Here I sit on a shaded veranda overlooking the Atlantic Ocean reclining on a swinging porch “bed” — not a swing but a long bed built for two — watching the palm trees bend toward the west as the wind sends its fronds in the same direction. I imagine the previous visitor doing the same: an extremely famous actor who has won Academy and Golden Globe Awards. Lunch has been brought to me; a deliciously sinful shrimp pasta with garlic cream sauce. And I am just sitting here, listening to the waves crash on my private beach. I am drifting in and out of sleep as my dangling foot keeps the bed rocking.
Here is Antigua. More precisely, Jumby Bay. This 400-acre island is privately owned by its homeowners, the world’s wealthiest of families from around the world including Germany, the United Kingdom and America. When they are not here, they allow visitors to take residence in their spacious and open-air homes. No door has been locked as there is no crime on the island, and rarely crime on the main land of Antigua. My cab driver explained, as he drove me to the ferryboat that would take me Jumby Bay, that tourism is the No. 1 industry to the country (it has a sister and smaller island, Barbuda). “We want people to leave with a smile and not a sad face,” he said. “Our police are very strict against anyone who commits any crime against a tourist because tourists are important to us. It’s important they are happy.”
Jumby’s safety is only a fraction of why the rich and famous have been coming here since 1998. The island is small and intimate, yet so secluded and private that an anonymous journalist such as myself can be staying in near proximity to those wishing to remain anonymous. During our stay, I am told the resort is completely booked, but I wouldn’t have guessed it. There are no cars on the island; instead people traverse by bike and golf cart. As I’ve pedaled along the left-hand side of the road (Antigua was under British control until 1981, and still operates today with English influences and a queen-appointed governor), we’ve only come across one other guest, who waved as he passed by in his red Hummer golf cart. The homes have personal chefs (as well as personal housekeepers), making seclusion easier to come by. While the island’s two restaurants are available for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, we’ve still only come across stragglers at meal times. This is the place to truly and utterly get away from it all.
Antigua rests on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. Internet and oftentimes cell phone service is available, by why would anyone want to connect to the outside world when paradise has been found far removed from civilization?
Besides Jumby’s privacy, the island and its resort, also owned by the homeowners, provide a casual setting in which to unwind, but in absolute and unpretentious luxury. If there is anything you desire or need on this island, the staff will bend head over heels backward to take care of it, whether you are staying in one of the homes that can cost thousands of dollars a night, or one of its resort’s rooms, suites or villas, accommodating up to eight. As the main gateway of the island, the resort is all-inclusive. This, however, is not the place to find a large swimming pool with swim-up bars packed with pasty white or lobster-red tourists with frozen concoctions in hand. Instead, its adult-only lap pool sits in seclusion surrounded by tall and well-manicured bushes with rows of cabanas flanking its sides. The stretch of beach is long and without crowds, making it a romantic backdrop for a hand-in-hand stroll at sunset. There isn’t a spa on the island, but services are made available in room (actually, anywhere you choose, including ocean or poolside). The lack of a golf course seems like the resort and island’s only downside, but in actuality, it saves the island for its lush, tropical vegetation and continues the theme of privacy. Besides, “Nevis is just a hop away by plane and has fantastic golf at the Four Seasons,” added one of the resort’s managers.
The resort features two restaurants, the Verandah, aptly named for the verandah overlooking the ocean and the main land, and the Estate House, also aptly named as it was the island’s first home, that of its sugar plantation owner. Breakfast and lunch are served at the Verandah with both buffet and menu from which to choose. Afternoon tea and dinner can be enjoyed at either restaurant, although The Estate House requires a bit more formality in dress. Its two-story restaurant provides an intimate setting and is the most populated of areas, bringing diners together in what often become long-lasting friendships. It overlooks the croquet field, perfect for celebrating the afternoon English-style with tea. (Tennis whites not required.) Room service is provided, but rooms are not required either. Meals can be delivered anywhere on the island, including its second public beach, Pasture Beach.
The homeowners developed their homes and resort rooms to share the same sense of luxury and decor. While homes may vary slightly to accommodate owners’ tastes, all remain Caribbean plantation-style complete with four-poster mahogany beds and plantation shutters and doors. Every home and many of the resort’s larger rooms include private pools, as well as outdoor rain showers in bathrooms that remain half indoors and half out. Although a friendly lizard may find its way into the bathroom, it means nothing when provided the opportunity to shower in the sun or under the night sky cloaked in what seems like millions of stars above. The tar-like night makes this island a haven for sea turtles that come here to nest six months a year. Turtle watch is available for those interested in seeing an ancient leatherback, and the resort will call during the night if one should be spotted on shore.
Meeting the Main Land
When life relaxing under the sun becomes too much to bear (blasphemy!) catch the ferry to the main land for a tour of Antigua. Nelson’s Dockyard, tucked into a far corner on the south side of the island, was once the home of Lord Admiral Nelson as he guarded the British islands from Caribbean pirates. The historical location dates back to 1725, abandoned by the navy in 1889 and not receiving care or restoration until 1951. Islanders claim the site is haunted by the ghosts of fallen naval of officers. Nearer to Jumby is Heritage Cay, home to duty-free shopping in pastel-painted buildings along small winding roads that provide a sense of the Caribbean’s bustling marketplace with the likes of jewelry and designer labels combined with souvenirs and native pottery and artwork. The Cay is home to the cruise ship docks, which can make for quite a busy area when ships are in port. On water, the ocean provides the ultimate playground for seafarers: snorkeling, scuba diving near sunken ships, fishing, sailing and more.
While you can enjoy the town or boat excursion, there isn’t a need to do anything but to lounge in silence in the warmth of the sun. I, for example, have been sitting on this swing for four straight hours while the bed rocked in the breeze. Although I am leaving the next day and should be doing more than lounging on a swing, the sun is beginning to set behind those aforementioned palm trees. As the sky goes from blue to purple and pink, I decide to stay put for another hour and watch the sun slip away into the sea.