Lying on a lounger by the infinity pool, sipping a pina colada and nibbling canapes, I breathe in the scent of bougainvillea and watch the sun set over the Caribbean.
Delicious aromas come from the kitchen, where calypso music punctuates the stillness and I feel like a rock goddess as I await my gourmet dinner: chilled avocado and courgette soup, followed by Caribbean fish casserole, a medley of vegetables and a sumptuous chocolate cake.
I’m following in hallowed footsteps as my private chef Aneste has also served rock star Eric Clapton, who owns a holiday 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
The Mail on Sunday’s Claudia Joseph stayed at Villa Azura, above, where she had her own private chef
Clapton rents out his property, Standfast Point, set on the island’s southern tip with views of Montserrat and Guadeloupe, for £3,614 a night. My very own slice of paradise, Villa Azura, within walking distance of Long Bay, costs a more manageable £3,756 a week – although that price does not include the luxury of a private chef.
On my first morning, Aneste shows me around the capital, St John’s, a bustling port on the north-west coast, half an hour from the villa.
Looming above the candy-coloured cottages is the white neo-baroque St John’s Cathedral, one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. We browse the market, then stock up for a fruit salad with black pineapples, sweet lady finger bananas, pink dragon fruit, passionfruit, star fruit, mangos, papayas and melons.
We pop 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 mean pina colada.
There’s plenty of time for lounging around the villa, dipping in the pool while pelicans and hummingbirds soar overhead, walking in its landscaped grounds among palm trees, bougainvillea and hibiscus, and wandering down to the pink-tinged Long Bay Beach to watch the sunset.
My bedroom, with a mosquito-net-canopied bed, has a private pergola patio overlooking the sea, while the en suite bathroom opens on to an outdoor rain shower, hidden in the tropical walled gardens.
Vibrant: St John’s, Antigua’s capital, is a bustling port on the north-west coast with candy-coloured cottages
That evening I dine on Antiguan pork stew with rice and peas. The meat is from Aneste’s son Terence, a livestock farmer who lives with her on the other side of the island with his daughter and her three other grandchildren. Unsurprisingly, they too are dab hands in the kitchen. ‘They all know their stuff,’ Aneste says, smiling proudly, ‘even the 11-year-old.’
Not to be outdone, I persuade Aneste to teach me how to make a traditional Antiguan breakfast.
First we fry plantain, a distant cousin to the banana but larger, tougher and more savoury. ‘Banana is softer when it’s ripe and sweeter,’ she explains. ‘Plantain is meant to be cooked. You can fry it or boil it but we’re frying it today. You have to make the oil very hot.’
Nelson’s Dockyard National Park is the restored 18th Century Royal Navy Dockyard named after Admiral Horatio Nelson
Then we cook saltfish, sautéing some pollock along with onion, garlic, bell peppers, celery and thyme, before adding tomato puree and salt and then the piece de resistance, the aptly named ‘chop-up’.
‘We use pumpkin, okra, spinach, squash, whatever, to make the chop-up,’ she says. ‘You boil it, you cook it first, then you chop it all together with a little salt.’
After I have cooked – and eaten – my first Caribbean delicacy, I feel like an honorary Antiguan.
Locals say Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve, is the best reef snorkelling spot in Antigua
Once considered ‘Britain’s gateway to the Caribbean’, Antigua was named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 after the Chapel of the Virgin Mary in Seville Cathedral – La Virgen de la Antigua. However, it is known to the locals as Wadadli – hence the name of the beer.
One landmark is Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, the restored 18th Century Royal Navy Dockyard named after Admiral Horatio Nelson that is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The Dockyard Museum is in the former Admiral’s House, and you can amble around restored stone warehouses and down to the marina full of glitzy yachts. Trails lead up to Shirley Heights and a former military lookout that has panoramic views of the island, or hike to Fort Berkeley at the west entrance to the harbour.
My first port of call is Stingray City in Seatons, a village five miles from the villa.
Claudia met an expat couple who relocated from Hertfordshire in the UK and now run tours on Reef Riders (pictured above)
Villa Azura sleeps six and is one of five CV Villas on Antigua, with seven nights’ self-catering from £3,756. A private cook costs £250 a meal (cvvillas.com).
After a five-minute speedboat ride, I am snorkelling among southern stingrays and watching tropical fish such as blue tang and yellowtail snapper meander around the coral reefs. Tours cost from £29 (stingraycityantigua.com).
On the west of the island, at Jolly Harbour, I meet expats Andy Morris, a former accountant, and his wife Rachel, who swapped life in Herefordshire for Antigua.
‘I’ve gone from a 40-minute commute to a 90-second one,’ Andy laughs. The couple run tours on Reef Riders – small boats which, he assures me, are ‘much safer and more fun than jet skis’.
Their 18-year-old son Tigger takes me out on one of the 11ft inflatable Reef Riders and we tear along the coastline. I push the throttle forward and accelerate to 25mph, feeling wind in my hair and salty water on my face.
It’s exhilarating as we zip past Valley Church, Ffryes, Darkwood and Turners beaches to Cades Reef, part of the National Marine Reserve. ‘It is simply the best reef snorkelling spot in Antigua,’ Tigger tells me. Tours cost from £65 (antiguareefriders.com).
Afterwards, Andy explains the benefits of Caribbean life.
‘Coming out here was the chance for me to get involved in reef conservation and education, to spend time outdoors,’ he says. ‘It’s a great way to reconnect to life. The lifestyle of Antigua is liberating. I just wish I’d done it earlier.’
The only downside? Expect to put on the pounds.