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Winter sun in Antigua: what to do, see and drink in this rum-soaked corner of the Caribbean

Golden hour at Shirley Heights, Antigua (AABTA)
Golden hour at Shirley Heights, Antigua (AABTA)

There comes a point in everyone’s winter when you start to forget what proper daylight looks like. When that happens, it’s time to pinch a piece of summer from elsewhere.

Long regarded as a billionaire’s playground and retiree retreat, the Caribbean is the ultimate escape for a shot of much-needed sun, and the winter months are the best time to go. Temperatures hover pleasantly around the mid- to late 20s, the skies are blue, the sea bath-warm and there’s more than enough sunshine to go round.

Famed for its 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, Antigua is a hot spot, but the country is more than a quick stop on a cruise ship itinerary and there’s plenty of action away from the sun-lounger.

More recently, Antigua is enjoying the small-screen spotlight, having starred in the very first episode of The Apprentice on BBC, much to the delight of this year’s contestants. Makes a change from Romford Market.

Here’s why Antigua is both a balm and a boon for anyone who’s feeling winter-worn.

Explore the colourful capital of St. John’s

Most of the luxury resorts are planted around the coast by the sparkling blue waters, but if you fancy dipping into the streets of the capital St. John’s, the all-inclusive family-friendly Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa is just a 15-minute drive away. Tear yourself away from the three pools, eight restaurants and spa with thalassotherapy and you will be rewarded.

Kick back at the all-inclusive Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa (Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa)
Kick back at the all-inclusive Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa (Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa)

The city is all low-rise candy-coloured buildings; aside from the Cathedral, the cruise ships are easily the tallest structures around when they pull in. Peek into Antigua’s past at the national museum, and after emerging back into the sunlight, make a beeline for Roti King, a few blocks away for freshly-made curries wrapped in warm flatbread - they’re the best on the island. For shopping, your best bet is Heritage Quay Complex by the harbour whose shops, stalls and rum bars burst into action when sea-faring tourists roll in.

Sundays in Antigua are sacred, reserved for church and the beach exclusively, but if you’re looking for a party, head to Shirley Heights. There’s a steel band and freshly barbecued jerk chicken here every Sunday night ($10 entry) along with free views of the English Harbour.

Visit historic Nelson’s Dockyard

 (AABTA)
(AABTA)

Over the bay from Shirley Heights you’ll find the historic Nelson’s Dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking around the old naval yard feels strangely familiar thanks to the carefully restored Georgian architecture, local tavern and cobbled streets — features that also make it one of the island’s top wedding venues. Bordered by old forts and cannons, it’s easy to imagine the dockyard as it once was in the 18th- and 19th-century, despite the distinctly 21st-century superyachts docked in the marina. Sheltered from topical storms and with a deep harbour, it’s still the place to go for ship repairs, although these days they take considerably less than the two years it took Georgian sailors, who were hampered by the rum they received as payment. It’s free to walk around but if you fancy a guided tour, they start from $20.

Book now, Nationalparksantigua.com

Go potty at Cedar’s Pottery

Run by charming husband-and-wife team Michael Hunt and Imogen Margrie, this gallery is one of Antigua’s stealth attractions, especially for art lovers. The stunning azure blue and white studio (which houses an Air BnB at the top) showcases the best of their work, crafted and finessed in their workshop at the back of the leafy estate: Imogen specialises in ceramic wall lights, Michael is also a ceramicist and self-taught sculptor with commissions from top resorts and businesses. It’s a serene place and while all artwork is for sale, you can try your hand at your own creation by signing up for a Paint a Pot class (from $10pp).

Book now, MargrieHunt.com

Perfect a knock-out rum punch

 (Quin Farara)
(Quin Farara)

Aside from cricket, rum is a national obsession. There are plenty of bars and shops to sample locally-made drams but Quin Farara is one of the best rum companies on the island. Perched on a corner of Long Street in St. John’s, this is more than an off-licence with wooden shelves stocked with the best booze and produce the country has to offer, from artisan gin and hand-roasted coffee to do-you-dare hot sauces and enough rum to sink an entire fleet.

Work your way through the best of them with guidance from the friendly staff. The 20-minute Rum Punch Experience starts ($20pp), or dive deeper with an hour-long masterclass ($60pp). They’ll walk you through the nuances and notes in each bottle before helping you get down to business and create your very own rum punch. The fun is deciding just how lethal your serve will be.

Book now, Quinfarara.com

Drink in the dramatic coastline

 (AABTA)
(AABTA)

The best way to take in Antigua’s many sandy beaches and striking harbours? One word: catamaran.

Tropical Adventures offers day trips, with snorkelling, food and an open bar, through its 28-mile Excellence Circumnavigation Tour (try saying that after a few rum punches). The spacious, sleek vessel has plenty of decking to stretch out on, with welcome splashes of ocean spray serving to cool you in the sun. With a stop on a secluded beach for swimming and lunch, the tour takes in Antigua’s stunning coastline — from the Pillars of Hercules to Bird Island and Devil‘s Bridge. If you’ve only got time for one thing in Antigua, make it this.

Adults: US $120, children: US $65, infants: US $25.

Book now, Topicallad.com

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