Despite its reputation as a rum mecca, “Antigua is a rosé kind of place,” says David Murphy, who grew up on the island; his father, the resident archeologist. “Maybe it’s the climate or the harbor and boats — but this island (known for its pink-hued sand and aquamarine sea) definitely has a rosé vibe. I wanted something to fit in with that.” 

On the terrace of Antilles Stillhouse, Murphy’s picturesque one-still gin distillery overlooking English Harbor, he ceremoniously pours a glass of burgundy-toned hibiscus gin, followed by a splash of tonic, which turns the cocktail perfectly rosé in hue. The gin’s original deep-wine color is technically culled from sorrel (a member of the hibiscus family), and is just one of the local (and garden) ingredients Murphy sources. For the past seven years — following a long stint as a professional winemaker in western Canada (Vancouver) — Murphy has been quietly crafting gin and botanical spirits (from sorrel, African acacia, Christmas bush, cinnamon, Seville oranges, passionfruit, lemongrass,  and butterfly pea blossom) at his home studio in Copps Creek. Many visitors learn of Murphy’s concoctions while drinking them firsthand at the upscale island restaurants and hotels serving them (Jumby Bay, Coco Bay). Others (like us) find their way, word of mouth, up the hilly slope of Cobbs Cross (look for the carved metal fish marking the entrance) to sample the drinks onsite (by appointment only).

grace bay suite at curtain bluff antigua
Courtesy of Curtain Bluff

Word of mouth seems infused into the DNA of this two-island (Antigua and Barbuda) nation. Take sunsets. Antigua’s sinking orange, yellow, red sun is so much a showstopper that the island actually sells tickets ($10 US) to watch it. Every Thursday and Sunday night, visitors and locals make their way along winding roads and through small villages to Shirley Heights Lookout to watch the fireball sun sink into cerulean waters. The colors are mesmerizing; the view (of Montserrat and English Harbor, spectacular). Bands — steel pan, then reggae — play; grills sizzle with jerked chicken and pork, ribs, spiny lobster, and rice and peas (which, forewarning is not vegetarian but made from goat water). While Shirley Heights is a scene and one that first-timers, especially, will be guided to do, our most spectacular Antiguan sunset comes privately, serendipitously, and yes, by word of mouth. 

“Have you been to the spa yet?” The question comes from the lanky attendant serving us pina coladas on the beach at Curtain Bluff, the  luxurious, all-inclusive resort where we are staying

“Tomorrow,” I reply. “We just arrived, but I always have one foot in the spa.”  

pink shells and sand in Antigua and Barbuda
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

He smiles under his sun hat and protective shades, rearranges our drinks just so, and then points to the craggy bluff.  “In about an hour, refill your drinks, walk to the spa [romantically set on a cliff overlooking the sea], and watch the sunset from there.”

With drinks refreshed and topped with freshly grated coconut, we do exactly that — canoodling onto an oversized wooden chair just outside the zen-spa doors and yoga pavilion. Butterflies and hummingbirds flit next to us, moving gracefully from frangipani to hibiscus to bougainvillea. We are the only ones here and the setting is beyond magical. Clinking glasses in salute, we watch the sun disappear behind an (unknown to us) island in the sea. 

“Nevis,” our waiter informs us over dinner at Curtain Bluff’s Tamarind fine-dining restaurant. “Wasn’t it spectacular?”

Spectacular indeed, as is our dinner — fresh, caught-that-day grouper (for me), tender, melt-in-your-mouth lamb (for him). Curtain Bluff is the only Relais & Chateaux property on the island and, in accordance, the cuisine, service, spa, and accommodations are stellar. 

morris bay pool suite at curtain bluff in antigua
Courtesy of Curtain Bluff

Still, I wasn’t prepared for our luxurious Morris Bay pool suite. Newly renovated in 2023, the suite — which includes both an open-air courtyard framed by towering coconut palms and a large terrace overlooking the sea (with hot tub and sun loungers) — is a stunner. Inside, the white L-shaped couch, accented with pops of coral-hued pillows, creates a calming sea-inspired ambiance that transcends into the bedroom and bath (complete with rain shower and deep-soaking tub). White shells and colorful coffee table books add to the aesthetic, but it is the thalassic view of endless blue ocean and rolling surf that commands my attention.

It was this very seascape that prompted Curtain Bluff founder, the late Howard Hulford, to permanently settle on the southern edge of Antigua. When the American pilot first spotted the cliff-meets-sea location from the air, he decided instantly to make it his home. In February 1962 Hulford opened the then-27-room Curtain Bluff, and with his wife, Chelle (who passed away in 2023), built a legacy. Curtain Bluff, one of Antigua’s oldest resorts (many staff have worked here 30-plus years) has also been instrumental in supporting the local (Old Road) neighborhood — contributing more than $3 million to education, healthcare, and various community initiatives.  

On a beautiful evening, we climb the property’s ‘stairway to heaven’ to take in the view and sunset (yes, again) from the Hulford’s former residence: Bluff House. Like my suite (but on an even grander scale), the view, 360 degrees, is breathtaking. The open-air living room — a sea of white — spills onto the wrap-around terrace overlooking the blue sea and orange-pinkish-hued rocky cliffs below. 

snorkeling cade's reef near curtain bluff in antigua
Courtesy of Curtain Bluff

“Chelle [Mrs. Hulford], our matriarch, returned to Curtain Bluff (from the U.S.) to live out her last days here,” a staff member says, catching me staring dreamily at the churning waters below. “She wanted to sit in her chair and watch the blue sky and sea, the sunset, and sunrise.” 

Now, others can share the Hulfords’ most treasured place. Today Bluff House is reserved for private events, small weddings, and this — a weekly cocktail party for guests. Over the course of days, a relaxing rhythm develops to our stay. We play in the sea, snorkel daily — complimentary boat trips are offered twice daily to Cade’s Reef. We slip into the spa for deep-tissue and warming bamboo massages with Wayan (originally from Bali), then relax together in the spa lounge, shrouded in lush greenery and pink bougainvillea, set high above the sea. And we eat well.  The all-inclusive stay includes daily breakfast — each morning we meander to the same table, blanketed in bougainvillea, where we are joined by hummingbirds; we fine-dine on fresh seafood and gourmet fare at The Tamarind (men must wear long pants in the evening); and nosh on truly exquisite Italian at The Sea Grape on the beach. In time, we do venture onto the island, enlisting long-time guides, brother-and-sister tag team, John and Cleo Henry, whose father started a taxi service on the island decades ago. 

bluff house, curtain bluff, antigua
Courtesy of Curtain Bluff

During our day-long, insider tour of the island, it is John who guides us through the stunning Georgian architecture of Nelson’s Dockyard, a World UNESCO site and now home to super yachts;  regales us with tales of the island’s history and 1920s-era, wooden ‘blouse and skirt’ houses; and casually points out the sprawling cliffside home of rock legend, Eric Clapton. It is  also John who teaches us to make snake-like hissing sounds when we spot one of the island’s quick-footed mongooses (to bring it closer to us so we can better see it). And, it is John again who details the local cuisine from the mom-and-pop roadstand stands (set up on Fridays and Saturdays) to ‘salt fish chop up’ and sugarcane snacks to the abundance of fresh seafood and vegetables used in the traditional Antiguan diet: sweet potatoes, beets, pumpkin, and okra are staples.

We experience a sampling of the local cuisine at Papa Zouks in ‘downtown’ St. John’s. Inside the tiny rustic restaurant, fish and lobster pots — handmade from wattle sticks collected on the island — dangle from the ceiling; island-inspired artwork frames the walls. There is no menu, although I am told a menu does exist. Instead, owner Faye Kirchner, dressed in bright colors, her skin glowy, plunks down at our table.  

fresh catch of the day at tamarind curtain bluff antigua
Courtesy of Curtain Bluff

“Do you like fish?”

“Love it.”

“Let’s start then with a taste of seafood bouillabaisse and conch fritters for the table. Maybe some okra, we saute it so it is crispy. For the fish, I suggest red snapper, caught today. Do you prefer grilled or fried?” She pauses now, her eyes bright. “Just to prepare you, we serve the entire fish — and would you like small, medium, or large?” 

I’ve seen large (and even medium snapper). They can be massive. “Small, please.” As promised, the fish — displayed in its entirety,  head to tail — ceremoniously arrives. And it is delicious. 

“Did you enjoy?”

We are back in the car heading ‘home’ to Curtain Bluff and our sweet Morris Bay suite. This time it is Cleo Henry who is driving. “The island has so many hidden little places. “ She smiles. “There is a charming cafe in English Harbor you must try. Next visit…”

I am listening.

(Article is in partnership with the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority)

Featured image courtesy of Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority