Maya Fiennes in the Sunday Telegraph

Maya Fiennes in June 2008 article of the Sunday Telegraph. 


Luxury Escapes 

From the life-affirming yoga to the mini banana cakes - an escape to Antigua's Carlisle Bay puts Melissa Crowther in a heavenly state of mind.

I wouldn't normally be leaping out of bed at 7am on a weekday morning for an hour of contortion. Especially when I'm on holiday. But this is paradise, and a yoga class on the jetty beside a beach the consistency of desicated coconut, in the most peaceful bay in the West Indies, is pure bliss.

Bliss, that is, until it comes to an exercise for which we have to hold out our arms in front of us, at shoulder height, for seven whole minutes. No flagging.

Had there been a clock nearby (not that you need to know the time in the Caribbean), it would have counted down every second very loudly and very deliberately, as the sweat pricked my forehead. But I made it, and felt elated.

Combined with chanting, the exercise is designed as a way of reaching a meditative, trance-like state. Whether you achieve it or not, it's extremely rewarding, and doesn't half justify having the works for breakfast - extra-sweet locally grown Black pineapple, freshly baked mini banana cakes and streaky bacon that only five-star hotels seem able to get right - before spending the rest of the day on a sunbed.

Prostrate on a sunbed is normally how I can be found if I'm anywhere as warm, tropical and laid-back as Antgiua. But, here at the super-pampering Carlisle Bay, I'm on an Escape Week wellbeing retreat, and the yoga classes are all part of the restorative experience.

And these are no ordinary yoga classes. Guiding us through the positions and endurance/elation excercises each day is the bubbly London-based Macedonian-born Maya Fiennes. A concert pianist by training, she combines her musical talents with her full-of-beans style of teaching, using her own recordings - which blend modern beats, her own sultry vocals and spoken mantras - to uplifting effect.

Maya bases her instruction on Kundalini yoga, which involves breathing rhythms, poses, chants and meditation to tap into your chakras and release your inner energy.

Introduced to the West by Yogi Bhajan in the Sixties, it's a technique she describes as "mind-body-workout". With many of my fellow retreaters - from stressed-out businessmen to mothers and daughters - also beginners, we all really benefit from its invigorating, inspiring nature. I'd be surprised if anyone failed to take up yoga on their return home after this.

Returning home, however, is far from our minds - there's plenty more to enjoy on our Escape. Apart from a yoga session each day, the holiday package includes three spa treatments in the cool, minimalist Blue Spa, a great place to retreat to in the heat of the afternoon. Here you can soothe your sun-saturated skin with a Renew Rose Radiance Facial, or ease the after-effects of those endurance exercises with the hour-long signature Well Being Massage.

If, though, you prefer to stick to the more active side of things, you're also entitled to evening tennis clinics at the hotel's impressive complex of nine courts.

And it's well worth claiming your complimentary activity. We opted for a snorkelling trip, followed by a picnic on the beach. Our guides for the day, Prince and Garfield, took us to nearby Cades Reef to wonder at life beneath the slightly choppy water, before guiding us further west round the coast for the perfect Caribbean Sea swim at locals' favourite Ffryes Beach.

But you don't even have to venture from your beach-fronted, up-to-the-minute suite to admire the landscape and local wildlife.

You can watch heron fishing in the mangrove behind the resort as you soak in the bath. Tiny birds join you, whether you like it or not, as you take afternoon tea on the day bed on your balcony. And, on a clear day, all you have to do is lift your head from your Frette pillowcase to see the volcanic island of Montserrat. At night, you can listen to the tropical frogsong chorus on your way to a candlelit dinner on the beach.

But nothing beats that bay. Jaw-droppingly idyllic and so utterly peaceful, it is just the place for finding inner calm - even if you do have to start at seven in the morning.

Further Information

Maya Fiennes

Carlisle Bay