Curtain Bluff, Antigua: laid-back luxury in the Caribbean
In a quiet corner of Antigua - one of the friendliest and most laid-back of the Caribbean islands - sits Curtain Bluff, a luxury beach resort that has not changed hands in more than half a century.
After serving with the RAF in the Second World War, Howard Hulford plied his trade as a private pilot, ferrying oil executives to and from the Caribbean. That’s how he discovered Curtain Bluff, a forested headland on the southwestern coast of the island.
In 1962, he and his wife built their home there - and a 22-room hotel. Since Howard’s death in 2009, Chelle has flown solo, circulating among guests in the dining room and hosting a weekly cocktail party in her home on the hilltop.
Curtain Bluff now boasts 72 rooms and suites, as well as two restaurants, a standalone spa, tennis courts, a squash court and a swimming pool. Many of the rooms have been refurbished in airy coastal colours, and all offer spectacular ocean views. Some have balconies and private plunge pools, while others provide direct access to the beach.
Despite its expansion, the hotel retains a family feel. The hilly terrain, combining landscaped gardens and pine groves, conceals the larger accommodation blocks, while the open-sided main building blends harmoniously with the landscaped gardens. Many of the staff have been at the hotel for years if not decades, and guests also have a habit of returning.
What to do
Curtain Bluff caters equally well for those who want to spend their holiday trying new activities - and those who want to do as little as possible. First stop for the latter group is likely to be the sheltered sandy beach on the western side of the bluff, where sunloungers and waiters carrying iced drinks provide relief from the tropical sun - as does the clear, cooling water. A spa, on the very tip of the headland, offers more intense relaxation through a range of massages and other treatments.
For the more active, the hotel offers a wide range of watersports at no extra cost, including motorised activities such as water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing. Snorkelling and scuba-diving trips, and all equipment hire, are also included, as is use of the resort’s tennis courts (although lessons with the club pro are extra). Kayaks, paddle boats, sailing boats and wind-surfing boards are also freely available.
Antigua is a small island and not difficult to navigate (taxis or guided excursions can be arranged for a fee). The main tourist attractions include Nelson’s Dockyard, just around the coast from Curtain Bluff, although the road winds inland, through steep and densely forested terrain, before emerging at what looks for all the world like a Gloucestershire manor house. There’s good reason for that: it was built with bricks shipped in from England in the late 18th century.
Now a hotel and restaurant called The Admiral’s Inn, it was once a store for the pitch and tar needed to keep the Royal Navy afloat. Lord Nelson himself, resident here throughout the 1780s, was not enthusiastic about his posting - he described the place as a “vile hole” - but it’s hard to see why. The sparkling marina and lavishly restored Georgian buildings are a sight to behold under Caribbean skies.
A visit to Shirley Heights, a few miles away, reveals why the harbour was of such strategic importance. From the scenic lookout point you can see how the curve of the coast has created a protective natural harbour, ideal shelter from storms - and the perfect spot from which to keep an eye on the neighbouring French colony of Guadeloupe. On Sunday evenings, it’s now the site of a spectacular sunset party, with steel bands, reggae, food stalls and rum.
What to eat
At Curtain Bluff, dinner is served a la carte in the Seagrape restaurant (top photo) or the Tamarind (below), which gets its name from the beautiful tree casting welcome shade over tables on the courtyard. The food is a mixture of Caribbean specialities - curried chicken in roti, for example, or a breakfast of saltfish and chop-up - and international classics, from pasta to steaks to grilled fish and salad. Lunch at the Seagrape consists of either a more casual menu or an extensive buffet and salad bar (or both).
The menus, which change on a daily basis, are complemented by one of the largest collections of wine in the Caribbean - consisting of 15,000 bottles from more than 600 producers. Prices range from £38 to more than £1,500 for a bottle of Chateau Petrus, 1997. Tastings can be arranged in the cool of the cellars, with a selection of cheeses to pair with the wines.
When to go
Peak season runs from December to May, the cooler, drier portion of the year. The temperature can be expected to reach 28C to 30C and most rain falls in the form of sharp downpours that pass quickly. From June, the temperature builds, rainfall increases and storms are more frequent.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly non-stop from Gatwick to Antigua, from about £500.
For more information or to book, visit curtainbluff.com. Deluxe rooms are available from about £700 per night for two adults, including taxes, full board and most activities.