When it comes to great beaches, small is beautiful. Anguilla may be tiny, but this Caribbean island boasts 33 fabulous beaches. There is nowhere better for a winter break
Two miles of soft white sand, dazzling turquoise water, a few laidback bars: I can see why Shoal Bay East is right up there, vying for first in the ‘best beaches ever’ category. Yet this is just one of 33 beaches on the Caribbean island of Anguilla.
When connoisseurs of beaches discuss their favourite sandy strands, this tiny coral and limestone island is always in the reckoning. Only 16 miles long and, at the most, three miles wide, it lies east of the British Virgin Islands, north of St Maarten, and is home to 14,000 Anguillians. A steady 80°F year-round, the island welcomes shivering Americans and Canadians in winter, British holidaymakers at any time. Readers of glossy magazines will know Anguilla thanks to its private villas with 12-person hot tubs, five-star resorts with hedonistic spas and A-list visitors such as Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton. But you don’t have to stay at a swanky resort to enjoy the best beaches: all 33 are open to everyone – not one of them is private.
It is not just the beaches that are the magnet. Compared with the lush greenery and eye-catching peaks on neighbouring St Maarten, Anguilla is flat: the highest point is Crocus Hill, all of 200 feet high. For British visitors, driving on the left is a plus – though watch out for the goats that think they own the island. Other pluses include a lack of cruise ships and international fast-food outlets.
Home to eagle rays, spiny lobsters, southern stingrays and turtles, the water round the island is stunningly clear. Scuba divers like to keep dive sites such as Prickly Pear, Dog Island and Crystal Reef as secrets. But my son also has lots of fun snorkelling, floating above the coral and sea fans, the blue tang, angelﬁsh, and yellow tail snapper.
We relax at Sandy Ground, a pretty curve of a bay, dotted with sail boats and yachts. On the shore are a dock and custard-coloured Customs House, as well as a cluster of little shops and bar-restaurants, such as Johnno’s Beach Stop and Elvis’, that take it in turn to put on live music. Here, too, is The Pumphouse, overlooking a salt pond. The building is a reminder that the pond once produced tons of salt every year; now the old pumping house is a popular nightclub that rocks till 4am.
Also in Sandy Ground is the Pyrat rum factory, where the award-winning Caribbean elixir is blended and bottled. We drop in for a tasting and, as we sniff and sip the Pyrat Cask 1623, we are told that the rum is aged in American sweet oak barrels that are toasted to bring out the flavours. For sunshine memories on dark British winter days, we take home a bottle of the heady, orange-flavoured Pyrat Savage, sold only on the island.
Resorts such as Cap Juluca and CuisinArt are among the grandest in the Caribbean, with elegant bars and restaurants and fabulous views. Another well-known place to eat is Blanchards, whose romantic beachside location matches its food. But we are staying in an apartment, so we buy our bread from Geraud’s Bakery, in South Hill Plaza, and shop for bananas and papaya at the open-air market under the trees in The Valley, the island’s main town. And we join locals for goat curry and baked fish at casual restaurants such as the Roti Hut in George Hill and Cristobel’s Canteen in Blowing Point.
As for shopping, we find little places away from boutiques at the resorts. On the island’s main road, Bartlett’s is near the Sandy Ground roundabout. Pastel-painted outside, it offers a fun range of clothes and jewellery, art and pottery. Even more fun is Why Knot? (The Cove, West End), full of soft cotton resort-wear in dazzling tropical colours. The enthusiastic owner-designer, Fabiana, shows us how one of her creations can be worn in five different ways: “it’s just a matter of how you tie it!”
Every day we test out and argue the merits of a different beach. Barnes Bay or Shoal Bay West? Savannah Bay or Maundays Bay? In the West End of the island, Mead’s Bay beach stretches from a bluff past a clutch of hotels and restaurants offering great sunset views. Looking south to the mountains of St Maarten, Cove Bay is a long curve of sand; at one end is the posh Cap Juluca and at the other, Smokey’s, where you can have lunch and sink into a beach chair, or listen to live music at weekends. So, which is the best? Since we can’t decide, we’ll just have to return!
American Airlines flies from London Heathrow to neighbouring St Maarten via Miami. For the 20-minute crossing from St Maarten (airport) to Anguilla, there are several ferry services, including MV Shauna and the more expensive Funtime.
Where to stay
Royal Palms has six two-bedroom holiday apartments, a swimming pool, balconies with views of the water and St Maarten, and a laundry room.
Cap Juluca is rated among the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean, with 18 North African-style villas along the beach and an award-winning restaurant.
CuisinArt Resort & Spa sits on its own stretch of beach. The 93 rooms and suites are in bright, white Greek island-style buildings. There's a spa and a restaurant, using home-grown salads and vegetables.
Where to eat
Blanchards: one of the island’s best restaurants, serving American/Caribbean dishes in a tropical setting: .Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with grilled cinnamon-rum bananas and cranberry chutney; basted with a hot-hot-hot island sauce
Geraud’s Bakery: French pastry chef makes and bakes quality French bread and patisserie, salads and quiches in an informal setting: home made marmalade, croissants, French toast, cappuccinos.
Roti Hut/Mala’s Cottage, George Hill, is a long-time local favourite serving roti and West Indian dishes. Fish curries are a speciality.
Although the official currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, the US dollar is widely accepted.