From its setting, bookended by hillsides and nestling among the mangroves, to the number of cottages available, Hermitage Bay succeeds in being secluded and exclusive.
Hermitage Bay, Antigua
The meet and greet begins airside. For guests staying three nights or more, the hotel will send a driver to whisk them through immigration, collect their bags and then drive them to the resort. Such VIP treatment is a blessing after any flight but, best of all, the envious glances and whispers of your former fellow passengers give you an immediate - and all too rare in this humdrum world - feeling of importance.
On arrival at the hotel, a fruit cocktail and cold towel cool you down in every respect. The lobby is actually a verandah overlooking a sweeping beach and turquoise waters. The potted palms and dark wicker furniture make it an agreeable spot to sip your drink; not that you are obliged to hang around. Hermitage Bay insists that you only check in when you want. So you can head straight for your room and return a couple of hours later, or finish the formalities straight away, which do not take a long time. In fact, checking in at Hermitage Bay has to rate as one of the quickest and most efficient that I have experienced.
Hermitage Bay is a right turn, off the village of Ebeneezer-Jameson, where immaculately kept homes share the roadside with ramshackle houses, not to mention goats, chickens and cows. The road to the resort is pothole ridden, but that is something you will be used to after a 35-minute drive from VC Bird International Airport. If you can stomach another bumpy ride out, Jolly Harbour marina, a tourist hot spot, is 10 minutes away.
There are only 25 freestanding cottages at Hermitage Bay, split into five beachfront suites, three beach cottage suites and 17 hillside suites. The difference is that the beach rooms boast a lounge area, while up on the hill guests can take a dip in a private plunge pool. That was where I could be found for the majority of my stay, especially after an evening meal. Watching the sun set with a glass of wine from the minibar - stocked with whatever you order each morning - while taking a dip was decadence in the extreme.
Decadent is the key word here. The hotel guff talks about the rooms being minimalist but if I am going to be picky - and why not with that VIP treatment still fresh in the memory - an iPod, DVD player and a flat screen television were contradictions to the simple design. The beds are king size and draped in white netting. That was a contrast to the dark wood, which was everywhere: on the floor, the vanity dressing table, desk and chairs. Behind the bedhead is the bathroom that is spacious enough, although not different from most high-class hotels. At least that was what I thought until I spotted a slated door in the corner, that led to a walk-in outdoor shower.
If you see anyone else, they are more than likely to be monied and middle-aged money. And you would be unlikely to hear the voice of anyone under the age of 25 years old. This is no place for screaming children.
Hotels often try to be all things to their guests. Not Hermitage Bay. The head chef Verman Banhan, a Jamaican, will cook only Caribbean fare. Indeed, ask him why he does not provide Italian, French or Chinese dishes and he will simply say, "because that's for others to try". It makes for an ever-changing menu. Breakfast and lunch options are different every three days while dinner changes daily. The Antiguan crab eddo fritters with avocado dip are considered to be something of a lunch speciality but the chilled coconut and pineapple soup was a local dish gone too far for my palate.
Thanks to the small clientele at Hermitage Bay compared to other Caribbean resorts, the staff have the challenge of meeting the needs of guests with the personal touch, which is expected from such an exclusive resort, yet remaining aloof enough so that guests can enjoy their holiday. Staff members always remember your name, according to a couple I met who have been coming back to the resort every year since its opening.
The exclusivity. Days will go by when one hardly sees another guest - perfect for those seeking isolation. And, if you want to be even further removed, the staff will ferry you out to one of the five surrounding beaches that are accessible only by boat, provide a picnic and a mobile phone, and leave you to enjoy the private beach until you call them to be picked up.
If you are staying in one of the highest beachside cottages and there are no golf buggies around to take you back to the room after dinner, you will face a potentially gut-busting time climbing and descending 100 steps or more.
From its setting, bookended by hillsides and nestling among the mangroves, to the number of cottages available, Hermitage Bay succeeds in being secluded and exclusive. Its greatest achievement, however, is that it makes you feel like the owner, rather than the guest. That is in no small part thanks to the personal service and cleverly concealed cottages but it is mainly due to the fact that the resort does not bother with the stuffy rules and regulations that most hotels insist on. You can check-in when you like, there is no dress codes; an absence of dos and don'ts on laminated signs behind the door. As for pushy pamphlets pointing you to local attractions or staff pestering you to visit the tour desk, forget it. All this means that the VIP treatment continues from the first day to the last. That makes it an excellent hotel.
Beach cottage suites cost from US$1,000 (Dh3,673) per night, including meals, drinks, non-motorised watersports and taxes. Hermitage Bay, St John's, Antigua (www.hermitagebay.com; 001 268 562 5500).