The Caribbean is synonymous with resorts and often luxury. In Antigua, I had the pleasure of experiencing a resort in Antigua that offered both luxury and authentic island charm. I wrote about Curtain Bluff in Antigua for The Toronto Star in 2011. Here is a peak at this interesting resort.
OLD ROAD, ANTIGUA—There are two typical types of Caribbean resorts.
High-end properties that channel, sometimes successfully, Miami Beach or Bali with their white deck chairs and butler service, and “Caribbean” properties that offer the highly starched sheets and Bob Marley soundtrack on replay.
They aren’t all one or the other, but they usually fall comfortably close to one side of the spectrum.
As we drove through the large iron gates of Curtain Bluff I wasn’t quite sure where this one would fall.
The local foliage, wild and slightly overgrown, covers the sign at the entrance. The wicker furniture is well used but the meticulous staff and surroundings are impeccable without feeling fake. It would take me a full day to put my finger on where to put Curtain Bluff on my spectrum. The results? Dead centre.
Curtain Bluff is a Caribbean island resort but it is as distinct in persona from its sisters as you likely are from yours.
It is as Caribbean as the most locally owned property you can imagine and yet offers the luxurious comforts you’d hope for without going so far overboard that you’re at the whim of a butler who is as uncomfortable with your delicates as you are with him handling them.
It is an authentic family-style island experience with upscale gourmet food offerings and a complete lack of pretension — which explains why families that have found it haven’t left.
The resort is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and many of the families who are strolling the beach, sailing out for morning snorkelling, lounging in hammocks or playing squash have been coming here for generations.
When they arrive, staff hug them like cousins. In some cases they haven’t seen each other since the summer before. In others, staff have visited guests at their homes across the United States and Europe.
It’s exactly that connection and the longevity of it that sets this place apart.
When Sir Howard Hulford, a former World War II pilot, came to the island he hadn’t planned on building a hotel.
His widow Chelle explains he had long loved a spot on the island’s most southern coast and simply wanted to buy the land and build a home.
When the government insisted it would only sell the land for hotel development, Hulford, who had studied hotel management at Cornell University years earlier, agreed to do so.
But before he said yes, he visited with the elders in the rural Old Road community where he would be building.
“He sat with them and he explained that building a hotel of this calibre would change the community,” recalls Chelle. “He was very upfront with them. He said it would change their children and open up the world to them — both good and bad.”
Locals say that moment set the tone for all things to come and the success that followed.
“A lot of hotels here had the idea of coming to the island, making a lot of money and packing it back to the U.S. The way Mr. Hulford looked at it was a blueprint for other developers on the island,” says resort driver Maurice Francis, a friend of Hulford’s.
Today 99 per cent of the people who work and earn a living from Curtain Bluff are Old Road locals.
Hulford passed away in 2009 but his philanthropic gestures continue to change the community.
Tips have never been permitted and though there is a gratuity fee included in the resort charges (of which every employee gets a cut), guests often wanted to offer up something extra to the islanders.
So Hulford created the Old Road Fund. Those non-profit dollars have been used to help dozens of families afford educational opportunities, medical care and better their surroundings.
He also opened the doors of the resort to the neighbours, and every Saturday morning local children still come in from the village to play tennis with pros who teach Pepsi execs and the kids of premium stockholders during the week.
There’s more. Each summer Curtain Bluff pros return to Maine to teach while the resort is in its off-season. Twelve years ago Hulford decided local kids could benefit from continued instruction and exposure and began selecting six children each summer to attend on a full scholarship.
Island kids, many of whom had never visited neighbouring islands, were being sent to one of the most elite tennis camps in the U.S.
He helped their parents too. It was well known that every member of the staff who wanted to buy a house had access to an interest-free loan.
“He changed lives,” says Nigel Anthony, a 40-year-old tennis instructor at the resort who first arrived as a young teen curious about the game. Anthony is one of more than 45 people who have had university scholarships as a result of the program.
“In the town the people recognize it as an opportunity, and they keep a keen eye on the success of the place,” says Anthony. “Curtain Bluff’s success is their success.”
The Old Road community, once one of the poorest on the island is now touted as one of the most affluent.
According to Hulford’s wishes, Curtain Bluff will go forward in perpetuity with the same management and staff. His grave is at a far end of the property and his name comes up often: the outsider who became a local.
JUST THE FACTS
ARRIVING There are direct (four hours) and connecting flights out of Toronto on Air Canada, American Airlines, US Airways and others.
SLEEPING Curtain Bluff is located in Old Road village on the southern tip of the island of Antigua. Phone 268-462-8400 or email [email protected]. The all-inclusive rates start at $685 per night depending on time of year and choice of room. Special promotions can cut the rates significantly.
AVOIDING The cruise ships already know the island has plenty to offer. You’ll want to avoid the downtown shops when the vessels are in port.
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