The sleek ship-sized mega-yacht Ice in Antigua's Falmouth Harbour is apparently owned by a Russian billionaire. The Mill Reef Club is so "old money" that Donald Trump was once denied membership. The holiday homes of famous footballers, actors, musicians and fashion designers are too numerous to mention, from Johnny Depp and Andriy Shevchenko to Armani and Angela Lansbury. Eric Clapton actually has a few properties including a rehab centre that offers subsidised treatment to locals. And British royalty seem to have a penchant for the place too from Prince Charles in his youth and Princess Margaret on her honeymoon to Princess Diana seeking a peaceful pap-free hideaway.
There's clearly something special about Antigua, but it's a relief to find that this hidden treasure of the West Indies with its bountiful beaches, rich heritage and colourful island life is not the exclusive playground of the rich and famous. In fact, its coastline is relatively undeveloped with a flurry of undisturbed white sands within reach for the adventurous, while plenty of hotels with affordable rates occupy their own little pockets of paradise. From heritage hotels to relaxing resorts, here's a round-up of the best places to stay around the island whether you are looking for a slice of the high life or a simple budget stay.
Tranquil family resort
Verandah Resort and Spa
Set on Antigua's peaceful east coast, the four-star Verandah Resort and Spa exudes laid-back Caribbean charm and serenity. It's neat little white wooden villas perch just above the low limestone cliffs, their balconies forming what looks like a quaint verandah wrapping around the deeply-notched coastline. The all-inclusive resort village is spread across wide green grounds sprouting with banana groves, palms and flowers, and guests can choose from two sleepy coves of creamy white sand and turquoise sea for luxuriating in the tropical sun. Rasta beach has a great snack shack, while the main beach has free watersports, and both offer loungers and natural shade beneath the fronded palms.
The Verandah's main hub is a large plantation-style building that houses its main restaurants, the spa and large open-sided bar beside the huge lagoon-style pool. The large kids club, playground and splash pool is just around the corner. At night the area draws guests for drinks and entertainment that includes local steel pan, live music, limbo and fire dancing.
In the day you can enhance the simple pleasures of pure sun, sea, and sand with a round of mini golf, a walk around the point to the renowned coastal rock arch known as Devil's Bridge, treatments from one of the excellent resort spa therapists, or an excursion such as the 4x4 island adventure tour. When you are ready to retreat to your airy high-ceilinged suite, you will find big clean and modern bathrooms, comfy king-size beds and light tropical decor with mini kitchens and seating areas opening onto dazzling aquamarine views.
Although the semi-detached suites can be linked via adjoining doors, the resort is adding six new spacious two-bedroom villas up on the hill soon that will be ideal for family travellers.
Fun in the sun
St James Club and Villas
This is one of Antigua's livelier all-inclusive resorts and it's close to the island's best bits such as Shirley Heights and Nelson's Dockyard, making it great for travellers who like to pepper their holiday with activities. St James Club and Villas is built along a slender peninsula in the south-east, the resort has fluffy white beaches facing both east and west, with lots of lovely waterside bars and eateries offering unlimited food and drinks.
Sheltered Mamora Bay is perfect for watersports, with non-motorized activities such as hobby cat sailing, paddle-boarding, canoeing and snorkelling offered for free by the hotel. That said, there are no coral heads in Mamora Bay and underwater visibility can be cloudy, so above-water aquatic activities are best. The dedicated water-sports centre staff are happy to offer instruction and keep a close eye on all guests out in the bay. There's even a speedboat at the ready should anyone get into trouble.
In the evenings the resort has live music and local entertainment, hosting a family-friendly full moon beach party every other Saturday with great food, music and dancing. There are pretty villas on the west slope, though in the hotter and more humid period rooms facing onto the east beach have the bonus of catching the refreshing Atlantic breeze. Ground floor suites open right onto the beach, while upper suites have airy vaulted ceilings and balconies over the sand. There's a mosquito screen over the balcony door so you can let the wind and silent ceiling fan naturally cool your room at night without the need for air-con.
Stay right in the heart of Antigua's soon-to-be world heritage site, Nelson's Dockyard, in these atmospheric 18th-century buildings that have been converted into a boutique hotel beside the remains of the old boat house. A living museum, the area is the world's only functioning Georgian dockyard, with quaint chocolate box buildings and lanes. Originally used as a dockyard office and storehouse, Admiral's Inn oozes character and history from its preserved wooden beams down to the pitch marks at the foot of the stairs.
Luxuriously furnished suites incorporate antique features and overlook the calm harbour bobbing with sail boats. The chunky round pillars of the former boat house now line the terrace of the Pillars restaurant overlooking the harbour. At roughly £120 per night for a standard double room (May-November), it's far less pricey than many other boutique hotels. Keep in mind, though, that there's a 22.5% government tax and service charge added to the hotel bill in Antigua.
Ocean Point's wonderful Italian management team, that includes Niccolo Bertelli and Rossana Ferrari, have added a little "La Dolce Vita" to this small but beautiful family-run hotel on the north coast of the island. The pair are on hand with advice and suggestions to help you get the most out of the island's local colour and blissful beaches. The hotel backs onto Hodge's Bay with its own twin arcs of creamy white sand gently shelving into the languid turquoise waters.
The Sardinian hotelier family arrived on the island more than 40 years ago and fell in love with Antigua's platinum-and-turquoise vistas because it reminded them of home. Ocean Point has recently been brought back into the fold and has been crafted into a hip and affordable holiday haven with an intimate atmosphere boasting a revamped restaurant and important touches such as fine bed linen and mattresses imported directly from Italy.
The stylish lobby – with an old stone sugar mill incorporated into the design – along with tastefully furnished pool and communal areas, not-to-mention the superb Italian-Caribbean waterfront eatery, Sottovento, all give the hotel a distinct boutique verve, without the accompanying price tag. In fact, rooms go for around £120 per night in low season but the restaurant alone is worth a visit, with its own Michelin-starred chef preparing mouth-watering meals from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. If you book an all-inclusive package, high-quality food is served in the relaxed surrounds of Sottovento with its bleached woods and quirky design touches, though the hotel also offers bed and breakfast and room only options.
If you're travelling with a friend, partner or solo, and prefer a smaller homely hotel with personalised service and great food instead of a sprawling all-inclusive resort, then this is the place for you. It's also close to the capital St John's where you can find some of the island's best restaurants, shopping and sights.
From the sea, Hermitage Bay's peaked wooden villas look like a native Indian settlement knitted into the green tufted hillside, but this barefoot resort is far from basic. Aside from offering a handful of lush five-star hardwood suites with pristine white linen, fine cream furnishings and private infinity pools, this luxury boutique has nabbed one of the most stunning and secluded locations on the island. It's taken good care of the natural environs too, allowing the foliage to envelope the resort so that it melts into its beautiful backdrop.
Beach purists rejoice at the steep and verdant west slopes, which add drama to the already-beautiful white ribbon of sand, and the gently rippling waters that have a special kind of luminescence that's rare even in the Caribbean. The food here is pretty spectacular too, with a daily-changing menu of fresh gourmet meals.
The Barbuda Belle is the ultimate eco-luxe escape in a virtually undiscovered corner of the Caribbean. Getting there via little plane from Antigua to Barbuda and speedboat from Codrington lagoon to the immaculate acres-long platinum beach feels like something out of a James Bond movie.
They say Antigua and Barbuda has 365 beaches, but it's possible that Barbuda Belle has claimed the most heavenly spot with its six detached Balinese-style villas perched on stilts above the blindingly white sand and calm teal sea. The villa-suites have super high-end natural furnishings and state-of-the-art Dutch four-poster beds with built-in dehumidifiers that silently cool the canopy area.
A short stroll or speedy boat ride away, Cedar Tree Point is a pink sand beach: a hidden treasure that will delight even the most spoilt beach goer. Managers Rosalind and Speedy run this ship like a dream with a French chef on hand to rustle up gourmet meals and personalised activities such as spear fishing, scuba diving, turtle watching, tours of the frigate bird sanctuary and excursions to the salt pans.
The colony of prehistoric-looking frigate birds in the nearby mangroves is the second largest in the world – a protected area where birds from the Galapagos come to raise their young. In fact the area is a nursery for all kinds of marine species including reef sharks and sea turtles who lay their eggs along the beach.
With rooms starting at £750 per night all inclusive, this private ultra 5-star island resort on Antigua's northern islet of Long Island is said to be the most exclusive place in Antigua. It is a little out of my price range, but honeymooners might feel inclined to splash out on a slice of the high life.
There's gourmet butler-service breakfast, outdoor garden showers, giant draped four-poster beds, cocktails on demand, in-room nespresso machines and fine linens sourced from Italy. Jumby Bay shares Long Island, in Antigua's languid northern waters, with dream desert island rental and private villas – one being the Caribbean escape of Oprah Winfrey. The island is essentially a solid luxury-lovers hideout with three perfect arcs of white palm-fringed sand, an artisan restaurant, quality bars and grills, and royal service just a short boat ride from the main island.
If you are looking for a self-catered budget stay in a good location to explore the island, check out the room and villa rentals around Jolly Harbour that are just a stone's throw from the west coast's stunning beaches. The area also has plenty of drinking and dining options, and is a short hop from island highlights such as St John's, Fig Tree Drive and English Harbour.