The next leg of our Wellness Tour of Antigua and Barbuda is Barbuda.
From Antigua via SVG Air’s eight passenger plane – the 17-minute flight to Barbuda is an adventure in itself. I position myself directly behind the pilot and take a very deep breath to calm my nerves.
But the pilot is a pro and we make a very smooth landing at the tiny Barbuda Airport, where just one or two SVG flights land daily. From the airport, it’s a two minute drive to a dock where a Barbuda Belle speedboat awaits to take us the 15-minute ride to the resort. Story and photos by Anne Dimon
In the wake of Hurricane Irma which ravaged parts of the Caribbean in late summer of 2017, Barbuda Belle is the only full-service hotel on the island of Barbuda to resume operations. There are a handful of housekeeping cottage on the island plus a start-up glamping company, but Barbuda Belle is the island’s only full-service property. Located on the west side of the island on a remote stretch of beach where the tiniest of pink shells turn patches of the shoreline a rosy color, Barbuda Belle is a collection of eight upscale guest bungalows plus another (photo above) that houses the Club House and The Mangrove Restaurant. This is where guests congregate for daily meals, drinks and conversation with other guests. The bungalows are built of bamboo and other natural materials including mahogany floors, and wood and wicker furnishings. It’s an eco-friendly hotel, and materials give it a Bali feel.
After being pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Irma in late summer of 2017, the luxury retreat reopened on November 3, 2018. With a dedicated team of employees and an owner determined to recreate the jobs the island so desperately needed, it took a full year to rebuild. And the loyalty, gratitude and respect the staff has for the owner, a retired medical surgeon, is heartwarming.
The maximum number of guests you’ll find here at any given time is just 24. Yes, if you are looking for tranquility and privacy far away from the “maddening” crowds – Barbuda Belle is it. General manager Claudette Thomas confirms that “quiet and privacy are the key reasons to come here. It is very off the beaten path.” And, it is that.
Another reason to visit is the food. On this remote island, don’t even think for a minute that the food is not five-star. Some of the best, in fact, that I have tasted on this trip. Perhaps some of the freshest Catch of the Day you will find anywhere. In some cases literally caught that morning by the chef’s own fishing pole. France-born chef Jean-Louis Camus loves to fish and the menu leans toward sea-to-table. During my stay, menu items included Stuffed Local Crab on a Bed of Greens, Steamed Mussels, Breaded Conch, Lobster Bisque, Cassoulet of Snails and Vegetables, and Lobster Salad. One morning I witnessed the chef pick the lobster from the resort’s own lobster traps. Red Snapper, the island’s main export, is one of the hotel’s signature dishes.
For the guest not keen on seafood, there are items such as Duck Breast with Honey Sauce and Rack of Lamb with Thyme Jus. The chef tells me he can also accommodate specials dietary requests. And, oh yes, the desserts. Delicious treats like Chocolate Fondant. Yes. It is ok to mindfully indulge every now and then.
One has to dig deep to find a hotel today that is truly unique plus offers all the expected comforts and this is it. With the flight from Antigua, a short drive then a 15-minute boat ride, it’s a bit of a jaunt to get here but 100% worth the effort. Barbuda Belle is just not another beachfront hotel, it’s an experience.
Kayaking to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary
While at Barbuda Belle, and especially if you are looking for a bit of an upper-body work out, a must-do. half-day activity is kayaking to the nearby Frigate Bird Sanctuary.
A 30 to 40-minute kayaking excursion from the boutique hotel, the sanctuary is a refuge for the national bird – the Frigate. These massive birds – with a wing span of up to six feet – travel all the way here from the Galapagos Islands once a year between February and August to mate. There are hundreds of them soaring through the air, swooping down into the waters and hovering over their white chicks. The males are black with red pouches, the females have white heads and black bodies.
Our guide Rilton, tells me that the chicks take three to four months to learn to fly and then they all travel together back to their Galapagos home. He says some died during the hurricane but others flew above the heavy storm and survived. Another thing I learned about the Frigate is that after they learn to fly it takes another six months to find out if they are male or female. There are also plenty of sea pelicans. “They all live here together as one big family.”
Much of their mangrove habitat was destroyed but, along with the island’s tourism industry, it’s making a comeback.
You can also read about my visits to Wallings Nature Reserve, Colesome Farm to Table Experience, Sugar Ridge, Nicole’s Table Cooking Classes and Triflexcursions as we make our way around the twin-island country experiencing some of what is offered under the umbrella of Wellness.