Playa, Playa, Playa, (beach, beach, beach) might well have been the
name for Antigua, had Christopher Columbus known it
had 365 crescent-shaped, white sand beaches…one for each day
of the year.  Instead, Antigua (pronounced An-TEE-gah), one of
Columbus’ favorite discoveries (during his second voyage of 1493) got
its name from Santa Maria la Antiqua, his favorite church in Seville.


In 1632, English planters, from the neighboring island
of St. Kitts, colonized Antigua.  Twelve months later,
King Charles II of England formally granted the island to Lord
Willoughby.  For one year, the French occupied the island but it
was ceded to England in 1667.  It remained English until
November 1, 1981 when (with its sister island of Barbuda) it obtained
its independence from Great Britain.

During the 18th century, the south coast’s English Harbor teemed
with pirates and privateers and was the site of innumerable sea
battles.  From Nelson’s Dockyard (which served to accommodate
Admiral George Rodney and Admiral Samuel Hood during their wars with
the French, Spanish and Dutch, young Lord Nelson began his 1784
voyage that became naval history.

Dockyard, which commemorates British seamanship, is its most historical
monument.  The renowned Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour has
been restored, recreating the 18th century charm and character as
it stood when Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the
British Fleet.  The officer’s quarters, the sawpit
shed, the cooper, lumber, and clothing stores, among others, have
all been converted into shops, apartments and a museum.


The Admiral’s
Inn, a small attractive inn at English Harbour, is steeped in centuries of
nautical tradition.  The Inn’s brick originally came to the West
Indies as ships’ ballast. The ballast used on the return trips
to England was mostly rum.  That same Antiguan rum is used in
their drinks today.  The wrought iron chandeliers have cast
a glow on many a sea tale.  Old dockyard timber, carved
with the names of sailors and their ships was used for the hand-hewn
beams in the bar.  If only those walls could talk!

The Inn’s old rooms, on the upper two stories of the original main building,
vary in size and character according to their location in the old
brick building.  Some walls are painted white bricks,
while others are stone.  There are louvered windows, beamed
ceilings, lazy ceiling fans and hand-made straw mats.  The
building, just across the pillared courtyard, houses
20th century rooms.

Nourished by a nutmeg-flaked Cavalier Rum Punch, you must laze on the
patio at Admiral’s Inn and contemplate the nature of the sea and the
men who tamed it.  Or, sip a Sundowner and drink in
the lifestyle of the 21st century yachting set.


Before your very eyes, you will be confronted with the tiny beautiful
land-locked harbor across which Nelson’s salty sailors hooked a chain
each night. Clarence House, on a promontory opposite and across the
Dockyard inlet, was built in 1787 for Prince William Henry, Duke of
Clarence, who later became King William IV of England.  On May
6, 1960, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden honeymooned at Clarence
House, which is surrounded by some of the most exquisite scenery
in Antigua.

Thrill seeking passengers can opt for an exciting helicopter journey over
the volcanic island of Montserrat; a half-day jeep safari through the
lush rainforest, past vibrant Antiguan villages, and along scenic
coastal roads; or a unique eco-experience of kayaking around “Mangrove
Alley” and snorkeling on a live reef.  Beach bums can fine-tune their
suntans on one of the 365 beautiful beaches. 

Planning to visit Antigua for an extended stay?  You might
try Carlisle Bay Antigua, an exciting resort on the unspoiled
south coast of Antigua.  Opened in December 2003, this
chic contemporary luxury hotel is set on a ravishing beach. 


The hotel offers cool calm interiors, 80 spacious ocean-facing suites,
two outstanding restaurants, and three great bars. The 17,000
square foot Blue Spa at Carlisle Bay is set against a beautiful
backdrop of rolling hills and lush rainforest. Carlisle Bay is a
Twenty minute drive from Nelson’s Dockyard and English Harbour, and a
thirty minute drive from the airport and the tiny bustling capital of
St Johns.

The magnificently evocative white baroque towers of St.
John’s Cathedral dominate the skyline of St. John’s, the largest city
of Antigua and Barbuda.  Built in 1845, the church
is now in its third incarnation, as earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745
destroyed the previous structures.  St. John’s is a lively hub for
shopping and dining.

For those interested in the early history of the island, there is the
Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, housed in the colonial Court House
(1750). The museum displays both Arawak and colonial artifacts
recovered on archaeological digs on the islands. It also features a
thought-provoking, life-size replica of an Arawak house, models of
sugar plantations, etc.

On Friday and Saturday mornings, you can visit the vibrant farmers’ market
on the southern edge of the city. Folk crafts, colorful tropical
fruits, and a buzzing crowd make for a lively morning. 


At night,
Antigua comes alive with West Indian music, produced on steel
“pans” (drums) of varying length.  Steel bands, musical
groups playing on empty oil drums that have been heated and
pounded into concave shapes, are acquiring the status of orthodox
orchestras.  The steel band sound, born in Trinidad,
has spread throughout the Caribbean.


Grandparent alert!  If
you want your grandkids to love you, and their parents to hate you,
buy them a small steel drum from Antigua.  However, as with
any purchase, caveat emptor.  Before buying, check for
tone.  Some are great, but others are terrible.

With a beach for every day of the year, you can take your pick in
Antigua.  On these paradisiacal crescents of pure white sand,
clear blue water, and swaying coconut palms, you might catch the scent of
mouthwatering seafood being char-b-qued on grills, or spot the locals
challenging one another to a hot game of warri, the national
game of Antigua.



The game of warri came to the West Indies with the slaves
from the Gold Coast of Africa.  In a great many African
dialects, warri means house.  The word warri,
or house, refers to the hollows of the board.  The counters
are knickers, a small nut belonging to the Cuillandria
bush.  Detailed instructions accompany the games that you can
purchase in souvenir shops.  If you find the game
of warri impossible to understand, or too frustrating to
conquer, the warri board will make a great serving tray
from which to pop peanuts at parties. 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel