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Caribbean getaway: the pleasure of relaxing in Antigua with a private chef who has cooked for Eric Clapton

Lying on a lounger by the infinity pool, sipping a piña colada and nibbling on canapes, I breathe in the aroma of bougainvillea and watch the sun set over the Caribbean.

Delicious aromas come from the kitchen, where calypso music accentuates the stillness and I feel like a rock goddess as I wait for my gourmet dinner: cold avocado and zucchini soup, followed by a Caribbean fish casserole, a medley of vegetables and a sumptuous chocolate cake.

I am following in sacred footsteps, as my private chef Aneste has also served rock star Eric Clapton, who owns a vacation home on the island alongside Giorgio Armani, Oprah Winfrey, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Totally tropical: the coastline along Valley Church Bay in Antigua

Totally tropical: the coastline along Valley Church Bay in Antigua

Claudia Joseph from The Mail on Sunday stayed at Villa Azura, upstairs, where she had her own private chef

Claudia Joseph from The Mail on Sunday stayed at Villa Azura, upstairs, where she had her own private chef

Claudia Joseph from The Mail on Sunday stayed at Villa Azura, upstairs, where she had her own private chef

Clapton rents out his property, Standfast Point, located on the southern tip of the island overlooking Montserrat and Guadeloupe, for £ 3,614 per night. My own piece of paradise, Villa Azura, just a short drive from Long Bay, costs £ 3,756 a week, though that price doesn’t include the luxury of a private chef.

On my first morning, Aneste shows me the capital, St John’s, a bustling port on the northwest coast, half an hour from the village.

Above the caramel-colored cabins, the white neo-baroque cathedral of San Juan, one of the most characteristic buildings of the city, looks out. We browse the market, then stock up for a fruit salad with black pineapple, sweet bananas, pink dragon fruit, passion fruit, carambola, mangoes, papayas, and melons.

We went into the Penny Bay supermarket to buy Wadadli, the national beer, plus local rum, coconut milk, and pineapple juice. Back at the villa, Aneste teaches me how to make a piña colada.

There is plenty of time to laze around the villa, soak in the pool as pelicans and hummingbirds fly overhead, stroll through its landscaped gardens amongst palm trees, bougainvillea and hibiscus, and stroll along the rose-tinted Long Bay Beach to watch the sunset. .

My bedroom, with a mosquito net canopy bed, has a private patio with a pergola overlooking the ocean, while the en-suite bathroom opens to an outdoor rain shower, tucked away in the walled tropical gardens.

Vibrant: St John's, the capital of Antigua, is a bustling port on the northwest coast with sweet-colored cottages.

Vibrant: St John's, the capital of Antigua, is a bustling port on the northwest coast with sweet-colored cottages.

Vibrant: St John’s, the capital of Antigua, is a bustling port on the northwest coast with sweet-colored cottages.

That night I have Antigua pork stew for dinner with rice and peas. The meat is from Aneste’s son, Terence, a rancher who lives with her on the other side of the island with her daughter and three other grandchildren. As expected, they also clean their hands in the kitchen. “Everyone knows what they are doing,” says Aneste, smiling proudly, “even the 11-year-old boy.”

In order not to be left behind, I convince Aneste to teach me how to prepare a traditional Antigua breakfast.

First we fry the plantain, a distant cousin of the plantain but bigger, tougher and tastier. “Bananas are softer when ripe and sweeter,” he explains. The banana is made to cook. You can fry it or boil it, but we are going to fry it today. You have to heat the oil a lot.

Nelson’s Dockyard National Park is the restored 18th century Royal Navy shipyard named after Admiral Horatio Nelson.

We then cook salted fish, sautéing some pollock along with onion, garlic, bell peppers, celery and thyme, before adding tomato puree and salt and then the piece of resistance, the aptly named ‘chop-up’.

“We use squash, okra, spinach, squash, whatever, to make the slice,” he says. ‘You boil it, you cook it first, then you chop it all together with a little salt.’

After cooking, and eating, my first Caribbean delicacy, I feel like a former honorary.

Locals say that Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve, is the best place to snorkel on Antigua's reefs.

Locals say that Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve, is the best place to snorkel on Antigua's reefs.

Locals say that Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve, is the best place to snorkel on Antigua’s reefs.

Formerly considered the ‘gateway of Great Britain to the Caribbean’, Christopher Columbus named Antigua in 1493 in honor of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary in Seville Cathedral: La Virgen de la Antigua. However, the locals know it as Wadadli, hence the name of the beer.

One landmark is Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, the restored 18th-century Royal Navy shipyard named after Admiral Horatio Nelson and which is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The Shipyard Museum is housed in the old Admiral’s House, and you can stroll past the restored stone warehouses and down to the marina filled with dazzling yachts. Trails lead to Shirley Heights and a former military lookout that has panoramic views of the island, or walk to Fort Berkeley at the west entrance to the harbor.

My first port of call is Stingray City in Seatons, a town five miles from the village.

Claudia met an expat couple who moved from Hertfordshire to the UK and now go on Reef Riders (pictured above)

Claudia met an expat couple who moved from Hertfordshire to the UK and now go on Reef Riders (pictured above)

Claudia met an expat couple who moved from Hertfordshire to the UK and now go on Reef Riders (pictured above)

TRAVEL FACTS

Villa Azura sleeps six and is one of five CV Villas in Antigua, with seven nights of self catering from £ 3,756. A private cook costs £ 250 per meal (cvvillas.com).

After a five-minute speedboat ride, I’m diving among the southern stingrays and seeing tropical fish like blue tang and yellowtail snapper roaming the coral reefs. Tours cost from £ 29 (stingraycityantigua.com).

In the west of the island, in Jolly Harbor, I met expats Andy Morris, a former accountant, and his wife Rachel, who traded her life in Herefordshire for Antigua.

“I went from a 40 minute commute to a 90 second one,” laughs Andy. The couple travel on Reef Riders, small boats that, he assures me, are “much safer and more fun than jet skis.”

His 18-year-old son Tigger takes me on one of the 11-foot inflatable Reef Riders and we ride along the shoreline. I push the gas forward and accelerate to 40 km / h, feeling the wind in my hair and the salt water on my face.

It’s exciting to drive past Valley Church, Ffryes, Darkwood, and Turners beaches to Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve. “It’s simply the best snorkeling spot on the reefs of Antigua,” Tigger tells me. Tours cost from £ 65 (antiguareefriders.com).

Then Andy explains the benefits of Caribbean life.

“Coming here was the opportunity for me to get involved in reef conservation and education, to spend time outdoors,” he says. ‘It’s a great way to reconnect with life. The Antigua lifestyle is liberating. I wish I had done it sooner.

The only downside? Expect to gain weight.

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