Anguilla’s laidback charm

“We can take comfort in the fact that some things never change,” writes WAG Wanderer Barbara Barton Sloane. Anguilla’s “water is still azure and crystal-clear, its sands are white and powder-soft; the sky remains an irresistible cerulean blue; and the Anguillan people are still kind, gracious and eager to welcome you to their special island paradise.”

Anguilla is a British overseas island territory that is tucked away in the northern Caribbean and nestled around unrivaled white beaches and deeply turquoise seas. It is casual and easy, a blend of high style and low-key elegance with a people who are one of its best features. Anguillans are genial and friendly. They take pride in their rich culture, their home and the pleasure of sharing it with visitors from around the world.

Aunt Bea, Uncle Ernie — just one big happy family 

Throughout my visit, it was not unusual to hear Anguillans greet me with a friendly “hello” and, not long after that, we often got to know each other by name. Aunt Bea is a name I won’t soon forget. A well-known presence on Shoal Bay, this adorable lady was often found under the shade of the sea grapes across from Uncle Ernie’s where she would sit and sew the colorful handmade dolls that she sold on the beach. I bought a pretty doll attired in yellow, green and pink, my favorite memento of both the place and the lady. And where and what is Uncle Ernie’s? A well-known Shoal Bay beach bar, one of the most famous eateries in Anguilla, the bar dates from 1984, opened by the late Ernest Benjamin (Uncle Ernie). Today it remains a family affair now operated by his daughters and a nephew. I ordered the barbecue chicken and the signature rum punch — a very good choice.

Anguilla is a mere 30 minutes away by ferry from bustling St. Maarten and a few minutes by plane from high and mighty St. Barths. Comparisons are futile because Anguilla is, well, different — in a good way. Just three miles wide and 27 miles long, the country is flat and dotted with scrub and small salt ponds. Wild donkeys and goats wander freely, adding their particular earthy charm. The island traces its ancestry back to the time of the Arawak Indians and their spirit continues to offer a haven of laidback charm that is hard to come by on most other Caribbean islands. It still enjoys the reputation of being somewhat under the radar, serene among its touristy, trinket-hawking neighbors — this despite some changes made, actually plenty of them within the recent past.

A gentle island

This serenity has not come about haphazardly but thanks to a forward-planning government intent on protecting the country’s culture and beaches. Anguilla banned large cruise ships and towering hotels, and although it’s a haunt for many bold-faced names, you wouldn’t know it.  Locals are remarkably unfazed and treat glitterati like everyone else. The original, small airport’s runway has been lengthened to handle private jets, and a large port has been built to accommodate yachts like the SeaDream and SeaBourn. 

Serenity was most definitely not the order of the day, however, a few years back when Hurricane Irma blew through Anguilla, severely damaging homes, hotels, restaurants, resorts and the glorious gardens and lush vegetation that this island is known for. Happily, things grow fast in the Caribbean. With that and extraordinary on-the-ground relief efforts, Anguilla is back in business once more. 

Your invitation to exhale

I guested for a few days on Rendezvous Beach at the spectacular CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa, once owned by Leandro Rizzuto, co-founder of the Stamford-based Conair Corp. and thus the man behind Cuisinart. (Daughter Babe was WAG’s first cover when the magazine was reintroduced in 2011.) It makes sense as the Cuisinart name is synonymous with a gourmet lifestyle.  Integral to this property is its soilless hydroponic garden farm where plants are grown using a mixture of nutrients and water — and nothing else. (The resort’s new owner, Best Buy founder Richard Schulze, is planning to upgrade it.) The foods grown here are harvested and served at their restaurants the same day under the watchful eye of Dino Jagtiani, CuisinArt’s new executive chef. Well-respected in the Caribbean, he said he is grateful to be in Anguilla, heading the kitchen at CuisinArt.

And why not? This resort puts you in mind of Mykonos. A white-sugar beach surrounded by cubic-shaped, Mediterranean style villas blaze brilliant white in the sun. My room was done in vibrant Caribbean colors and offered a spectacular view of the grounds and the bright blue sea beyond. My balcony was the ideal place for morning coffee or a pre-dinner cocktail. I put it to good use. I dined at Santorini, the crown jewel of CuisinArt’s culinary offerings, both Mediterranean and Caribbean. And although there were many activities to check out, I was most content lazing poolside. Whenever I thought I should rouse myself for a little tennis or snorkeling, I quickly thought better of it. I was perfect just where I was, thank you. 

Feeling is believing

As the island continues to develop, it is not on its way to becoming the Caribbean Southampton anytime soon.  We can take comfort in the fact that some things never change. Its water is still azure and crystal-clear; its sands are white and powder-soft; the sky remains an irresistible, cerulean blue; and the Anguillan people are still kind, gracious and eager to welcome you to their special island paradise. Indeed, they have a saying here: Feeling is believing.  I’ve felt Anguilla’s soothing sun as I lazed in a hammock. I’ve felt its sparkling ocean breeze as I walked the beach. And I’ve definitely felt the good vibes of its people.  I’m a believer.

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