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All about Antigua & Barbuda


Antigua, together with the islands of Barbuda and Redonda, won independence from Great Britain in 1981. Antigua, largest of the Leeward Islands and for centuries a major base of Britain's Royal Navy, boasts some of the world's most beautiful beaches and yachting options.

As befits a major yachting centre, Antigua stages an annual sailing (or race) week. That's when locals and visitors mix strong drink with wild and sometimes silly sailing and competitions, followed by a get-down-and-dirty Caribbean "jump up."

The picturesque capital, St John's, is worth a visit just to see the obscenely expensive world-class yachts that dot a harbour backed by gloriously beautiful hills. The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards is among celebrities who have been known to chill out in English Harbour, Antigua.

One of the most famous ships to anchor at English Harbour is the 74-ft square-rigged topsail schooner named St Peter and built in St Petersburg, Russia, from a 1780 design. After a 26-day Atlantic crossing, the St Peter was done over as The Black Pearl in the Johnny Depp movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

English Harbour is also the site of Nelson's Dockyard, former headquarters for Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy. Restaurants in or near English Harbour have fun names, such as the Mad Mongoose and Grace Before Meals.

Many a war has shattered the laid-back lifestyle of Antiguans. However, today's main activities are peaceful, including sailing, scuba diving, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, yachting, snorkelling, golf, and horse riding. And what a setting! The hills all around are alive with flowers and "figs," the local name for bananas.

Barbuda is famous for its incredibly wonderful beaches. The island is about 30 miles north of Antigua. Like Antigua, Barbuda was once the bailiwick of Caribs who were replaced by European settlers and their African slaves.

At one point, the entire island was leased to the Christopher Codrington family for an annual rental payment of "one fat sheep." Reminders of Codrington ownership are everywhere, including the name of the island's tiny settlement with its few streets lined with clapboard houses. Accommodations range in price from unbelievably expensive to a cheap guesthouse or three in Codrington.

There is a smattering of smaller islands in the archipelago governed from St John's. Arguably, the most interesting is Redonda, the almost perfect circle of an island between Montserrat and Nevis. In 1865, Irishman Matthew Shiel claimed the isle and crowned himself king.

In 1880, he abdicated to his son Matthew, who became King Felipe of Redonda. The island king subsequently went to England, became the star of literary get-togethers, eventually becoming a successful novelist.

As late as the 1990s, there was a fifth King of Redonda, styled as His Royal Majesty, King Leo. One of the claimants to the Redonda crown reaffirmed his suzerainty by planting his flag, made from pajama material provided by Her Royal Highness, Jennifer Wynne-Tyson.

There's something about the archipelago that brings out the royal wannabe in folks. When Fort Barrington was built in the early 18th century, the then-Governor William Bart installed a plaque naming himself Emperor and Governor of the Leeward Islands.

He once gave his 'subjects' a bit of concern when, at a fancy-dress dinner party, the "emperor" drew his sword and attacked imaginary enemies behind his chair - or royal throne, as it were.

Perhaps Antigua and sister islands are so beautiful they drive men crazy. In any case, you might want to include a crown in your suitcase. At the very least, go live like a king in a tropical nirvana.


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