By Emily Olsen
A twin-island nation of 365 beaches, turquoise seas and lush tropical rainforests, Antigua and Barbuda has staked its claim as the most romantic in the Caribbean. It’s quite a statement, and yet one that’s almost impossible to argue with. The island is punctuated with colourful coral reefs, shallow warm waters that lap against white, golden and even pink sand beaches, and each day, no matter what the season, is bookended by the most perfect sunsets and sunrises. Antigua has become popular with elopements and destination weddings, particularly as it’s an eight-hour direct flight from London, and as one of the most luxurious islands in the Caribbean, is full of exquisite hotels and resorts. Most of these hotels offer bespoke wedding packages and services onsite that can be tailored to everything from quiet ceremonies with just a bride and groom to glamorous week-long resort buyouts. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up our favourite venues on the island to offer a little inspiration for couples looking for an island paradise to say I do…
There is no one way to host a wedding at Jumby Bay – no specific event rooms or restaurants, no dedicated venues or packages. Each corner of this private island is a magical possibility; a canvas for a spectacular celebration. Laidback barefoot beach parties, farm to table banquets, polished receptions in tropical moonlit gardens, and manicured lawns with silky marquees thin enough to see the stars.
Managed by the prestigious Oetker Collection, who added the resort to its portfolio in 2017, this 300-acre private island sits off the northern coast of Antigua and has been one of the Caribbean’s most exclusive resorts since opening in the 1980s.
The island has a handful of private beachside suites as well as sprawling private residences tucked behind manicured hedges, frangipani trees, and driveways lined with bird of paradise. Backdrops for either nuptials or wedding parties, these extraordinary private homes are often open plan and built with sliding walls that instantly connect the huge living spaces with lush gardens and uninterrupted views of the Caribbean Sea. My favourite, and just under 7,000 square feet, is Calabash. One of the island’s most stylish properties, this four-bedroom beachfront estate features a vast sunset deck, hovering just about sea-level, which feels made for a starlit wedding breakfast banquet or even an elegant cocktail party for the night before.
While guests can charter their own boats for the crossing, there is a private catamaran which takes around seven minutes from the mainland to the island (a fabulous arrival for wedding guests). From afar, the island appears unassuming, but as you get closer, the water seems more impossibly turquoise, and an immaculate white sand beach starts to take shape, interrupted only by wispy palms, neat rows of sun loungers and thatched beach umbrellas.
Jumby Bay has seen a rise in smaller wedding parties, and with this in mind, many couples choose to bring their bridesmaids and groomsmen to Jumby Bay in the week leading up to the wedding for sunshine, spa treatments and some serious relaxation. Our recommendation: unless you’re familiar with the island, a pre-wedding recce is invaluable and a great excuse for, ahem, “research purposes”. www.oetkercollection.com/
One of the most dazzling resorts on the island, Curtain Bluff sits on a strip of land that slices between calm turquoise seas and dark blue choppy waves. Sprinkled with wispy palm trees that stretch towards the water, the golden ‘bluff’ hovers beneath a giant Miami-esque beach house with soft peach walls and milky white rooftops. Owned and run by Chelle Hulford who built the hotel with her late husband in the 1970s, the resort has garnered a name for itself as one of the most magnificent in the Caribbean, and Chelle can be seen most nights floating between tables at dinner, stacks of bangles sliding up and down her arm with a clink as she waves across the room to friends. Curtain Bluff lingers between sporty and relaxed. Immaculate tennis courts and softly bobbing sail boats are always on standby, but Balinese-style day beds and the spa make it far too easy to spend your days in glamorous lethargy. Wedding ceremonies can take place at Chelle’s House – a family home that sits at the summit of a steep, frangipani-lined climb. Hugged by an enormous balcony, the views from Chelle’shouse are simply breathtaking and, if clear enough, lapis shadows of neighbouring Montserrat can be seen glittering on the horizon. While many couples might choose to wed on one of the hotel’s beautiful white sand beaches, Chelle’s house offers a glossy alternative and a perfect balance between a polished ceremony followed by a more relaxed beach reception. The Seagrape Restaurant is where most couples choose to host their dinner: either multiple-course banquet style or a beach BBQ with big, white cushions and low-rise tables scattered across the torch-lit sand. And, despite the magnificence of the setting, the hotel is truly a blank canvas, and the onsite wedding planner has a little black book of the island’s very best suppliers and decorators. With this in mind, Curtain Bluff can host ceremonies for just two, or, if a grand affair is in order, up to 250 guests and offers hotel-buyouts for a minimum of three days. curtainbluff.com/
Wedding ceremony or not, Sheer Rocks is one of the most spectacular spots on the island and a must-visit if holidaying in Antigua. The restaurant is tucked within the same entrance as glossy adults-only Coco Bay, a polished all-inclusive, popular with young, beautiful Americans who sashay around the pool area wearing Zimmermann bikinis. The location is a popular one with the influencer set who flock to Sheer Rocks with good reason. Each evening an extraordinary sunset of peach and gold skies is almost guaranteed, offering the ideal #nofilterbackdrop for perfectly manicured hands holding glasses of crisp, pale rosé. Sheer Rocks recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and over the years has built a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. Built into a limestone cliff, the restaurant is dimpled with feathery palms and matted bougainvillea and, from afar, looks like the giant nest of an enormous glamorous sea bird. During the day, turquoise plunge pools and pillowy daybeds are a respite for tanned nymphs sipping on watermelon martinis, and as night falls, the restaurant offers the perfect excuse for the heels you packed but thought you wouldn’t wear. It’s a showstopper for a chic Caribbean wedding reception or even a rehearsal dinner which is just as much about the food as it is about the location. The restaurant offers couples Bronze to Platinum packages (the latter for groups of 25 and over) and couples can pick between canapés and champagne followed by three courses, or a more relaxed cocktail party where seemingly endless trays of Caribbean and Japanese tapas circulate amongst spicy mezcalitas. The sunsets are too spectacular to miss, so for those perfect golden-hour wedding shots, a top tip is to factor in at least an hour of pre-supper drinks and an excellent photographer to capture the most perfect sun kissed memories. www.sheer-rocks.com/
Perched on the western side of the island, the hotel consists of little brown cottages that wrap themselves around layers of palms and poinciana. From a distance, COCOS looks like Neverland; emerald gardens heaped like sugar and sun-drenched balconies that hang with delightful chaos over opalescent waters. Sitting between Jolly Beach and Valley Church Beach, these views are arguably the best on the island – and every cottage, no matter which level you book, has double doors draped with the wispiest linen so every sunset unapologetically spills into every room. Founded by one of the island’s most prolific hoteliers, COCOS has all the elements for a simple but spectacular destination wedding. This is the hotel where you take your closest friends for pre-wedding celebrations and stay for a week of floating between long, languid lie-ins, post-lunch swims, spa treatments and amber evenings filled with your favourite faces, shiny with humidity and happiness. It’s quiet and peaceful but the lingering hum of a jet ski or the gentle encouragement of beach vendors act as a mellow reminder that there are activities beyond treading water with a pina colada in one hand. The hotel hosts up to 16 guests, and small ceremonies and receptions can take place at sunset on the restaurant’s sprawling mocha balcony, or on Valley Church Beach which fades into pastel pinks and blues as dusk descends. www.cocoshotel.com/index
Part fine dining, part beach bar, Catherine’s Café has been relocated to Pigeon Beach, one of the most tranquil spots on the island. During the day, sandy-toed beach goers enjoy sun-dappled lunches of local clams and superfood salads, but when the evening comes, the little café takes on a different guise. Champagne flutes and delicate dollops of caviar sparkle under candlelight. Simple and stylish tanned diners in floaty layers of linen sink into rattan armchairs. The restaurant is completely open air which means each breeze carries a taste of sticky sea salt and occasionally the sounds of steel pans which float down from Shirley Heights on Thursday and Sunday evenings. If couples are choosing to wed at a nearby hotel, then Catherine’s is a beautiful option for a reception, or even a rehearsal dinner for the night before. It might even be the best spot on the island for a wedding breakfast, where postnuptial hangovers can be swiftly cured with a bloody Mary and a dip in the ocean, or alternatively, a stack of cinnamon pancakes and a quiet post-brunch nap in the sun. www.catherines-cafe.com/
THE INN AT ENGLISH HARBOUR
Flawless colonial-style houses perched on long, Hamptons-style manicured lawns, The Inn at English Harbour is a quiet escape in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Antigua. During sailing week, yachties flock to the hotel as a luxurious pitstop close to all of the action, and the hotel is just around the corner from the UNESCO-World-Heritage-Site of Nelson’s Dockyard. But despite the annual nautical chaos, the Inn is peaceful and each morning you’re woken by the rhythmic sounds of tree frogs and the gentle chatter of the lawn sprinklers. The beach is beautiful, and views of old naval ruins and lush mountains are interrupted by neat little sailboats. This is one of the locations for the ceremony or the reception, and the sheltered bay promises a tucked away, intimate event. All of the suites, the tennis courts and the swimming pool are at sea-level, but shuttles are available to take guests to and from one of the restaurants, which is found at the very top of a steep climb. A beautiful option for the wedding reception, the lofty vantage point offers views of the entire harbour. When the sun goes down, golden lights dangle between palm trees and the waterfront below twinkles with mast heads. The Italian Head Chef fuses Antiguan ingredients with his own Mediterranean background, so it’s one of the very best venues on the island if food is the main priority. While the hotel can cater to small intimate affairs, it also offers resort buyouts and very generous room rates if a large party is booked for several days. www.theinnantigua.com/
One of the newest hotels in Antigua, Hammock Cove is an adults-only all-inclusive resort found on the island’s northeast coast. Beach cottages rest against a bushy peninsula and even though the hotel hosts a stretch of perfect white sand, the real draw to Hammock Cove is the individual infinity pools carved into each of the bungalow’s giant balconies. Bigger than most London flats, these houses are for couples who are truly looking for an escape. The décor is fresh and uncomplicated; its location on the water front is quiet and soothing, creating the type of effortless magic that is so endemic to Caribbean islands. When sliding open the glass doors, long white linen curtains fill up with each gust and the room is scented with sea salt and desert rose – views to the perfectly turquoise waters are only ever interrupted by fidgety green lizards searching for a safe sunbathing spot. And apart from these restless little creatures, couples will find themselves completely and blissfully alone. So, it makes sense that this is the hotel on the island for a glamorous elopement, with the hotel hosting micro-wedding parties of up to just six. A powdery pink gazebo at the end of a stony jetty is where most couples wed before champagne on the beach and a meticulously tailored menu created by Chef Marco Festini, who brings a little Michelin-starred sparkle to Hammock Cove. And these are the simple but beautiful luxuries that the hotel delicately arranges. Most couples choose to carefully sandwich their wedding in the middle of their stay so even after the big day they’re kept stylishly marooned for a few more days on one of the prettiest corners of the island. hammockcoveantigua.com/
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