A Nautical Kentucky Derby and a Top-Drawer Resort
In 1784, a young Horatio Nelson arrived in Antigua, home base for the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. He’d still recognize the landlocked harbor—its restored dockyard, now a national park, is one of few British Georgian-style naval dockyards left in the world, and still serving sailing vessels.
Once a year, the yachting world descends on this otherwise quiet outpost for a kind of Henley Royal Regatta, Caribbean-style. Some 200 boats from 25 countries show up for a week’s worth of serious racing and beautiful-people watching, filling English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard with blue-blooded sailors, curious landlubbers, and a fair share of pomp and circumstance. Look for the seventeen stately pillars, originally supports for a very large loft where sails were repaired, and a number of colonial naval buildings that are now used as galleries, saloons, shops, and inns.
The unofficial headquarters for the sailing week hubbub, and the architectural center-piece of the Dockyard, is the Admiral’s Inn, a Georgian brick building dating back to 1788. Known as the Ads, it’s the island’s most interesting historic hotel, housed in a former engineers’ office and pitch and tar store, wearing the ambience of an old ship.
The well-tanned yachting crowd comes here to cool off in the shady terrace bar/restaurant, from which they can keep an eye on their multimillion-dollar craft. The food is first rate, as is the Joiner’s Loft upstairs, the nicest and largest of the inn’s dozen or so rooms, with a view of the busy harbor.
If you want a quiet retreat from the scene, the Curtain Bluff resort, about 3 miles west, occupies one of the prettiest spots in Antigua, flanked by two beaches. Pounding surf on the windward side lulls guests to sleep at night, while the lagoon-smooth leeward beach serves as the launching place for the hotel’s host of water activities.
Amid impeccably manicured grounds lush with orchids and palms, spacious suites climb the headland bluff step-fashion, culminating with the Terrace Room, whose size and views offer royal accommodations. A genteel, old- money, country-club air prevails; well-heeled return guests don’t count their pennies or calories.
Exceptionally fine food, a stellar wine cellar, and dancing under the stars create a celebratory mood. And if the island is regarded as one of the Caribbean’s foremost tennis enclaves, it is in no small part due to Curtain Bluffs inimitable founder and hands-on owner, Howard Hulford, who sponsors and hosts the prestigious Antigua Tennis Week every May.