Curtain Bluff: An Antiguan idyll of laidback luxury

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“There’s just something about old men and the Caribbean,” muses my husband, discreetly gesturing to a septuagenarian sporting an impressive Magnum P.I. moustache two tables down. “They just fit here.”

We’re lingering over coffee and mimosas at breakfast on the shaded terrace of the Tamarind restaurant at Antigua’s Curtain Bluff and, surreptitiously glancing over, I see that he’s not wrong. Said gentleman, who is deep in discussion over the morning’s headlines with his impressively tanned wife, looks right at home – although, as we later discover, this probably has less to do with his age and the location than the fact the couple has been visiting Curtain Bluff each year for more than three decades.

‘Repeaters’ become something of a recurring theme during our stay. Everywhere we go – on the beach, at the bar, on a boat during one of the twice-daily snorkelling excursions – we bump into guests who can’t wait to tell us that this is their ninth, 18th, 27th time at the hotel. We even hear tell of one legendary couple who, on the occasion of their 50th anniversary visiting Curtain Bluff, were rewarded with free stays for the rest of their lives.

In fact, an astonishing 65 per cent of Curtain Bluff’s guests are return visitors. It’s the kind of loyalty of which most hotels can only dream – and the theory about old men and the Caribbean provides a fitting metaphor that may have something to do with it. Curtain Bluff has been standing proudly on Antigua’s southernmost tip since the 1960s. It’s the closest thing the island has to a grand dame hotel – and it just fits.

curtain bluff suite

The hotel was founded as a 22-room resort in 1962 by former WWII fighter pilot, Howard Hulford, after an exhaustive search of the Caribbean for a piece of land that would provide equal parts sanctuary and excitement. And, while Curtain Bluff has grown (now offering 72 rooms and suites and employing more than 200 staff), it has retained the unique touches that make independently-owned hotels so special. Hulford passed away in 2009 but his wife, Chelle, still lives at the on-site Bluff house and hosts weekly cocktail parties for the hotel’s guests.

The resort is also deeply embedded in the local community in a way that simply isn’t possible with large chains and hotel groups. More than 80 per cent of the hotel’s staff live in the surrounding Old Road neighbourhood and, since 1974, the hotel has invested more than $3 million in the area through its Old Road Fund – a private charitable trust funded by Curtain Bluff’s owners and guests.

It’s a startlingly successful example of CSR in action. Take, for instance, the hotel’s resident tennis pro, Dillo. As a child, he took tennis lessons at the hotel’s four championship tennis courts through a programme funded by the ORF, went on to become a USTA-accredited professional and represented Antigua at the Davis Cup, before returning to where it all began to pass on his knowledge to both guests and other local children. And, having sorted out a long-standing niggle with my serve in just one short lesson, I’m more than willing to vouch for his expertise.

Tennis not your thing? Well, Curtain Bluff’s luxury all-inclusive ethos means you won’t be short on other ways to occupy your time. While away the hours with a cocktail and a good book on one of two white powder beaches or beside the tropical-style pool. Take a guided snorkelling tour of nearby Cades Reef or try your hand at water skiing, paddle boarding or sailing. There’s a kids club to keep little ones entertained and a daily-changing itinerary of yoga, pilates and hiking for the adults. Pickleball – a hugely entertaining tennis-badminton-ping-pong hybrid that is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports and a favourite of supermodel Gisele – is a discovery we’ll be taking back to London.

It’s not easy to be all things to all people but, whether you wish to spend two weeks catatonic on a sunbed or can’t bear the thought of sitting still for longer than half an hour, Curtain Bluff provides. It helps, one imagines, that this has been the mission from the very beginning. The original 1962 flyer announcing the opening of the resort boasts of services provided ‘at no additional charge to guests’ including sailboats, diving trips, tennis courts, shuffleboard and a putting green. Sixty-one years is a long time to figure out what guests really want from an all-inclusive and Curtain Bluff has put that time to good use.

curtain bluff suite terrace

Which isn’t to say that the hotel is resting on its laurels. This summer, the resort will close to undergo major refurbishments to its rooms and suites, seeing traditional dark-wood Caribbean decor upgraded to a lighter, brighter beach vibe and bathrooms refit with cocooning ovoid baths and enormous walk-in showers.

The existing gym – one of the busiest of any hotel I’ve stayed at – will also nearly double in size, while a dedicated yoga pavilion and adults-only lap pool and bar will be installed on a patch of land currently used to grow herbs for spa treatments and the hotel’s two restaurants.

Which brings us to the food. Great food can make or break a holiday – even more so when you’ve paid for it in advance. But banish all thoughts of Tui-style all-inclusive buffets. There’s not a heat lamp or industrial serving trough in sight.

Instead, Curtain Bluff’s kitchen pulls off something of a tour de force: three a la carte services per day for up to 150 guests with daily-changing menus of seasonal, local produce at both lunch and dinner. On Wednesdays, there’s a beach barbecue soundtracked by a live steel band and twice a week guests are offered the chance to swap from the formal Tamarind restaurant (long trousers and collared shirts required) to the Mediterranean-inflected beachside Seagrape (shorts acceptable).

curtain bluff seagrape restaurant

There’s also a wine cellar holding more than 4,000 bottles from across the world, ranging from an entry-level Marques de Caceres Cava to a 1997 Petrus from Hulford’s personal collection that will set you back $2,000. Given that the average price for the same bottle on the open market is, according to Wine Searcher, around £3,100, that’s remarkably good value. But the in-house sommelier refuses to raise the prices: Curtain Bluff’s guests are loyal, he explains, and, in return, he feels he must offer value they wouldn’t get elsewhere.

It’s a sentiment shared across the resort. Service, food, amenities and rooms are all undoubtedly that of a luxury hotel. Nothing is too much trouble and no request too onerous. And yet Curtain Bluff doesn’t have the trappings of upscale hospitality that can make its European counterparts feel uptight and stuffy. This is, after all, the Caribbean.

So, no, you won’t find waiters rushing to precisely fold your napkin the second you go to the bathroom during dinner. But maybe, if the mood is just right, one of them may well join the after-dinner band for an impromptu but word-perfect rendition of Shaggy’s Angel. Frankly, it’s enough to persuade anyone to return.

Rooms from $1,535 (approx £1,200) per night in high season, visit

Read more: Discover authentic Caribbean life at Bequia Beach Hotel

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