by Glenn Ormiston
Mile-long beaches, relaxed yet excellent dining, and midnight blue skies are the norm in Anguilla. The laid-back lifestyle and quiet charm on this tiny island at the top of the Leeward Islands chain seem a world away from the busier, neighboring islands in the Caribbean.
While March was trying to make up its mind across the Northeast (Winter? Spring? Winter?), we hopped a plane from New York to St. Martin in search of our own answers. Our quest was to decide this: was Anguilla the ideal place for an intimate romantic getaway, or was it the perfect place for a family seeking sunshine and lots of time together?
Our long traveling day was made shorter by our decision to catch a flight between St. Martin and Anguilla. In the past, we had opted for the 25-minute ferry run between St. Martin’s Marigot Bay and the ferry terminal at Blowing Point on the north coast of Anguilla. This time we simply stepped from one terminal to the next, boarded the Winward Air plane and grabbed a seat. The trip down the runway took almost as much time as the jump across the channel, and five minutes later, we touched down on Anguilla.
After a bumpy taxi ride across the flat, dry island, we arrived at the first stop on our quest – The Cuisinart Resort and Spa. The hotel is one of the most visually striking sights on Anguilla. Although much of the island is arid with scrub and cactus, the Cuisinart resort has installed an underground irrigation system. The grounds of the hotel appear, when you first approach from the dusty road, like an oasis in the desert. Brilliant blue and deep purple bougainvillea shimmer against the backdrop of stark white buildings, while a sparkling fountain splashes from the center of a thick green lawn, and a soft periwinkle blanket of flowers coats the surrounding gardens.
We were met by wonderful, smiling staff members who immediately offered us cool, fresh-squeezed juice and whisked us away to our suites overlooking the mile-long beach. The hotel has truly come into its own. The service is outstanding and the entire resort has an air of elegance. The three-story resort, divided into three areas, is designed with dramatic yet pleasingly aesthetic Greco-Mediterranean architecture and each room has its own balcony or private terrace. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, but the real scene-stealers are the bathrooms. These spotless marble and glass tiled rooms are accented with potted orchids and thick, white towels rolled with fresh flowers are stacked next to over-sized Jacuzzi bathtubs. Each bathroom has a separate toilet room and each comes stocked with personal bathrobes and slippers. Sitting on our balcony with a cool drink in hand and a view of the beach below, we entered a state of deep relaxation for the first time that day. Watching the sea gently spilling onto the sugar white beach, I sighed and said this was the difference between “getting there” and really arriving.
As if complete relaxation wasn’t enough, cocktail hour found us in the spa at Cuisinart watching the light dancing around the blues of the sea, bouncing off the waves onto the distant mountains of St. Martin. First a beautiful young woman massaged my feet in preparation for a pedicure and then I gave in to the expert manipulations of the manicurist. Soft music filled the spa, which encompasses the top floor of a modern round building with 360-degree window views all around. The attention to detail was magnificent and the menu of treatments — manicures, pedicures, facials, body wraps, full-body massage — was decadent. For those who, for whatever crazy reason, desire more than total attention to physical repose, the building includes a fitness center and a steam room.
That evening we had dinner with the new general manager in one of Cuisinart’s three restaurants. The hotel maintains a hydroponic garden on the grounds and grows its own tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables, which it serves in the adjacent Hydroponics Café. One selection on the menu even allows you to pick your own produce from the garden for fresh salad, a real treat on such a dry island. The hotel has a grill, Le Mediterraneo, next to its enormous swimming pool where one can get pizza, sandwiches or barbecue, and a beach bar with sandwiches and light fare. The main restaurant, Santorini, is designed around groups of outdoor tables, some of which are thoughtfully placed out of the breeze for the rare chilly nights in the tropics. Dinner with general manager Rabin Ortiz was a delightful experience. After selecting an incredible Spanish wine (Artadi, Viña El Pisón from Rioja), he advised us to choose between the grouper, snapper, and mahi mahi. We decided on grouper with a pesto crust, and the fresh grilled mahi mahi.
When we retired for the evening, we noticed that although each suite is air-conditioned, one can choose, to sleep with the doors thrown open; when open, the air conditioning automatically clicks off, only to restart when you close the doors. After watching the twinkling lights of St. Martin from the open windows, I nodded off to sleep to the gentle sound of trade winds and the surf.
A pot of strong, black coffee and fresh juice served on our own terrace greeted us the next morning at sunrise. The tables are covered with bright yellow tablecloths and staff brought us a selection of breads, jams and fruit. A tiny bananaquit fluttered down just as we reached for the bread, interested in selecting his own breakfast from our plates.
Having determined that Cuisinart was the perfect getaway for couples seeking solitude, romance and beauty, we planned our day around seeing some of many private villas in Anguilla. Would the spacious villas, with their multiple rooms and beach front location, be an ideal place for a family vacation?
First stop: the north coast and two elegant villas, Turquaz and Indigo. With WIMCO’s local representative Jillian as our guide, we got a full tour of the hidden retreats, each with its own private pool, and it own cove and beach. Stepping outside through the French doors of the living room to the veranda of the two-story Turquaz, one has a view of the sea and the islands beyond — including Sandy Island. Sandy Island, a tiny island of glistening white sand, is the surrounded by shallow reefs and makes a terrific snorkeling day trip for a family. The five-bedroom villa has a huge kitchen on the first floor with another set of French doors leading to tables on the poolside patio. Indigo, a five-bedroom villa designed with the same startlingly white, traditional architecture as Turquaz, is anchored by a second-story living room/dining room large enough for a family to spread out. The room opens up to a patio with views of the pool and a private beach lined with sea grapes and palms.
Next, we visited Temenos, an estate with three villas named after the Greek word for sacred space. These villas are ultra-modern with a Zen-like beauty. Looking at the stark white structures flowing down to the white beach and the azure sea beyond, Glenn couldn’t help it: “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” she said. The four-bedroom villas each have a living room, a state-of-the-art kitchen with granite countertops and a large dining area. The villas have both indoor and outdoor dining areas, and indoor/outdoor showers. That’s when you know you are truly in the tropics: when you can take your shower under an open sky.
Beyond the swimming pool, the beach area has a barbecue grill and plenty of room for beach umbrellas or kayaks, depending on the day’s activities. Chefs can be hired to prepare all the meals at the villa and the main house has a dining area where guests can dine.
We managed to see eight villas in all and were impressed again by the elegant, yet family-oriented potential of each one.
Driving back to Cuisinart once more over the bumpy dry roads, we passed several groups of school children dressed in spotless uniforms. Offering a hardy wave to each group of smiling students, we were reminded that Anguilla’s greatest attraction might not be its abundance of soft white beaches but its excess of friendly, happy people.
Back at the hotel, we dropped into comfortable chairs under beach umbrellas along the shore, taking advantage of the ice cold water placed in coolers every 20 feet on the beautiful beach. Young staff members dressed in white shorts and jerseys made their way discreetly up and down the stretch, seeing if anyone needed anything. We couldn’t figure out how they could look so fresh and pleasant, walking in the sand under the tropical sun. Just when we thought we couldn’t ask for more, a dazzling young woman approached and offered us a mango sorbet in a frosted glass. OK, so we were wrong. We did need just this one more thing.
However, we had figured out the answer to our question. Cuisinart resort was perfect for couples and for those who want the range of choices ranging from total privacy to tennis courts, or a day trip to St. Barts. On the other hand, the elegant villas offered plenty of room for families and private beaches for ample family time together. The answer was easy: Anguilla is for everyone.