Private Paradise

While Howard Hulford was flying over the Caribbean as a test pilot for General Electric in 1957, a remote area on the southern tip of Antigua caught his eye as the perfect location to build his dream: a luxury resort that would provide a familial feel for both staff members and guests. By 1962, his vision came to life when he and his wife, Chelle, welcomed the first guests to Curtain Bluff, a private paradise encompassing 20 acres of tropical gardens on a peninsula overlooking the Caribbean Sea. More than 45 years later, the resort boasts a 65 percent return rate and is still attracting guests who feel more like family than paying customers. Offering everything from fishing and scuba diving to cooking classes and private wine tastings, Curtain Bluff has something for everyone. In the past, those looking to unwind with a massage or other spa treatment were able to do so in their private guest rooms or suites. Now, thanks to the addition of The Spa at Curtain Bluff (St. John's) in May of 2007, spa-goers have a relaxing respite to call their own.

Pre and post-treatments, visitors can relax and enjoy the stunning views in the spa's outdoor hot tub.
Pre and post-treatments, visitors can relax and enjoy the stunning views in the spa's outdoor hot tub.

Located on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the nearby island of Montserrat, the 5,000-square-foot spa features five treatment rooms with private balconies, open-air walkways, calming waterfalls, a relaxation veranda, and an outdoor hot tub with ocean views. According to spa director Novie Jones, the spa's location is its most valuable asset. "The location makes us a force to be reckoned with," says Jones. "Nowhere else in Antigua has such supreme views." Another draw, says Jones, is the spa's decor, which features curved walls, neutral colors, and plenty of outdoor space for guests to enjoy the sounds and scents of nature. "Our architect had such a wonderful grasp of the tranquil and effortless flow that the concept demanded," she says. "The decor is desirably uncomplicated and functional, allowing clients and staff alike to effortlessly move throughout the spa."

Guests can choose to receive their treatments perched high above the Caribbean.
Guests can choose to receive their treatments perched high above the Caribbean.

When creating the spa menu, Jones wanted to make sure there was a variety of options from which to choose. In addition to traditional spa treatments, the menu also features "Quick Fixes," which are spa services for those who want to experience a treatment but not spend all day at the spa. For example, guests can choose the Head to Toe Repose ($60, 30 minutes), which offers an abbreviated scalp, back, and foot massage, or the Speedy Facial ($50, 25 minutes), which cleanses, tones, exfoliates, and moisturizes the skin. "The most essential thing was to create a menu that was varied enough to provide services that are most often requested in spas, yet set us apart from the competition," says Jones.

Clockwise from Top: Guests check in at the open-air reception area; situated directly on the water's edge, the spa's location is its most valuable asset; some treatment rooms offer private outdoor areas where services can  be performed.
Clockwise from Top: Guests check in at the open-air reception area; situated directly on the water's edge, the spa's location is its most valuable asset; some treatment rooms offer private outdoor areas where services can be performed.

It was also imperative that the spa carry a product line that is eco-friendly. Because of that, Pevonia Botanica was chosen for both retail and back bar. "Some of the reasons we chose Pevonia are because of the products' natural botanical and marine ingredients, and because they are packaged in recyclable and environmentally friendly containers." In keeping with the green theme, the spa has its own laundry facilities with energy-efficient machines and eco-friendly detergents. Curtain Bluff is also one of the few places in Antigua that recycles plastic containers. "There is obviously a long way to go, and we remain very conscious of the effect our existence has on our natural resources," says Jones.

Spa-goers can enjoy spa cuisine and herbal teas while taking in views of the Caribbean and Montserrat on the first (shown here) and second (below left) floors. below right: Even indoor treatment rooms give the vibe of island living.
Spa-goers can enjoy spa cuisine and herbal teas while taking in views of the Caribbean and Montserrat on the first (shown here) and second (below left) floors. below right: Even indoor treatment rooms give the vibe of island living.

Because the spa is so conducive to relaxation, many guests often linger after treatments on the outdoor veranda or in the hot tub, soaking in the view. That inspired Jones to offer guests light snacks, called Spa Bites. "Individuals are often in a deep state of relaxation after a treatment," says Jones. "Spa Bites are an attempt to encourage restoration." The menu, which was created by Jones and Curtain Bluff's chef, changes daily, and includes items such as mini fruit and vegetable kabobs, pineapple gazpacho, and orange slices with cinnamon and dates. Guests are also offered "shots" of tea made with herbs from the spa's garden. "I was keen to introduce one of my favorites, which is lemongrass and ginger tea," says Jones. "The properties of both, which are anti-depressing, immune-boosting, and blood-stimulating, complement each other flawlessly and, when drunk prior to a treatment, render clients far more receptive."

On average, the spa sees 40 clients a day, but that number varies depending on the season. In fact, says Jones, for guests who want to book an appointment between December and April, she recommends they reserve at least six weeks in advance. In addition to resort guests, Jones says a good deal of locals—many of whom are expatriates—also visit the spa. She estimates the number to be roughly 15 percent during periods when the hotel occupancy falls to less than 50 percent. And although the spa ambience is unbeatable, there are still those clients who prefer a treatment in the privacy of their rooms, which the resort will accommodate for a 25 percent surcharge. "A number of our older clientele request in-room treatments, but that has more to do with their physical capabilities, rather than disparagement for the facility," says Jones.

The spa's staff consists of 12 full-time employees and one part-time salon therapist. When it came to the hiring process, Jones was extremely thorough. "I conducted nearly 86 interviews to select the 13 employees that make up the team," she says. "And I hand-picked a few of them before the interview process began. I think the staff is one of the reasons we are as successful as we are. We are like a family." Almost half a decade after Hulford first laid eyes on the strip of land between the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean that is now known as Curtain Bluff, his vision of creating a resort with a familial atmosphere is still going strong.

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