Antigua: Easy charm and healthy eating
Gabrielle Fagan seeks out a charming, laid-back ambience – and finds it in Antigua
BEING suspended hundreds of feet above a tropical rainforest in Antigua, held up only by an apparently flimsy harness, seemed an unlikely place to consider one’s wellbeing.
More appropriately perhaps, I should have been considering my survival!
On a dreamy Caribbean island, however, the ’wellness’ is more than skin deep.
Attached by my zip-wire, I was feeling a surge of extreme, if rather surprising, joie de vivre as I jubilantly conquered my fear of heights and swung and swooped, getting a bird’s eye view of the lush treetops on the Rainforest Canopy Tour.
Swooping like a bird was just one of the surprising moments during a break designed to help people kickstart a healthier lifestyle, launched at Antigua’s new Verandah Resort and Spa.
The island, smaller than the Isle of Wight, is home to some of the most exclusive resorts in the Caribbean. The Verandah Resort lies on the north-eastern coast, perched high on a cliff next to a nature reserve and with spectacular views over the ocean.
I was in one of its private, white painted bungalows with a spacious lounge area and sea-facing balcony which tiny, colourful local birds frequently used as a landing strip.
In a charmingly laid-back atmosphere, you are invited to join a sunset yoga class, an aqua aerobics session in the warm sea, or to stretch your muscles with tennis, water sports or walking, but there’s no compulsion to do anything.
Eating healthily is delightfully easy, as a health bar in the hotel’s main restaurant offers salads, fruit and freshly cooked calorie-conscious meals that are so delicious it’s easy to stay on a low-carb path.
But if you want to break out, there are also plenty of meals on the normal menu, featuring Caribbean dishes that often include freshly caught fish that aren’t too sinful.
While low-sugar cocktails are offered, I was able to treat myself every night to the island’s signature drink: A punch made from rum with lime juice and brown sugar, as well as enjoying wine with my meal.
As tensions slipped away I felt energised enough to sample the two pools, and gently jog along to the far end of one of the resort’s beaches to see a local landmark, Devil’s Bridge, where the sea thunders under a natural outcrop of rock.
Some mornings I took a short stroll out of the resort’s gates to Long Beach, which is an accurate description of the swathe of golden sand. It’s ideal for snorkelling, but I merely lounged, looking out to sea.
I’m not sure whether it was my newly sleek, toned body that made me appeal to a large stingray at Stingray City. You reach this attraction by boat and climb off a floating pier into the shallow waters encircled by a coral reef.
Exploring the island, with its colonial history of slavery and sugar farming, is fascinating; there are still sugar mills dotted all over its landscape, as well as posters about cricket matches and local players and pitches which are clues to its real sporting passion.
A museum in St John’s showcases the legendary Viv Richards bat used for a record-breaking innings in 1986, while the rather down-at-heel but quaint capital, with its markets and teeming shopping mall next to the deep harbour where the huge cruise ships dock, is less than relaxing.
It was more enjoyable to go to English Harbour, Antigua’s historic district, where English-Georgian architecture is interspersed with the colourfully painted local-style homes.
Horatio Nelson was a frequent visitor, but now the seafarers are an international mix.
I enjoyed a fresh fish feast and a local beer, Wadadli, for only £12.50 in the Passion Fruit Cafe.
By the last day I felt it was entirely normal to start the day with a cup of lemon juice and hot water. I am determined to maintain some of the good habits which I learned, though some even though highlights – such as flying like a bird – will have to remain a hugely enjoyable memory.
Thomas Cook Signature offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the four-star Verandah Resort & Spa in Dian Bay with return Manchester BA flights from £1,259, in May/June.
Reservations: 0844 879 8014 and www.ThomasCookSignature.com
Thomas Cook Publishing travel guides, including Antigua, from £4.99, from 01733 416 477 and www.ThomasCookpublishing.com.