Travel: Antigua with family

St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia

St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia - Credit: Archant

The Jarvis brood were reluctant to join their parents on holiday... until someone mentioned the magic word ‘Antigua’

Ellie, Ed and Miles Jarvis

Ellie, Ed and Miles Jarvis - Credit: Archant

So, to recap, there are five of us. Ian and me, who are outnumbered. Ellie, 21, who never has her nose out of a book. Ed, 20, who is mad on wildlife and very funny (don’t take a word he says seriously). And Miles, 18, streetwise, with his own band: a serious challenge to genetics. (If Ian and I were his age, we’d be terrified of him. As it is, we’re mildly nervous.)

St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia

St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia - Credit: Archant

Oh, and did I mention? Ellie is petrified of flying.

The Jarvis family in Antigua

The Jarvis family in Antigua - Credit: Archant

The flight is going reasonably well until an hour before landing. “What’s the weather like in the Caribbean?” I chattily ask a member of the cabin crew.

View from the balcony at St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia

View from the balcony at St James's Club, Morgan Bay, Saint Lucia - Credit: Archant

“We’re not sure we’ll be able to land,” she says. “Hurricane Chantal is hovering off the coast.”

‘Ooooh!’ wails Ellie, utterly panic-stricken and outraged by life’s injustices. “Not only have we got a hurricane, but it’s a chavvy one!”

“Well, this is exactly what happens when you educate women,” Ed points out. “They over-think things and become hysterical.”

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You know how it is. You want to carry on having family holidays deep into old age; probably until the growing number of cats you own makes going away untenable. But as soon as the kids hit teenage years, it’s a Damascene moment: Adam and Eve’s bite from the apple in the Garden of Eden. They suddenly realise how little they enjoy your company when you’re not actually doing their washing.

“It’s biological,” Miles explains, kindly. “The fact that we think you’re idiots shows you’re raising successful teenagers.”

We try hard. “What about Dartmouth?” we say, with excessive cheeriness. “You know how much you used to enjoy crab fishing. Or France? We could do some cycling together!”

Then we suddenly remember bribery. “Antigua?” It’s a deal-clincher.

As we fly over the clear blue Caribbean sea, in the midst of animated family conversation (“We’re going to crash and die, aren’t we?” “No! It’s just a bit bumpy because of the hurricane.”), I reflect on the importance of still going away together. It’s a chance to catch up; to reflect that these people, who were such little children until recently, are now grown up and mature. (A fact that can catch you out. “Edward!” I say, one sunny afternoon, watching him pick some suspect Caribbean berries. “You’re not going to eat those, are you?”

“Of course not, mum. How old do you think I am!” Ed says, disgusted. “They’re to throw at Miles.”)

Seriously, I tell you: this is the holiday from paradise. We’re headed for the St James’s Club, a secluded all-inclusive resort on the south-eastern coast of the dinky island of Antigua, just a little more than 100 square miles in area. And when I say ‘all-inclusive’, I mean that you order, a la carte, from any one of three fantastic-quality restaurants, or – for a supplement – from the fine dining menu of the flagship, Piccolo Mondo. Eating, watching the turquoise waves crashing around you of an evening, has to be one of life’s must-do experiences. Particularly popular amongst our lot is the breakfast at the Rainbow Garden, where omelettes and waffles are cooked to order.

Nor is it just good food that’s plentiful: the drink flows, too: whether wine, the local beer, or an extensive cocktail menu. I never overindulge – of course – though I use its mellifluous influences to oil our togetherness-time. “Let’s discuss what we most like about each other,” I hiccup one evening, as we sit outside in the warm Caribbean air.

“Oh God, teambuilding,” says Miles. “She’s going to ask us to fall backwards into each other’s arms next.”

Truth be told, we don’t need to leave the St James’s Club. Our three-bedroom villa has a glorious balcony, on which we can relax in loungers and read our extensive holiday books. Or there are the resort beaches, such as the calm waters of Mamora Bay, where you can laze in the warm waters or take Hobie Cats and paddle-boats out for free.

There are numerous pools – some adults only; some for all ages – and, everywhere, bars that serve your included drinks – chilled beers, white wines, the ubiquitous rum punches, juices, water, whatever – and top-up fast-food for those growing teenage boys.

But we do venture out. Our first excursion is on one of the resort’s catamaran trips, to Green Island, a Robinson Crusoe spot of dazzling white sand, surrounded by reef and shallow waters. On the way, we catch a school of busy dolphins; once we get there, we imitate them, as best we can, by putting on our own fins and snorkelling round the clear waters, where we find queen conch, shoals of little fish so colourful they look as if fitted with LEDs, black sea urchins with four-inch spikes, and a lobster the size of a man’s forearm.

The next day, we’re out again, on a Land Rover tour of the island – the five of us, an American couple called Beth and John (she thinks Edward Snowden should be shot for treason) and Trevor, a local guide, who’s full of fun and knowledge in equal quantities. “I know almost everybody on the island,” he says, which – judging by the toots and shouts – is no idle boast.

After cruising round the island villages – such as Liberta, with its pink, yellow, blue houses and their hammock-hung verandas – looking at the flora and fauna: the aptly-descriptive red flamboyant tree; the papayas beginning to turn yellow (“green is good for high blood pressure”); the little apple of death tree, the manchineel, so poisonous you shouldn’t even shelter under it in the rain; and the strange brown pelicans, which eventually turn themselves blind by hitting the water head-first; we turn up a rickety track to the colonial Wallings Dam, where a group of colourful schoolchildren are heading, on foot, for a field trip. “Hello, gov’nor!” they call out cheerily, in perfect Mockney, as we pass by in our 4x4.

At the top, Trevor shows us the cruelly-spiked silk box tree, where slaves were once tightly tethered, the points eating into their bare flesh.

“And look at these holes in the ground!” he says. “Spiders live in them. When we were boys, we’d try to get them out by sticking grass down there.”

He shows Ed how to do it.

“What kind of spiders are they?” Ed asks, mid-stalk-twiddle.

“Tarantulas,” Trevor explains.

“Erm. Don’t those have a nasty bite?”

“Oh, yes. Very nasty.”

We see Montserrat on the horizon – “In the night, you can see fire coming over the volcano top” – before ending up in the waters of the unparalleledly beautiful, gloriously deserted, Half Moon Bay, a perfect circle of Caribbean loveliness that makes the most glossy of holiday brochures look shabby in comparison.

A few days later, we hire a car and head back there. We want to explore this strange place, which was the first to feel the awesome power of Hurricane Luis, the cruel visitor of 1995. I have no idea whether or not we’re supposed to do this but we make our way into the eerie remains of the hotel that took the full whack of that visit, and which has been deserted ever since. Once the preserve of celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn and Elton John, its clientele today are lizards, spiders and things I don’t really want to think about, lurking beneath the dense undergrowth. It’s wonderfully Mary-Celeste-ish; you can wander through store cupboards, filled with 20-year-old account books and letters, guest slips and maintenance books. On the wall of the rickety kitchen is a notice, ‘What to do in case of hurricane’; the fridges, washing machines and safes rustily lie there still, waiting for a ghostly guest.

Oh, and there’s so much more to tell you. But you’ll just have to go yourself. The hurricane that nearly stopped us landing wafted around for the first night, then left, leaving the sun to shine and the breeze to play and the balmy air to shimmer around us. We played tennis, table tennis, visited the gym (well, Ed did), swam and sailed. We ate, and we drank.

“You know I love you all very much, don’t you,” I say, in a spirit of renewed togetherness, attributable entirely to this wonderful, wonderful holiday.

“How much has she drunk?” Miles asks.

“Don’t worry,” Ellie says to me, kindly. “I’ll hold your hand safely back to the villa.”

Kuoni Cheltenham offer seven nights on all-inclusive at St James’s Club & Villas, Antigua (www.stjamesclubantigua.com) in a club room, including flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick with transfers in resort. The prices for March 2014 are from £2,000 per person, based on two sharing. Visit the Cheltenham team at 50/50a The Promenade GL50 1LY or call them on 01242 261116.

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For information on visiting Antigua and Barbuda, log onto www.visitantiguabarbuda.com