Of Sun and Solitude

For some at least, Anguilla can be pure paradise

By: David Swanson

More than any other Caribbean island, Anguilla is about the beach. I don’t mean this in a tourist brochure kind of way. I mean that the island may just have the single best collection of gleaming, beaches that you will find in the Caribbean. Anguilla’s tourist board claims 33 beaches for the 35-square-mile island. They range from two-mile-long Rendezvous Bay to Little Bay, which is tucked into a limestone nook. Even the ferry dock is bisected by a beach.

Anguilla has a few other attributes, including a handful of elegant and expensive resorts, and a trove of surprisingly fine restaurants. Privacy is paramount, and laid-back quiet the kind that might drive some travelers insane is the rule. The combination has been key to luring high-profile guests.

Located 150 miles east of Puerto Rico, Anguilla sits at the “top” of the Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean. Originally inhabited by Arawak Amerindians and colonized by the British in 1650, the island was unsuitable for farming, which meant it attracted little notice while places like Jamaica and Puerto Rico became established as vacation haunts. It wasn’t until 1984 when Malliouhana, the island’s first upscale resort, opened that Anguilla appeared on the tourist radar.

But even today, no hotel has more than 100 rooms, there are no cruise ship arrivals, and the airport runway isn’t long enough for commercial jets. Just 60,000 visitors a year come to loll in the island’s embrace.

I visited Anguilla for the fourth time recently, though I arrived with some trepidation. The island is on the cusp of a major evolution. Several hotel projects are under way, including a St. Regis resort to open in 2008 and a golf course debuting later this year; Kor Hotels just started construction on another resort. But for the moment, the island’s demeanor seemed little changed.

This time I stayed at Cap Juluca and its unofficial new sibling Ku, which opened in November. Located on a fine, two-mile beach, Ku is a reincarnation of the old Shoal Bay Hotel, and the name translates to “sacred place” in the Arawak language. The hotel is also a coup for travelers of moderate budgets.

The rooms are 775-square-foot suites, and it’s here that Ku has its greatest success. White-on-white sets the tone, but a closer look reveals pastel aqua tones and lavender trim on the balconies. From ultra-plush bedding and Indonesian bath products to amenities like CD/DVD players and fully equipped kitchens, the suites are fresh and comfortable. All 27 are identical except for the view, and some have an unimpeded vista of sand and sea.

The view turned out to be my major complaint here. Ku is aiming for an Anguillian version of the trendy hangout Nikki Beach, which planted its flag on nearby St. Barts. So, the most dramatic additions to the hotel are a restaurant topped by a white canopy and a 75-foot-long bar that parallels the shoreline, between the sand and the tables. The curious result is that the beach and sea view is obscured for diners.

The restaurant hadn’t quite hit its stride during my visit, but with a kitchen overseen by the Cap Juluca crew and a menu that straddles Caribbean and French influences, it probably will. An unobtrusive deejay enhances the vibe several nights a week, and live music percolates on Sundays, luring guests from the other small hotels that line Shoal Bay.

Ku has a market that sells pate, cheese and wine, plus a gym and small spa room that utilizes Cap Juluca’s excellent therapists. There’s a dive shop and snorkeling on the reef in front showcases some of the island’s best scenery. And when you want a change of venue, it’s a short walk from Ku to other beach bars like Uncle Ernie’s or Gwen’s Reggae Grill.

Cap Juluca’s 18 vaguely Moorish whitewashed villas ring Maundays Bay like an apparition out of the Sahara. Topped by domes and turrets, each of the villas is subdivided into rooms and suites, some with a private pool, all with an individual entrance that allows complete privacy. The standard rooms are 700 square feet, and as you move into the larger suites one finds immense bathrooms and outdoor private terraces.

Cap Juluca has always impressed me from a physical standpoint but this first stay allowed me to witness the resort’s attention to guest services, which now includes managers that oversee three villas each.

“If you need anything, any time of day or night, just call me on my cell phone,” said Julienne Lake, the manager of villa two.

I was impressed, but I admit that when I had trouble making sense of my air conditioning unit at 3 in the morning, I chose to ring the front desk instead.

“Things are getting so competitive, and the solution is to add more services,” explained Cap Juluca general manager Eustace Guishard. “A manager’s cocktail party is not enough.”

Guishard said the history of the 98-room Cap Juluca is “personalization.” This means everything from 24-hour room service to sorbet on the beach each afternoon. The physical plant continues to be upgraded; a 3,100-square-foot gym opened in January and new spa rooms open soon (most treatments are still done in guestrooms). But one Cap Juluca tradition a lack of TVs in guestrooms has not changed.

Guishard acknowledged that not everyone is a perfect fit for Cap Juluca, “but a good travel agent knows how to match clients with the right resort,” he added.

Two of Cap Juluca’s three restaurants occupy a domed building at the east end of the beach. Pimm’s is the fine-dining venue, and next door the restaurant’s former bar has been converted to Kemia, serving an upscale roster of international hors d’oeuvres and tapas. A weekly barbecue with white tablecloths, fine china and barefoot dining in the sand is also popular.

In truth, though, there was little that could top the deceptively simple continental breakfast brought to my room. Strong coffee, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, a basket of warm croissants and a bento box filled with ripe berries was laid out on my terrace. At 7:30 a.m. the sand was already gleaming and the sea already blushing blue, and news from The New York Times fax could barely distract me from this setting.

Now this is the Caribbean I longed for.


Ku: Doubles at Ku range $160-$200 in summer (April 1-Dec. 15); and $295-$395 in winter, European Plan.
800-869-5827, 264-497-2011

Cap Juluca: Rates at Cap Juluca range from $380 for a standard room to $3,345 for a five-bedroom villa with pool in summer (May 1-Nov. 10), and $750-$6,450 in winter, including full breakfast at George’s or continental breakfast in room.
888-858-5822, 264-497-6666
www.cap juluca.com
(At both resorts, add 10 percent tax and 10 percent service charge to all rates.)

Anguilla Tourist Board