An Irish-owned resort in the Caribbean offers heavenly food delights, sporting adventures and relaxation in the tropical sun... despite our writer’s yoga tantrum
There’s a gentle tropical rain hitting the roof of the yoga pavilion, and muslin drapes are billowing ever so softly in the warm breeze. I can hear the thwack of tennis balls being hit nearby, and the scurrying of tiny mongooses as they play in the undergrowth.
Unfortunately, I can’t appreciate any of that, because I’m having a yoga tantrum. I don’t have a temperament that’s built for yoga. My natural proclivity is to compete with the person on the mat next to mine, then be filled with bitter disappointment when I discover my body doesn’t bend that way.
Which is why I’m inwardly cursing at my stupid disobedient knees, as the lithe, sporty girl to my right stretches into the perfect half-moon pose. But luckily, there’s one position at which I excel, and that’s shavasana, or corpse pose. As I lay, splayed ungainly on the floor (but very corpse-like) the yoga teacher begins to read aloud.
“So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be / Old bridges breaking between you and me / Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall / Confident that we have built our wall.”
It’s the first time I’ve heard Seamus Heaney recited in such a setting. And it’s so perfect, so apt, that I feel myself soften, and succumb. My scaffolding may be falling, my bridge may be shaky, but my wall is strong. I’m at Carlisle Bay in Antigua for one of the resort’s Wellness Retreats, an all-inclusive programme designed to encourage peace and relaxation in the tropical sun.
Carlisle Bay is owned by Irish company Harcourt Developments, who also own Lough Eske Castle and Titanic Hotel in Belfast. So it makes sense that there’s not only Irish poetry in the air, but an Irish yogi leading the class — my teacher is Tara O’Rourke from Dublin, and her gentle, easy-going manner means my yoga tantrum is short-lived.
While these Wellness Retreats are ostensibly about just that, you’re not beholden to any strict menu. You have the choice to eat as virtuously or devilishly as you desire — you can go for maple-soaked pancakes alongside a fresh green juice, or a massive Caesar salad with fries on the side. There’s a swish sushi restaurant, a beach cafe and a jetty grill, where I eat Cajan-spiced mahi mahi fish tacos with the sounds of the ocean on the side.
And it’s not just the food that’s all-inclusive — the bar is, too. My favourite tipple? Ti Balth, a Provence rosé that’s only available in Antigua and Barbuda.
There’s a similar flexibility when it comes to activities. While the Wellness Retreats offer a daily schedule of meditation, yoga, guided hikes and healthy cookery classes, the rest of the resort is running as usual. Which means you can design your time however you please — after yoga, for example, you could lie on a sun lounger with a Mai Tai and a bar of chocolate from your complimentary mini bar. Before meditation, you could head out on a stand-up paddle board or a kayak — there are loads of watersports available all day, free of charge.
Our scheduled wellness hike takes us up the nearby Signal Hill, one of those peaks that keeps tricking you into thinking you’ve reached the summit before seeing it peek over the top. But when you’re finally there, the view is a killer, the mouth of the bay opening up beyond the lush, rainforest-topped peaks. Along the way, buttress roots sneak their way over the path, which is littered by giant fallen leaves the size of an elephant’s footprint, with a leathery surface that looks like its hide.
One afternoon, we take a boat to snorkel at Cades Bay, where we swim to the shore to find the softest sand I’ve ever felt, each footstep sinking me into what feels like icing sugar. But even though the snorkelling is great, it’s the boat trip itself that gets me going. There are old-fashioned picnic hampers containing silverware and plates for our Japanese picnic, so we eat chicken katsu and seaweed salad on the water (with a bit of rosé, for good measure). And as we whizz back to shore, past craggy coves and clifftop mansions, I sit on the stern and watch the ripples we leave in our wake. It’s hypnotic, mildly addictive, and it makes me want to spend the rest of my day(s) on the water.
Which is why, after setting foot on the jetty, I stay at the watersports shack and ask Marvin if he can teach me how to sail. Less than 10 minutes later, we’re on the water, and I’m holding the lines of a Hobie catamaran. I’m learning how to pull the jib, how to read the direction of the wind, and how to use it to skim over the ocean as we take flight. I’m not sure how much of it is beginner’s luck, how much is Marvin’s skilled instruction and how much is my stunning natural aptitude, but it’s one hell of a thrill.
Just as thrilling is the view from my beach suite, the doors of which open directly onto the white sands of Carlisle Bay. Each morning, I fling them open and walk straight out into the sea, the calm waters barely even rippling as they hit the shore.
And oh, what waters they are. This sheltered, calm bay is filled with so many sea turtles that it could almost be called an infestation. Never before have I seen so many, with such regularity, popping their glossy little heads above the surface of the sea like the game Whac-A-Mole.
Just off the shore, there are a few floating pontoons that look a little like trampolines bobbing in the water. On my last morning, I swim out to one, in order to sit quietly and wait for the turtles to appear. I fold my legs into a vaguely meditative position (no mean feat on a floating trampoline) and watch the surface of the water, my knees akimbo.
I don’t need to wait too long — within minutes, a beautiful big turtle joins me, peeking over the water to see what the hell I’m doing.
I can’t exactly call it meditation. And I definitely can’t call it yoga. But it’s the best I’ve felt in months.
Antigua is a twin-island nation with Barbuda, a pretty isle with white and pink sand beaches. It’s easily reached on a high speed catamaran, which whizzes you over the sea to the island in 90 minutes. €94; barbudaexpress.com
The three-night Wellness Retreat at Carlisle Bay costs from €1,339pps, or from €1,769 in a single room, from May 19-22, carlisle-bay.com
Fly to Antigua with British Airways (ba.com) via Heathrow from €654.
For more details about the twin island destination of Antigua and Barbuda, visit visitantiguabarbuda.com
NB: Nicola was a guest of Carlisle Bay.