I’ve discovered the secret to the perfect midlife holiday

There are plenty of signs that you have crossed over from Eternally Youthful Midlifer to Later in the Day Midlifer (or what we used to call ‘getting older’). There are the oofs when getting up off a low sofa, of course, the day you turn the music down when you were the one who always used to turn it up, you think twice about having a curry at night, are right off sunbathing (what were we thinking?) and – possibly the most unforseen shift of the lot – you all of a sudden want a different sort of holiday from the holidays you’ve loved up until now.

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In my experience there are three holiday life stages. The long nights one. The adventures one. And the one we are in now (the mid to late midlife stage), when the emphasis shifts towards rest, rebooting and maybe a spot of self improvement. Now you want that week you booked in Antigua in March to have a purpose. You can no more contemplate idling the days away on a sunlounger than you can picture preloading on the flight out on red bull and duty-free vodka. You want to come away from your week restored, fitter, and maybe with a new skill. Possibly the sort of skill that’s infinitely more pleasurable to acquire in a lovely warm climate. Since any of us who wants a PADI diving certificate at this point has already got one, I am of course talking about tennis. 

The superfood of sports

Ten years ago when I was last a guest at Curtain Bluff – an all-inclusive resort on a rocky outcrop on Antigua’s south coast – I’d have scoffed at the idea of getting my husband up at 7am for a daily tennis lesson with the hotel pro (that’s living like a Florida retiree…what next? Canasta?). But now I feel about this opportunity the way someone in holiday stage one would feel about a bottomless catamaran cruise. Count me in! This is exactly what I want to be doing on a warmly blustery Caribbean morning. 

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Better still, polishing up my rusty tennis skills with my husband feels like an investment in the future. Tennis turns out to be the superfood of sports. A 2016 Harvard University study found that playing three hours of tennis a week will reduce your risk of heart disease by 56 per cent and the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported the finding that tennis helps stave off death compared to other sports (47 per cent reduced risk of death compared with 27 per cent for aerobic exercise and 28 per cent for swimming). Tennis lubricates joints, strengthens muscles and tendons, improves balance, decreases your risk of osteoporosis (a big one for the mid-mid life woman). It’s basically the best thing you can do for your health, bar giving up booze (I would argue better). 

It might also be good for your marriage if you are both roughly the same standard (not bad, but not getting any better) and are ever more conscious of approaching your use it or lose it years. Get it right and you’ve got something you can enjoy – together – into your eighties. It’s what they call a no brainer… and now we have seven straight days to get things in shape.

The one rule that counts

To be clear, the only place I would ever want to learn tennis is here at Curtain Bluff. There are, I’m sure, plenty of Nadal-sponsored bootcamps in the Costas and places in the Home Counties where you can get one on one tuition with Annabel Croft – but that sounds too much like hard work to me. The only rule is, this must be something we look forward to when we wake up, and feel better for after an hour’s coaching before breakfast. We want results, we don’t want to be beasted. We’re on holiday, after all.

Our coach Dillo clearly gets this. While instantly inspiring in you the kind of eagerness to please you might have experienced once with your favourite school teacher, he is also Dr Calm. His constant refrain is not a screamed; ‘Move your feet!’ (which is all I remember from the last time I had a tennis lesson) but a gently chanted; ‘Relax. Relax. Relax. What Is the Rush?’

© Provided by The Telegraph Curtain Bluff, hotels by the sea in Antigua – Alexis Andrews

In just one lesson he had sorted out both our forehands (top tip: keep your arm straight and always finish over your shoulder) and backhands (‘draw it like a sword from your hip’). In just 10 minutes on our serves, I’d got the message that has eluded me for 30 years: don’t throw up the ball, simply reach up and ‘put the ball on the shelf.’ I’m not kidding – inside an hour he had both of us playing like people who looked like they knew more or less what they are doing. And all before our 9am breakfast. 

Realistically, this must have quite a lot to do with the Caribbean climate… relaxing bone and joint, so that every stroke feels looser and easier. The view through the fencing of the turquoise bay and palm trees beyond probably helps. But it’s mainly to do with the style of coaching courtesy of Dillo and his soothing mantras: ‘Relax. Relax. Relax.’ ‘Take your time. Take your time. Take your time’. ‘Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.’ 

Drills and chill

Dr Calm he may be, with a smooth, gentle rhythm you can click into, but there’s nothing laid-back about Dillo’s teaching methods. You work up a sweat as he puts you through his drills, and his voice gets inside your head like a guided meditation: ‘Turn, step, forward’, he chants, as he trains you to approach the ball. Or, ‘little steps, slow down, over the shoulder’ (take little steps to find the perfect strike position; slow down before you hit the ball; play the shot and end it with the racquet over the shoulder). As there are two of you, you get to pause every five or 10 minutes to catch your breath, watch your partner, and absorb the lessons, before it’s your turn again.

Playing in a hot climate, you’re better off playing at 8am than 9am when it’s cooler – although with the prevailing trade wind, it’s still bearable at 10am… And playing tennis first thing makes you feel less guilty about kicking back Caribbean style for the rest of the day.

© Provided by The Telegraph Top tennis tips to improve your game – at home or on holiday

Life settles into an easy rhythm here for everyone, families with teenagers, mums and daughters, older couples (I’m not going to lie: this is not the place for young couples, although there was a huge wedding taking place there the day after we left. Needless to say, the bride’s family had been coming to the resort for decades.) 

Curtain Bluff pleasures are simple and wholesome: at various points in the day you will find a group of children bent over a board game, a gang of adults hopping about in the pool doing water aerobics, to Thriller on a (low volume) ghetto blaster. There’s a speed-boat donut ride for the teenagers, water skiing, hobi mini catamarans and snorkelling trips. But somehow – even when pretty full, as it was on our visit (it was America’s Spring Break) – the place manages to feel sleepily relaxed. If you’re looking for hot and cold running beach service, romantic sandbar dining or a subterranean nightclub then this isn’t the place for you. As it happens there’s a great beach bar and the hotel is famous for its pina coladas, but life here is altogether laid-back, a tad haphazard even (‘coconut water, sir? Sorry, only do that on Wednesdays’), and all the more charming for that. 

Success in its 60s

It so happens that this year is the 60th anniversary of the opening of Curtain Bluff – and it’s to these the Sixties origins that the resort owes it’s character. Personally, I’m slightly panicked by a super-smooth modern resort where the staff have been drilled into a robotic subservience and there’s an atmosphere of international seven-starriness. 

© Provided by The Telegraph Curtain Bluff hotel, best hotels in Antigua

Curtain Bluff has the soul of a family resort back when families played cards in the evenings (they still do), or couples danced cheek to cheek under the jacaranda tree to a live steel band (now you get drums and keyboards and a cool young woman singing Bob Marley covers). Curtain Bluff doesn’t do fancy. The bedrooms are spacious and airy with ceiling fans, giant beds, balconies with sea views and rattan furniture – no plasma screen televisions, no surround sound or walk-in wardrobes – just good old-fashioned comfort (that goes for the food, too, which is on the ordinary side). 

I could take you beyond the hotel and tell you about the delights of Nelson’s Dockyard. I could push you in the direction of Kathy’s restaurant for lunch. Tell you about the best jump-ups and beaches nearby. Or I could confess that we spent all our days in the secluded private bay that is Curtain Bluff, happily drifting between dinner table, sun lounger and tennis court. With everything you could want right here, why would you want to leave? And yes, we returned fully restored, a bit fitter, and with some pretty tidy new skills to show off at the local municipal courts. Result! 

How to do it

Save 10 per cent on an all-inclusive stay, or £345 per person, with Inspiring Travel Company’s offer to Curtain Bluff this summer. A seven-night stay now costs from £3,845pp based on two sharing a Bluff Room on an all-inclusive basis and including return economy class flights from London Gatwick and private transfers. Valid for travel completed between 1 June to 31 July, 2022 (01244 435237; inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk). Private tennis lessons can be booked directly through the resort and are priced at $90/£70. Read the full hotel review here, plus our guide to the best hotels in Antigua.

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