Caribbean Luxury

Hermitage Bay is the jewel of Antigua



 

After easy flights from Charlotte to Antigua, our plane cruised through clear skies over the island’s coast on the approach. I excitedly leaned over to get a better view of the island rapidly coming into view, and there beneath us was the vision we’d been waiting to see — one particular cove with a beach flanked by mountains. The cottages and pools dotted the beach and the mountainside from this incredible aerial view, but before I could fully gasp, Hermitage Bay was out of sight. But not for long.

After disembarking, we were immediately greeted by a Hermitage Bay representative who whisked us through immigration and customs. It was better than having a Disney World FastPass+. We then met Denley, who took our luggage and gave us each an ice cold, almond scented washcloth, which provided the ideal refreshment for weary travelers just off the plane. He then drove us to our eagerly anticipated destination and filled us in on some of the island’s history and culture along the way, including that Antigua is known for its 365 beaches, one for each day of the year.

Pulling in through the large wooden gates into this exquisite resort was like entering a well-manicured jungle garden with lush, green foliage pruned and shaped to perfection and vibrant tropical flowers of all colors in bloom. Ryan greeted us with another cold, almond scented washcloth, which set the stage for nonstop pampering. After being ushered into the open-air lounge, we were served freshly made mojitos to settle ourselves from our trip. We collapsed into the cushion-filled sofa and just stared at the exotic beach backdrop that would be home for the next few days.

Hermitage Bay is a celebrated jewel in the crown of this magnificent Caribbean island. Set in a private and tranquil hideaway location, this luxury boutique hotel offers an intimate, understated feel, largely due to the fact that there are only 30 cottage suites, all of which offer stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. The hundreds of acres of undeveloped land surrounding the deep cove truly make it feel like a private island. And it certainly sets an extravagant standard for all-inclusive resorts.

Vera checked us in, and Jamal then escorted us to our oceanfront villa. Local, dark wood resembling teak provides an elegant foundation throughout Hermitage Bay — in the open-air lounge, by the pool, and in every room. Our large king bed was surrounded by a lovely canopy of mosquito netting and faced the breathtaking beach and gorgeous blue water just yards away. Our suite was equipped with every luxury imaginable, including  remote-controlled air conditioning, an impressive sound system, and an extensive DVD rental list for the TV. The focal point of the large bathroom was a huge tub, and out one door was an outdoor shower large enough for a football team. A fruit platter and small bottle of Champagne in an ice bucket were set out on the coffee table, and the all-inclusive, fully stocked mini bar was full of everything from Terra chips, wine, local Wadadli beer, local Cavalier rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, chocolate bars, sodas, and fruit juices, and  it was replenished daily. A wraparound front porch was complete with a large, square, cushioned double lounge — perfect for reading and looking right out over the water.

We wasted no time in ditching our traveling clothes for bathing suits to hit the beach. But first, we headed over to the beachside pool and dining area for an afternoon refreshment; between us we enjoyed a frozen piña colada, a strawberry daiquiri, hummus with pita and olives, jerk-rubbed potatoes with guacamole and pico de gallo, and a Caribbean chicken salad.

The staff made us feel like returning family members, such was their sincere and warm welcome to us. They quickly learned our names and greeted us in passing, underscoring the feeling of being at home in this lovely Caribbean paradise.

Our new friends arranged for fitted towel-covered lounge chairs under an umbrella for us, and we were soon happily reading and sipping brightly colored frozen concoctions. To be served on the beach, we only needed to stick the red flag beneath the umbrella in the sand for immediate attention. Whether we ordered a frozen mudslide, a frozen mango daiquiri, or a coconut crush, as soon as the glass was empty another appeared in the hand of smiling Koshane. My beach read of choice for this trip was ironically The Woman in Cabin 10, a nail-biting murder mystery about a journalist for a travel magazine on a trip covering a luxury cruise. I can only say that I am glad my note-taking was limited to all the unforgettable resort details and not any Caribbean murder mysteries.

Upon diving into the refreshingly cool salt water, we discovered a tiny reef less than 5 yards offshore and enjoyed snorkeling around it all week. The beach was covered in tiny, perfectly shaped shells in random heaps that were like jewel boxes. It was addicting to collect them (I was especially enamored with a peculiar black and white one) as well as the smoothed sea glass. Feeling adventurous, we explored over the rocks at the far end of the cove to find an exciting tidal cave in full swing with water surging and spraying with the moving waves, giving the appearance of a water-dragon seething in his lair.

 

A golden sunset over the cove with wispy, oil-painted clouds of soft orange and electric blue and pink opened our first evening. We strolled down the beach to the open-air, multi-tiered dining area overlooking the water. Walking down the moonlit beach to dinner quickly became a special part of each day. We soon found our favorite table to be one in the corner of the bend in the wraparound deck, though all tables enjoy spectacular views and fresh breezes. The menu changed daily and was a combination of Caribbean and European cuisine made with fresh, primarily locally sourced, organic ingredients by award-winning Executive Chef Desroy Spence. And the portions were the perfect size, just small enough to allow us to order from each course without feeling overstuffed.

Our first evening, we ordered a spicy cod fish and fritter salad and pumpkin soup with ginger oil to start, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the curried conch served with red bean rice, baby bok choy, and yellow squash as our main dish with exotic flavors that served as a wonderful reminder that we were indeed in the Caribbean. A dry Provence rosé was the perfect accompaniment, and a pumpkin pie with salted caramel ice cream and cinnamon sauce, several tiny petits fours, and a glass of port provided a sweet finish to a delectable meal.

Other dinner favorites that we enjoyed over the week included poached stuffed calamari, lobster ceviche, mussels and prawns with pickled veggies, lobster bisque, white truffle oil beef carpaccio, rosemary and mint lamb shank, poached sailor’s choice with pickled ginger, beef tenderloin with delicious roasted Yukon potatoes, and grilled Caribbean lobster tail with hand-pressed fingerling potatoes and lemon anchovy green onion butter. Dessert favorites included the chocolate mousse with nugget ice cream and a Kahlua creme brulee with coconut and cinnamon ice cream. It was so nice to have all of these delicacies, plus an extensive drink menu, fall under the all-inclusive package!

Live music played throughout dinner, and a different group performed every night. During the first night, a talented vocalist walked among the tables, courting the diners as she sang. I enjoyed the reggae band as it fully completed the Caribbean picture, and that evening we stayed for an after-dinner drink in the lounge to listen to their music a little longer. We enjoyed a starlit walk on the beach as our commute back to the villa, and we wiggled our toes in the wet sand as the surf rhythmically came and went, tinkling the jewel-like piles of shells.

In the morning, after slipping out of the mosquito netting and lounging on our beachfront porch, we headed back across the beach for breakfast, which proved to be every bit as delightful as dinner. I ordered a latte, which was served in a beautiful glass mug that showed off the different layers of the drink. A pastry basket filled with tasty treats like mini croissants and poppy bread soon followed, served with guava, plum, and spiced orange jams and honey as well as fresh fruit. I ordered pumpkin pancakes with sides of bacon and sauteed mushrooms. In the coming days, I discovered that the French toast; the tomato, mozzarella, and pesto omelet; and the fried grits sticks were no less delicious. We enjoyed watching the little mongooses scurry around — funny little creatures with bushy tails. It was nice to finally see one in person after my childhood love of Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

After the sumptuous start to our day, we walked down to the watersports hut to inquire about a snorkeling trip. Devon took us out to Hawksbill Rock via a fun boat ride and told us the names of the many beaches we passed. A boat was definitely the best way to fully appreciate the many beaches and coves surrounded by the mountainous landscape of Antigua. Our private snorkeling experience was delightful, and I even saw my favorite reef fish, the Queen Angel. Afterward, Devon drove us over to see Giorgio Armani and Eric Clapton’s houses (they are neighbors here in Antigua).

We had lunch at our favorite table overlooking the blue water. It was hard to choose from the many enticing choices. Chef Spence’s offerings included a daily bruschetta; duck breast and carrot salad; the best burger I have ever tasted with equally amazing fries; squid and cucumber salad; and, bean, avocado, and pico de gallo tacos. My favorite lunch dessert was the chocolate brownie served with coconut and cotton candy ice cream. No going hungry on this trip!

Hermitage Bay offers many water activities, one of its best features. It was so luxurious to have the major decision of the day be whether to paddleboard to one of the other little coved beaches within the enormous private bay, to kayak, to sail on a Hobie Cat, or to relax and read on a beach lounge. My favorite activity was learning to sail, and unlike other resorts where you are limited to a relatively small area, Hermitage Bay allows you to use the whole of the expansive bay.

Sailing was just resplendent. The Hobie Cat whipped around the cove with the constant wind propelling us along at a most satisfying clip. We scooted from mountain to mountain, admiring the abandoned sugar mills from the water while watching flying fish easily manage to stay ahead of us. At one point, we saw the celebrated Antigua hawksbill sea turtle stick its head up before quickly diving back down. One afternoon we each took out a Hobie Cat and raced each other around the bay!

On another day, we were feeling particularly adventurous and decided to try windsurfing. Mercifully, there was not too much wind, so it was a good day to learn. I finally got the hang of going in one direction and enjoyed a nice sail out to sea. Thankfully, Jamil and Michael came out to my rescue in the motored dingy and coached me through some techniques before motoring me back to shore. I can see why people find it addicting as it was such a thrill.

Afternoon tea by the pool offered the perfect close to a day of activities before winding down for dinner. Delicious pimento cheese sandwiches, plantain and veggie crackers, chocolate shortbread cookies, and small caramel toffee treats accompanied our piping hot peppermint tea.

The award-winning spa is another gem at Hermitage Bay. Each Friday, they invite guests for a complimentary spa “teaser,” of which we took full advantage. Walking up the hillside, meandering through the quaint cottages, we arrived at the spa and enjoyed the magnificent view of the mountains rising up in protection of their private cove. The walk up the rather mountainous trail flanked by Caribbean flora to the spa was a precursor of the unique experience ahead of us. We entered through what to me was a secret garden door and sat in lounges on the balcony sipping fruit-infused water, perched surprisingly high overlooking the ocean and mountains. My fabulous hand and foot massage gave me a sneak peek of the full treatment I received the following day. Shanna and Sharon were an incredible team, giving us the ultimate massages and facials. The oils and other products were heavenly in scent, and having thick, lush towels provided a wonderful reminder that this was an island massage, not a bustling city spa.

Since our treatments began about 15 minutes before sunset, we heard the symphony of crickets strike up as dark encapsulated the island while we were being blissfully pampered on the table.

Our last evening, as I rinsed off before dinner in our villa’s outdoor shower, I watched the golden sky as the sun showed the first traces of dipping below the aqua horizon line, hoping it would not be long before it rose on another trip to Hermitage Bay.