Kenwood Travel’s Aaron discovers total calm on the Anguilla beaches, striking design in its hotels, and the very best of Caribbean food in its restaurants.
Anguilla emerges unique when measured against its more popular Caribbean neighbours. Anguilla feels like the old-school Caribbean, says Kenwood Travel’s Sales & Product Executive, Aaron.
“It’s not big or built up, just lots of little buildings. Everything’s locally run, and on the Anguilla beaches everybody knows each other.”
The beach brollies don’t necessarily line up in grids. There is less conformity here. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s cheap. The decadence is plainly undeniable. Luxury bursts from small pockets rather than manifesting in the grandiose statements of Anguilla’s more celebrated counterparts.
There’s a reason. The Anguilla government stayed true to a longstanding pledge not to revert to the super-resorts, malls and casinos of its cousins. There features striking, but simple architecture. The littering of huts is juxtaposed with contemporary-design beach houses and small, sophisticated resorts – hillside Tetris pieces and Lego blocks much more 1920s Art Deco than 1720s colonial.
Aaron was sent out to the humble isle to review some hotels – the Viceroy Anguilla and CuisinArt Resort – which we’ll get to shortly.
No stranger to the more hedonistic side of the Caribbean, Aaron says he quickly realised this is not the place of perma-glow clubs and pretentious entertainment hubs.
“It’s pretty chilled out. There’s no hardcore nightlife. The local nightclub – The Pumpyard – is just a big hall. But everyone comes down, there’s live music, it’s really nice.”
Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory. Self-governing and independent, its inhabitants still have British citizenship (under the 2002 British Overseas Territories Act), and recognise the Queen as head of state.
It doesn’t feel touristy. The hotels run at about 60-70% capacity and even then the tourist contingent seldom imposes, especially on the numerous Anguilla beaches. It’s a slice of how the Caribbean used to be, before the British invaded. Or rather, the Caribbean that emerged after the British were done invading, but before returning again in search of a suntan.
“When you’re out and about at a restaurant you sometimes see these people, but it never feels busy on the island. It’s really relaxed.”
Which brings us neatly on to the real tour de force. In discovering pastures new, nothing compares to sitting down to a local dish prepared by local people. And this is what the Anguillans do best.
“The highlight has to be the food,” says Aaron. “Best meal I had out there was probably a restaurant called ‘Straw Hat’. We were well looked after; the ambience was beautiful sitting next to the beach. You hear the waves coming in, you’re chatting, having a laugh. You completely forget about time.
“I had the specialty – grilled mahi-mahi and crayfish – all freshly caught that day. It came with a butternut squash mash. Actually it was more like a sauce. Anyway, it was awesome, really, really good food.
Food is invariably a big part of the Anguilla holiday. Sharing more in common with gastronomic counterparts in southern Italy and Spain than perhaps their British rulers, the average day for the average Anguillan often involves eating out. Food is the social scene.
Irresistable grilled meats and fish dishes are found in unassuming shacks and tiny wood panel bars on the Anguilla beaches. Traditional Caribbean food is marked by the scent of jerk spices. However, what we tend to consider classical Caribbean food merely scratches the surface in Anguilla. The sizzling smells of red snapper, grilled lobster, as well as stewing mutton and island vegetables that is the typical Anguillan broth, are washed down with fresh cocktails and cool ambience.
“We took a boat ride to this place called The Sand Bank [on a neighbouring island]. Really gorgeous, there were a couple of bars there and a small restaurant. It’s the sort of place you visit to go and properly relax.”
It’s amongst these playful alcoves of the mid-West Indies that one finds the real delights of Caribbean food and effortlessly romantic scenery.
Anguilla has a dignified culture in haute cuisine. Many eateries of this ilk are found within top-end hotels. Resident chefs surprise and push boundaries in fine dining, using locally sourced ingredients, and with all the pizzazz you’d expect.
But still they’re understated. There’s no A-list. Casually sophisticated, many advertise their wares with little more than a doorway to enter and experience the wonderland within. Here too we see the food is the scene. World-class establishments are proud to display a local façade because the proof, so to speak, is in the pudding.
Which is about as smooth a segue as I can muster to tell you about the Anguilla hotels.
Aaron stayed at the Viceroy Anguilla Resort, and CuisinArt Resort & Spa. They are pricey, but they sure do look the part. Both the Viceroy Anguilla and CuisinArt Resort share this Art Deco-esque modern design. The usual plantation-style colonnades and peach pastel hues are jettisoned in favour of clean, trimmed flat, brilliantly white architecture.
The Viceroy Anguilla is simply top-end luxury. Like its island home it’s distinguished by the smaller touches that set it apart. Infinity pools with palm tree isles. Scattered furniture carved from driftwood.
“I had a one bedroom suite which had a big hot tub on balcony. I didn’t actually use it, but it looked pretty epic. You could get four people in there easy. Bottle of Prosecco, that kind of thing!”
The CuisinArt Anguilla is quirkier, says Aaron, but particularly well run. It has a style evocative of a Greek beachfront restaurant, though one definitely from the 21st century. A winner of countless awards including in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Readers´ Choice Awards — Top Caribbean Resorts” category last month, its clean design is inviting and intriguing. A delightful touch is its staggered pool system, connecting the main pool to the beachfront. It’s a descending lazy river staircase, and it begs a go.
As the name suggests, CuisinArt shares that Anguillan love that goes way beyond the expected Caribbean food, and straight into haute cuisine territory.
“They have their own hydroponic gardens. They grow and make hydroponic salads. You have a mouthful and it’s like ‘wow’. You can taste everything, every tiny ingredient.
“They also have the only Japanese restaurant on Anguilla, proper Japanese chefs. It’s got the works.”
The islands of the Caribbean arc are frequently likened to the jewels of a wedding band, but Anguilla is no 2-Carat rock. It’s a distinguished, peripheral detail. It’s every minute diamond, emerald and sapphire that make your ring unique.