Harbour. Unlike Armani or Timothy Dalton who have pads here, you might not be able to afford the lifestyle 365 days a year; but for an unforgettably pampered seven days, theres nowhere like Antigua for a glimpse of what its like to be rich and famous.

Kuoni (01306 747008; offers 7 nights on all-inclusive basis at the 4-star St James Club, Antigua in a club room including BA flights from London Gatwick and group transfers in resort, from 1,548 per person based on two sharing.

To book please quote: CA0001 (From-price valid for departure December 2011). Or 7 nights all-inclusive at the 4.5-star Galley Bay in a Gauguin cottage, including BA flights from London Gatwick, private transfers in resort and lounge in the UK upon departure, from 2,030 per person based on two sharing (quote KU9090). From-price valid for departure December 2011 and includes one bonus night)

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