|Stone pillars are all that’s left of the 1796 boathouse. (Patricia Borns for The Boston Globe)|
ENGLISH HARBOUR, Antigua - What was Admiral Horatio Nelson thinking when he called Antigua’s English Harbour “a vile place and a dreadful hole’’? The circa 1725 dockyard bearing his name - formerly the Caribbean operation-central of the British Royal Navy - is today a national park of history, natural beauty, and sophisticated fun.
If it’s April, you’ll rub shoulders with a global village of sailors here for Antigua Sailing Week, one of the 10 largest regattas in the world. At all other times, Patrick O’Brian fans will find a trove of nautical geek treats in the Dockyard Museum, an elegant West Indian-style house that once served as the officers’ quarters.
Shoppers, head to Nancy Nicholson’s Rhythm of Blue gallery for one-of-a-kind ceramics that will forever recall Antigua’s electric blue sea. Fashioned from a latter-day work bench, the Admiral’s Inn bar is de rigueur for a drink or iced tea. For lunch, water-shuttle across the harbor to Catherine’s Café for light Brittany-infused fare. After touring the dockyard buildings, take the footpath behind the Copper and Lumber Store up and around to Fort Berkeley, strewn with ruins and iPhone-camera-popping views. Just beyond is where you’ll want to end the day at Shirley Heights Lookout, with a rum punch, live steel pan music, and the sun setting over Montserrat and Redonda.
Find details about Nelson’s Dockyard National Park attractions at antiguamuseums.org/nelsonsdockyard.htm. PATRICIA BORNS