The Luxury Photo Journey is an occasional series here at Dandelion Chandelier. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place so stunningly beautiful that words fail us. In those instances, we’ll let the images do most of the talking.
As part of a 10-day adventure on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, during which we stopped at St. Kitts and St. Lucia, we recently visited Antigua for the first time – and we were completely taken aback by the beauty of this nautical paradise. [Full disclosure: in April 2018 I was appointed to the board of the parent company of Regent Seven Seas].
Our journey took us from a cliff-side fort to a tony yacht harbor, all under spectacular blue skies.
In honor of the second edition of the 935-mile oceanic Antigua to Bermuda Race, organized by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in association with Antigua Sailing Week, which kicked off this week, we thought this was the perfect moment to share our first impressions of Antigua. (We are totally going back there, so we know they won’t be our last).
The Caribbean island of Antigua boasts 365 beaches — one for each day of the year, as the local tourism board likes to say.
The island’s population of roughly 100,000 people is intensely focused on education (our tour bus driver proudly sported a “Harvard Dad” sticker — his son is a junior majoring in Chemistry there). How committed are Antiguans to helping their children aim high? The island’s literacy rate is 87%, and the highest peak on the island was renamed Mount Obama. On the day of the former President’s first Inauguration in 2009, the name was changed to inspire the children of the island to “look up.” Seriously, that is just awesome.
You’ll find pockets of affluence and economic challenge alongside the roads that crisscross the island. We’re informed that the truly wealthy actually live offshore: Long Island is a small atoll off the coast of Antigua in Jumby Bay. The 5-star Jumby Bay Resort is located there, along with homes reportedly owned by Oprah Winfrey, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. It’s totally private, and you cannot visit without an invitation or a hotel reservation.
But back to the mainland. We’re informed that there are 25 native species of mango – leading to a fabulous annual mango festival. Another fun fact? The national bird is the frigate – it has a six-foot wingspan.
Here are four must-see stops if you have only a short time to visit:
1. Dow’s Hill offers one of the best panoramic views on the island. It’s the site of a visitor’s center and the Blockhouse Ruins, which stand above the Atlantic Ocean on a sheer cliff. Not surprisingly, this was once a principal lookout post for the British.
2. Shirley Heights Lookout is the southernmost point in Antigua. At one time, the island was protected by a ring of stone military forts; some of them still stand, and they have spectacular views. On a clear day, from here you can see the Leeward islands of Montserrat and Guadaloupe.
3. The churches. One of the charming elements of Antigua that lingered in our minds is the beautiful houses of worship on the island. St. John’s Cathedral is the most famous, but there are lovely ones throughout.
4. Nelson’s Dockyard. The lovely and charming Nelson’s Dockyard is named for Admiral Nelson of the British Navy, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar (it is said that his corpse was “pickled” in rum so that it could be sent home for burial).
The UNESCO World Heritage site is wonderfully preserved: filled with palm trees, flowers, gracious 18th- and 19th-century buildings, a museum, an inn, shops, and outdoor cafes.
It’s the site of the Falmouth charted yacht show and race week, the Atlantic Challenge, and other iconic sailing events. The vibe is all about the sea, sailors, and history.
Hear the stories of how unwitting men were “Shanghai’d”: given too much to drink and then imprisoned and forced to work on the dockyard. Many were paid in rum, to prevent them from amassing sufficient money to flee.
The dock itself is filled with super- and mega-yachts, their owners and crews spilling cheerfully out along the walkway and mingling with the tourists. People are incredibly friendly and open to conversation, making a stroll around the grounds a lovely way to while away an hour or two.
If you have more time, and you love cricket, take in a match at the stadium named after one of the sport’s greatest players: Sir Vivian Richards. And as with every Caribbean island, there are ample opportunities to shop (but fair warning, it’s mostly “touristy” items — we didn’t spot any true luxury stores).
The buildings at the cruise ship dock are brightly-painted and cheerful, and the entire setting will leave you in jolly mood. Just be careful not to drink too much rum punch — now we all know exactly where that can lead. Bon voyage!