By Jessica Festa
“Many people wrongly assume meditation is about having a blank mind; but that’s not true. The mind thinks 70,000 thoughts per day. The goal in mediation is really about quieting the self talk in these thoughts to reach mental clarity.”
Hermitage Bay’s morning meditation and yoga instructor’s soft voice then begins the meditation.
“Become aware of the feeling of your legs touching the earth, of your posture, of your breath. Count your breaths — 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale — until you get to 10. Then, start all over. We’ll do this for 15 minutes.”
1, inhale, 2…oh! you never replied to that email from Chad about next week’s tour!
3, inhale, 4…ah! Gemma texted you two days ago and you never responded!
5, inhale, 6…oh man, I still need to finish that blog post about India…
It takes a while for me to get the hang of it, but toward the end of the session I find myself able to count to 10 without the worry devils on my shoulders hindering my mindfulness with their burden-filled pitchforks. I wish I could tell them to go pick on someone else’s brain, but they’ve been with me for so long I know they’re here to stay.
Or are they?
As an anxious New Yorker prone to panic attacks, I’m doubtful I’ll ever be able to quiet the voices of worry and to-do list reminders constantly swirling about my head. But as I listen to my breathing paired with Antigua’s gentle waves crashing on the beach and fan palms billowing in the breeze, I realize I’m already feeling less anxious. If there were ever a place to achieve mental and physical wellness, the peaceful Hermitage Bay may hold the answer. Wrapped in the tranquil blanket of island life, I’m ready to try.
A Serene Scene
I’m thankful to Tully Luxury Travel for organizing this journey. Imagine 140 acres where almond trees and hibiscus grow wild on soft sand touching powder blue water. The endless expanse of water is rimmed on both sides by lush green hills. Imagine running back from an afternoon paddle boarding to one of 30 minimalist cottage suites built into the hillside; giant energy-efficient rooms showcasing dark locally-sourced tropical hardwoods and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. Think about wandering paths lined with ginger lilies and sage leading you to a farm-to-fork seaside restaurant or a tranquil aerial spa where treatments feature an ocean breeze soundtrack. Where the beginning of every activity begins with a cold towel and fruit-infused water.
That’s Hermitage Bay in a nutshell.
After waking up with Warrior 1’s and Pigeon Poses during yoga on Hermitage Bay’s aerial zen deck, I cool off with some aquatic offerings. A few laps in the pool followed by playtime at the beach allow me to stretch my limbs and savor the natural smiles that a sea breeze invokes. In Antigua, you can experience both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with the Caribbean typically being gentler. This is the body of water Hermitage Bay is on and, as long as the red flag isn’t out, there’s paddle boarding, kayaks, windsurfers, hobie cats and snorkeling gear to be enjoyed.
Stand up paddle boarding is like meditation to me, a great extension to the morning’s yoga practice. I’m pretty good at it — I can even do a bridge on the board — so I can paddle along and gain focus while spending quality time with myself. It’s a great way to stay active and do a mental check in. I’m guilty of dramatizing my own problems, which seem huge when they’re my own; on this board I remind myself that in the grand scheme of the world’s problems I have much more to be thankful for than woe.
The delicious food during my stay is another reason to be thankful. With beach activities and morning yoga and pilates helping me work up an appetite, I never miss a meal at Hermitage Bay’s covered outdoor restaurant. The tiered flooring means no matter where I sit, I’m never without a view. There are also many almond trees lining the tables, so I enjoy the faint aroma waft through the air while waiting for my food.
While fresh fish and tropical fruits are to be expected, the property kicks its local sourcing up a notch. In fact, you can even tour the onsite gardens to see where they collect certain produce, or visit the nearby organic garden with their chef.
I do the one-hour garden tour, which teaches me not only about the ingredients that go into the resort’s food, but also how to use plants for wellness.
My tour guide, Glenroy, a landscaper for Hermitage Bay, smiles, a gleam in his eye, “You know that show Naked and Afraid? I would win at that show!”
I don’t doubt he would, as he climbs palm trees quicker than I can put on pants. He also explains all the remedies he uses himself made with Antigua plants: juice from cattle tongue leaves are great for a sore throat and can be used as deodorant; hibiscus makes for a wonderful shampoo; Caribbean cherries offer more Vitamin C than any citrus and can cure the flu; soursop leaves can be placed in the band of a hat against the skin to help headaches; and for basically any ailment tree of life leaves are magic.
Along the walk we smell and taste the various plants, adding many of them to our water bottles to make a curative infusion. By the end, I’m getting hydrated with H2O infused with Caribbean mint, sage, tarragon and lemongrass. Yum!
We also visit Hermitage Bay’s organic garden, tempting my palate with delicious pineapples, mangos, golden apples, eggplant, spinach, lemon, lime, bok choy and more.
Naturally, after the tour I’m hungry. Everything on the menu is made onsite, from the breads to the homemade jams and juices, using local organic fruits. And the dishes are creative, too. Think oyster and ginger marinated chicken breast in stir fried rice noodles; parma ham, beet root, pineapple and fennel topped with spicy grain mustard dressing; and grilled lemon and coriander wahoo, just to name a few. I pretty much always opt for the seafood; a very satisfying choice when in a beach setting.
Epic Hiking Adventures
Hermitage Bay is all about tranquility, though that doesn’t mean those looking to jet ski or get their adrenaline pumping are without alternatives. In fact, when I tell Hermitage Bay that I want to do some real hiking (vs strolling) they arrange for me to hike to the Pillars of Hercules, a challenging 5.4-mile hike that introduces me to a diverse array of Antigua’s landscapes. Picture tamarind-laced jungles, aerial water views, stunning ocean-carved pillars and possibly the most serene crystal clear harbor in the whole island.
You can learn all about this must-do Antigua hiking trail here. It’s a trek that really makes me feel like I’ve gotten to know the wild side of Antigua. Within the two-hour loop I ascend into dry jungle, traverse tall grass dotted with cacti, meet local handicraft sellers as I snapshot Antigua from Shirley Heights, crawl over boulders to get close to the Atlantic, and get my feet wet strolling Caribbean sands in English harbor. There’s also the appeal of getting to know a local, as my guide Rodney and I make jokes and exchange Facebook information.
Hiking is something I love doing at least once in every destination I visit, and this one is definitely very special in terms of views. Nothing makes me feel healthier than getting my heart rate up, and nothing makes me forget my problems more easily than distractingly gorgeous scenery. Hey, the only thing that makes me feel guiltier than not keeping up with emails is not taking advantage of natural beauty when I’m surrounded by it.
Just a small visual sampling from the hike:
Back at Hermitage Bay, I peel off my sweaty clothes — one of my favorite feelings from a hard day’s work — and slip into my room’s deep soaking tub. Every hour of this trip seems to be melting my stress away further, as hot water loosens my tired muscles and bubbles wash away flecks of mud. Outside I can hear the gentle rustling of Hawaiian grape leafs — planted because they can withstand the burn of salt water during storms — helping me sink deeper into sleepy relaxation. Along with the sweat and dirt from hiking, it seems my anxieties are being cleansed from my body.
An Aerial Spa Experience
I decide to continue heading on the path to relaxation via the stone staircase leading up to the spa. I’m a regular spa-goer, as incessantly typing up blog posts leaves me with constant knots in my upper back. So I can honestly say, based on experience, that this spa is special.
Perched up high, the view of the resort and sea are beautiful. After putting on my robe I’m seated on a deck with a prime view, my legs propped up on a bolster as I fill out my consultation form. My spa technician also brings me fruit-infused water and a scented cold towel to help me relax.
The form is thorough, but what I love is how we actually go over it so she could target the areas that need the most attention. I can’t tell you how many times I go for treatments where they don’t even ask about the ailments I write down or what I’d like to focus on. It makes this treatment feel really bespoke, and the natural ocean breeze soundtrack lulls me into a truly soothing place. They also have chromatherapy equipped rooms as their treatment menu options correspond to the various color coded chakras.
On the final evening I find myself sprawled out with a glass of Champagne on my porch’s day bed — which also makes a great night bed for stargazing. In Brooklyn we never see stars, so whenever I go somewhere with a twinkling night sky I take advantage of the rare sight. I feel so small in this giant world, one of my daily 70,000 thoughts that make me feel surprisingly at peace.
Tomorrow it’s back to New York, and while I know I won’t be able to keep this level of inner content in the busy Big Apple, I hope that I can remember this moment on a tranquil Antigua beach when needed, and take comfort in the fact that there was a small slice of heaven on earth where I could — and have — reached mental clarity.
*This post was originally published on Jessie on a Journey. The trip was sponsored by Tully Luxury Travel. As always, all opinions are my own.