Google “Antigua,” and the first page of search results reveals story after story about its 365 beaches. The island claims to have a year’s worth of sandy strips — all open to the public and ripe for exploration. And now visitors, can stay right on the pristine sands of one of the best, as the long-awaited Hodges Bay Resort & Spa debuts on the north coast.
Largely untouched by 2017’s Hurricane Irma (which barreled through its sister island of Barbuda, 38 miles away), Antigua is having a bit of a moment in terms of hotel development. Both Rosewood and Waldorf Astoria have announced projects in the twin-island nation, which lies 400 miles southeast of Puerto Rico and is as famous for its centuries-old yachting tradition as it is for its beaches.
But the $100 million Hodges Bay, the ninth in Elegant Hotels’ Caribbean collection (joining those in Barbados and St. Lucia), is one of only a handful of luxury hotels on this 108-square-mile island, and the first new build to combine the convenience of hotel amenities with the privacy of villa living. Five miles from the capital of St. John’s, and just a stone’s throw from kite-surfing favorite Jabberwock Beach, its 79 rooms, suites, and villas face the perpetually breezy sea.
Hodges Bay is a notable opening on the island for many reasons. Its design a welcome departure from the hackneyed British Colonial vernacular still so common at island resorts (even newer ones). The aesthetic — spearheaded by Miami-based architects Kobi Karp — is clean-lined and contemporary. Building exteriors are neutral, encouraging the eye to focus exactly where it should: on the vivid color and pattern of the surrounding landscape. Cutouts in the white, vine-covered patio walls frame bougainvillea ablaze with hot pink blossoms, leaning sea grape trees, and foam-fringed waves. The landscape is lush, with mature tropical plantings that have thrived here since 2006 — when the first of what would be a string of owners began development of the site.
One of the most striking spaces is the soaring lobby, a three-story, marble-clad atrium on the inland side of the property. It is sleek but not sterile; generous use of natural materials injects warmth (and offers Instagram opportunities galore). A striking chandelier, made from a gargantuan piece of driftwood, is suspended above the staircase. Orchids hang between copper-shaded pendant lights fitted with glowing Edison bulbs. Rattan chaises and glass-topped tables, their bases made of gnarled tree trunks, lend an earthy elegance.
While it doesn't come cheap — rooms start at around $700 a night — the resort is unpretentious, with none of the formality you’d expect at this price point. The property is bisected by a quiet residential street, the two halves seamlessly connected by a mosaic-tiled tunnel. It’s the kind of hotel where, in the daytime, shoes are optional — and, after sunset, you’ll need nothing more than a sundress (slacks for the guys). This attitude is definitely a boon for families: no one freaks out if a toddler spills Cheerios on the Cuban tiles of the restaurant, everyone from bartenders to pool attendants fawns over the little ones.
For a hotel with so few keys, there is surprising variety in the type of accommodation: cozy rooms, one-bedroom suites, multi-bedroom apartments, penthouses, and beautiful self-contained villas, some with their own lap pools and outdoor hot tubs. The common thread is the uncluttered, understated decor, which never takes itself too seriously. Sandy feet and damp swimsuits welcome.
Those who are seeking true luxury, though, will find it here, too. The upper-level accommodations (14 apartments, eight four-bedroom villas, and a pair of penthouses) include the service of butlers — who, like other resort staff, somehow expertly achieve that delicate balance between being attentive but never obsequious. They can arrange everything you need to make your stay smoother, from fast track service through Antigua's international airport (just a 10-minute drive away) to car rental, grocery shopping, and spa appointments. My own personal “Jeeves,” the superb Romane Patterson, even went so far as to organize a surprise birthday celebration for guests lunching at a restaurant across the island.
Hodges isn’t all-inclusive, though Antigua has several all-incs, if that’s your speed. But rates do include breakfast — taken either en suite (there’s 24-hour room service) or at White Sands, the beachfront restaurant that’s also open for dinner. I’m still reminiscing over my mornings on its patio, leisurely sipping an oversized cup of cappuccino as the famous offshore islet, Prickly Pear island, glowed on the horizon.
Lunch is a casual affair (think burgers, pizza, and salads), served straight to your chaise at either of two pools or on the beach. (Apart from outdoor showers, chaise dining has to be one of my favorite resort luxuries). Evenings begin at Black Sails, the open-air ocean-view lounge directly above White Sands. Come for the small plates and stick around for Prickly Punch (rum, tamarind syrup, lime juice, and a dash of Angostura bitters), enjoyed on low-slung chairs and sofas while the sun disappears and beachfront palm fronds wave goodbye.
It’s a relaxing prelude to dinner at NaCl (the chemical formula for sodium chloride, also known as table salt), the dinner-only restaurant helmed by chef Edward Lee, James Beard Award nominee and author of last year’s "Buttermilk Graffiti." Butter-baked bread, NaCl’s signature appetizer, was a temptation I’m glad I didn’t resist. Arriving in a piping-hot cast-iron skillet and dusted with crystals of pink Himalayan salt that glistened in the glow of candlelight, the pull-apart loaf signaled the start of a superb (and waist-widening) feast, which also included pan-seared red snapper, crab fried rice with coconut-lime curry, and a bowl of deliciously decadent creamed corn with bacon. The restaurant's setting is a bit incongruous, set in a dimly lit, sparsely decorated third-floor breezeway, but the meal lives up to Lee's well-earned reputation.
During the day, Hodges guests — mostly British families and empty-nester couples during my visit — do just what you think: swim and lounge at the pool (there are two, of which one is adults-only) or on the golden crescent of beach at the property's front door. Feeling adventurous? Wander along the oceanfront to the property’s edge and find the rock pool, rumored to have been carved into the ironshore by Mick Jagger, who reportedly stayed in the neighboring villa many years ago. Can’t be bothered? Just kick back with a cold Wadadli (the local brew) and call it a day.
Beyond the resort, make time to explore as many of those 365 beaches as possible. Handily, Hodges Bay’s most popular excursion takes them to another of Antigua’s finest. A three-hour tour to Prickly Pear — a 165-foot long islet just three minutes’ boat ride away — does feel like an episode of "Gilligan’s Island" (minus the mishaps). Time your visit for a day when there aren’t any cruise ships in port, and you’ll be the star of the show. Your supporting cast: clear turquoise water and sand as fine as confectioner’s sugar.
With a supply of unlimited rum punch on hand, it definitely won't be an uphill climb.
Hodges Bay Resort & Spa provided support for the reporting of this story.