Discovering a gem in Anguilla

Posted by puguh on Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Discovering a gem in Anguilla. When a tiny, warm island has 33 beaches -- one of them included in the world's top 10 -- but is uncrowded, affordable and only a few hours by plane, it raises a question: How come it's not swarming with visitors?

Anguilla's beautiful beaches

I'm talking about the Caribbean island of Anguilla. Early one evening not long ago, I put this question to an Anguillan who ought to know: A physician and successful businessman, Dr. Frank Hughes.

"Our marketing strategy," he replied in the lounge of the comfortable apartment hotel he and his wife Sherille built, "hasn't been fully successful. Too many people don't know about the country."

Just 25-km long and 5 km at its widest, Anguilla is about half an hour by boat from St. Martin, where our WestJet flight landed. It has six traffic lights and 14,000 residents, who seem to be generally soft spoken, kindly people, a trait Hughes attributes to the island's brand of Christianity, implanted by the British long ago.

"Here," he said, "everybody is everybody's keeper, if you live here or visit."

Hughes, who led in constructing Paradise Cove Resort -- only 500 metres from the sea and managed by his wife -- still sees patients, mainly visitors. I asked what happens if they call at 3 a.m. His reply was quick and quiet: "I go."

Most mornings I set out with guide Wilmoth Hodge. His motto is "Where there's will, there's a way," and it makes sense: Driving is British style on the left, something I'd pass on especially at night. Hodge knows the island well and is dependable with everything from history to pickup times.

One day he and I pulled into Anguilla's Heritage Collection Museum to meet Curator Colville Petty, a historian with degrees from the University of the West Indies and Manchester, England. He vividly described how poor life had been for his people until 1969 when they gained independence from St. Kitts. (St. Kitts pretty well controlled the purse-strings and tiny Anguilla was at a disadvantage.)

"The revolution was not violent," he said, "but it was a turning point in history." His small museum testifies to that profound fact.

The past is never far from Anguillan memory. This became clear one night at Anacaona Boutique Hotel where, after a generous buffet, a local group performed a music and dance routine in which the emcee, Calvert Carty, emphasized "resilience" as a basic trait of Anguilla's forefathers: "They worked so hard."

Considering the hardships of past generations, it's remarkable how many of their children have gone on to higher education in the West Indies, the U.S, Canada and Britain.

Take Anguillan Chris Richardson, manager of the luxurious CuisinArt resort. He has degrees from Chicago and Durham, England. Over lunch he assured me that the 93 room hotel -- an appealing place with a spacious shining spa -- is run by an executive group that is 95% local. It also has hydroponic farm, so the tomatoes, lettuce and peppers on your plate are fresh as morning. I toured it with its Canadian horticulturist, Dr. Howard Resh, who once taught at the University of British Columbia and has worked around the world.

Obviously no visit can be real without dining at local establishments. These didn't disappoint.

In the mid 1980s, French nationals Jacques and Alain came to Anguilla and set a gold standard for others. At their Jacala, cuisine has the inspired touch of Brittany. Then there's E's Oven, where I had Creole conch with finely spiced rice. And Veya, where Jerry Bogar and wife Carrie (a New York schooled chef) offer luscious wines, fine cuisine and great presentation. Carrie may even introduce you to their well spoken daughter now in an Anguillian school. Incidentally, her name is Pearson. So I ask you: How can you not like a restaurant whose owners give their child the name of a former Canadian Prime Minister?

-- For travel information, see

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