Anguilla is situated in the British West Indies, around 150 miles east of Puerto Rico and 9 miles north of St. Maarten. It is the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean. The name Anguilla means eel, which is perfect for an island that measures 16 miles by 3 miles. The Valley is the capital and is home to around 600 of the 12,300 island residents. If gambling, nightlife, cruise ships and shopping malls are your thing I would suggest not visiting Anguilla. The island tends to draw a very upscale clientele, much like St. Barts, but without the paparazzi. The government has limited development to small hotels and elegant upscale resorts and villas.
In 1825 the British (who fought with the French for control of the island for 150 years) joined Anguilla into a union with St. Kitts-Nevis. In 1980 Anguilla became a British Dependent Territory. There are 33 white-sand beaches on this small island. It is known as the “Wreck Diving Capitol of the Caribbean” with 10 shipwrecks in its surrounding waters. They were sunk on purpose specifically to be enjoyed by scuba divers. There are no direct international flights to Anguilla, but American Airlines flies to Puerto Rico where you can catch an American Eagle flight to Anguilla. Other airlines (I flew Continental) fly non-stop to St. Maarten and connect by ferry to Anguilla. The airport is on the Dutch side of the island (shared with the French). By taxi it is 200 feet (it is tough to walk across the highway) to the dock and then one can take a 30-minute ferry ride. I prefer the word speedboat (seats 10). You can also taxi to the French side and take a real ferryboat. But why waste the time? In less than 2 hours after landing I was in my hotel room. The hotels use 110 volt AC (same as the US) and the US Dollar is accepted everywhere.
British businessman Leon Roydon, after visiting Anguilla on vacation, dreamed of creating a luxury hotel that blended the finest elements of European service, comfort and fine dining in the Caribbean. The Malliouhana Hotel & Spa initially started in 1982 as two beachfront villas and grew into a full-scale resort complex with 55 rooms and suites that opened in 1984. Having spent many vacations in the south of France, Leon called upon a long-time family friend Jo Rostang, a three-star Michelin chef, and together they created Malliouhana’s French Restaurant. As an aside Anguilla was first known as Malliouhana, the sea serpent. Today the late Jo Rostang’s son Michel, himself a Michelin Two Star chef, supervises Executive Chef Alain Laurent’s culinary creativity. The hotel is also home to the Wine Spectator Grand Award winner (Graycliff in Nassau is the Caribbean’s only other WSGA winner) with the largest wine cellar in the Caribbean (over 25,000 bottles). There are only 73 restaurants in the world with that award.
The hotel is spread out over 25 acres of landscaped gardens with villas spread out over the property. My large room was in the main building perched atop a panoramic bluff overlooking the Caribbean, with the restaurant a few feet away. To keep with the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere there are no televisions or radios in the rooms. There are several TV’s available as well as two computers (no charge). My room had a balcony overlooking the white sand beaches of Meads Bay and an extra large bathroom. I spent my free time at the three pools adjacent to the dining room/bar area. Very large Jacuzzi, a floating pool and a deep water swimming pool. It’s tough to beat the view watching the sunset from their restaurant, bar or your own balcony.
If one ventures down the hill to the beach (past the 15,000 square-foot spa) you can choose a more casual restaurant Le Bistro (burgers and fries for you or the kids) that stays open until 6PM. Water sports and a Disney-like children’s playground are here. There is a recreation of a pirate ship complete with water cannons and a slide. TV’s and video games help entertain the youngsters, though I confess I did try the water slide. Speaking of the spa I used their Sauna, Jacuzzi and fitness room during my 4 day stay. The hotel is closed September through the end of October (as are most of the hotels because it is hurricane season). Malliouhana is a 2008 Conde Nast Traveler Gold List member and their selection for- Best hotel for food in the Caribbean. Travel & Leisure Magazine awarded them # 4 resort in the Caribbean (2007) and the #69 resort in the world. A member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World.
Lets start wining and dining: Seafood is featured heavily with local crayfish, lobster, snapper, swordfish and mahi mahi on many menus. With few vegetables or fruits grown locally (exception to follow) dining out can be expensive. Wednesday is the day that most products arrive by container ship, so shop on Thursday or early Friday for the freshest produce. Many of the hotels and villas have kitchens, so plan to at least have breakfast in house and maybe a beach-prepared lunch.
I can recommend a visit to Pyrat Rum. This is the Old English spelling of Pirate. They are owned by the Patron Tequila folks (I am still trying to figure out the synergy there) and offer free rum tasting Monday-Saturday from 9AM-5PM. Pyrat buys rums from many Caribbean islands and ages and bottles them here using French Limousin and American Oak casks. Try the Pyrat Cask that can be aged up to 40 years and is perfect for sipping. The XO Reserve can be aged up to 15 years and is perfect in a rum drink. There is also the 375ml Pyrat Pistol and Savage, their Orange Rum Liqueur.
The best place to buy wine on the island is- Les Grands Vins de France. Nathalie Le Senechal has run this shop for 18 years and also has shops in St. Barths and St. Martin (French side). She is the agent for many brands and most of the restaurants and hotels buy directly from her shop. She carries 96 California, 44 Italian and of course 162 French wines. There are also high-end spirits.
Before I start my serious wining and dining destinations let me recommend The Ferry Boat Inn. You just flew in and had either nothing or a light snack served you on the plane. You have been taken the 200 feet to the dock to await your boat to Anguilla and you have a few minutes before departure. Try their hamburger, fries and a cold beer. If on the other hand you get seasick easily skip the meal.
The Best of Anguilla:
I have already mentioned Michel Rostang at Malliouhana Restaurant, but here are just a few notes about their wine list selection. There are 1,500 wines and over 25,000 bottles. Albert Lake is the sommelier that started as a bartender in 1984 ,and the Roydon’s guided him through his new found interest in fine wine. There are 26 wines by the glass with 48 Champagnes, 66 dessert wines, 44 white burgundies, 44 Chablis, 74 Meursaults, 38 Chassagne Montrachets, 43 Puligny Montrachets, 18 Corton Charlemagnes, 16 Batard and Chevalier Montrachets, 12 Le Montrachets, 25 Pouilly Fumes, 12 Sancerres, 13 white Chateauneuf du Papes and 44 California Chardonnays. Moving to red wines there are 10 Cote Roties, 21 Chassagne Montrachets, 13 Gevrey Chambertin, 8 Pommards, 16 Nuit St. Georges, 14 Pessac Leognan, 21 Haut Medocs, 12 Margaux, 16 Pauillacs, 19 Pommards, 17 St. Emilions, 15 St. Estephes and 14 St. Juliens. There are 7 vintages of Chateau Margaux; 8 from Chateau Latour; 8 Mouton Rothschild and 7 from Chateau Lafite Rothschild with 8 from Chateau Ausone. There are 10 Chateauneuf du Papes, 80 California reds and 80 Italian red wines. One might expect to find First Growth Bordeaux in depth but 25 Pouilly Fumes, 74 Meursaults, 13 white Chateauneuf du Papes. WOW! They enjoyed their 2008 Midsummer Epicurean Delight, a 7 night rendezvous for gastronomic connoisseurs with 6 Chef de Haute Cuisine and 6 master wine producers cooking and pouring their wines.
I had lunch and a tour at CuisinArt Resort & Spa owned by the Italian firm Conair, the maker of the appliance known as CuisinArt. Owner Leondro Rizzuto also vacationed on Anguilla and opened this property in December 1999. It differs from the Malliouhana because its main building and pool lead in a straight line toward the beach. There are 93 rooms including 10 villas on Rendezvous Bay with 2 miles of white crystal sand beaches. It has the world’s first resort-based organic garden as well as an 18,000 feet Hydroponic Farm that uses water only. The soil-free growing process produces the freshest and healthiest lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and edible flowers. Harvested daily the farm provides the purest ingredients for their cuisine. There are also 150 species of trees, flowers, herbs and shrubs around the property.
Santorini Restaurant is an AAA 4 Diamond winner and the hotel is a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World. They have been honored by Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2008 as the #4 resort in the Caribbean and #104 in the world. The same magazine honored their Venus Spa as the #9 hotel spa in the Caribbean for 2007. It is tripling in size from 8,000 feet as I write this story.
Santorini Restaurant holds a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence with 860 wines and a 4,000-bottle cellar that is being greatly expanded. They expect to move up to a Best of Award of Excellence in 2009. Santorini serves dinner 5 nights a week with Tuesday being a lobster buffet and Friday a Caribbean BBQ. They have added a Chef’s Table & tasting menu including 7 courses paired with wines in a private dining area in the kitchen. Two days a week there is a Hands-on Luncheon with guests picking their own produce and helping prepare their 3-course lunch with an appropriate wine. There are Master Cooking Classes led by Executive Chef Denise Carr and two wine tasting classes hosted by Sommelier Garmon Greenaway. Once a week Food & Beverage Director James Denis conducts an interactive course sampling 6 wines matched with appropriate food. The wine list has 19 wines by the glass as well as 47 Champagnes, 97 French and 83 California white wines. There are 106 California Cabernet Sauvignons, 150 red Bordeaux, 79 red Burgundy and 50 Italian red wines.
I stopped at Pimms Restaurant at Cap Juluca so I could get a copy of their Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence wine list. Norwell Proctor is the wine director and has over 700 wines on his list including: 22 wines by the glass, 28 Champagnes, 76 French white and 56 California whites. There are 105 French, 106 California and 36 Italian reds. Pimms has a private wine room that serves a 5-course meal paired with wines. Cap Juluca was voted #9 resort in the Caribbean by Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2008. The hotel was opened in 1988 and has 18 separate Moorish-style beachfront villas and 6 villas with private pool and butlers.
I did not get to the following outstanding restaurants because of time constraints: Blanchard’s at Meads Bay, which holds an Award of Excellence for its wine list. Robert & Melinda Blanchard have written a book- A Trip to the Beach- about opening a restaurant. KoalKeel has a Best of Award of Excellence with 425 wines on its list and 25,000 bottles in its cellar. The building housing the restaurant was constructed in the 1700’s. Mango’s Seafood Grill is an open-air restaurant that serves only fresh local fish. It has an Award of Excellence for its 375 wines. Veya also has an Award of Excellence and a cuisine blending Indian, Moroccan and Caribbean cuisine.
I did have lunch at Tasty’s where local owner/chef Dale Carty started at 16 at Malliouhana’s restaurant. Owner Leon Roydon arranged for him to apprentice in France. In 1999 he started a small café serving breakfast and lunch and the rest, as they say, is history. The Anguilla tourist Board hosted me for dinner at the Straw Hat, the only restaurant situated above the water on supports. It reminded me of Montauk or Cape Cod.
This was the only trip I remember actually being rested and relaxed. I read two books, got lots of sun, ate and drank and returned home wondering why all my trips weren’t like this one.