Oh, but I hope I can do justice to my favorite place on Earth...
If it's any indication how much we enjoyed it, this title of this post refers to the fact that there will soon be a post about another trip to Anguilla - we are headed back in March, this time as a family :)
I have been fortunate enough to travel to several Caribbean islands. There is no question that this is the area in the world I am happiest and most at peace. I have always loved Caribbean culture, the friendly people, the slow pace of life, and of course, the fabulous scenery. But Anguilla is just something else altogether. It's funny - to look at St. Martin/St Maartan and Anguilla from the air, St. Martin/St Maartan is much more striking, with its varied topography and mountainous terrain. When you land on Anguilla, however, you understand - it is so unspoiled and so naturally BEAUTIFUL - it's hard to imagine any place so perfect.
Like so many islands in the Caribbean, Anguilla is a British colony, but they do elect a house assembly and their own leader. Due to the limestone land that covers the island, it has never been able to produce significant agriculture. Tourism is their main industry, but many of the people make their living from the sea, and the island is known for fishing and boatbuilding. New development is very closely regulated to preserve as much of the island's natural beauty as possible. There are 33 beaches on the island, and one is just as beautiful as the next. You could spend an entire week just exploring them all!
We splurged a bit on this vacation as it was the second half to our tenth anniversary celebration (read about the first half here). We considered some of the more popular resorts on the island - the Viceroy on Meads Bay, the Cuisinart on Rendezvous Bay, and Cap Juluca on Maundays Bay - but they were a bit above what we wanted to spend and we have learned over time that we tend to prefer a smaller hotel to a larger resort. Then my husband started looking at the Frangipani on Meads Bay and we knew we had hit on what we were looking for.
The Frangipani, a small boutique hotel with only 19 guest rooms, was our home away from home for our four days and nights on island. Located on the beautiful Meads Bay, it was everything I love in a hotel - small, personal, clean, and friendly. The kind of place that hosts cocktail hours for the guests with the owners. The kind of place that really makes an attempt to get to know their guests and usually calls them by name. Many people return here year after year, and you can see why. Managers Scott and Shannon Kirscher and their staff strive to make your experience here very memorable, and if you are looking for a romantic time away with your significant other, I don't believe you could find a better place.
After some debate, we chose a room with no ocean view (although from our small balcony you could see a sliver of Meads). Others may differ on this, but we would rather spend our time outdoors and use our hotel room strictly for sleeping. The Frangipani's small size means that the infinity pool deck and beach are accessible within a minute of leaving any room on the property. The room size was just perfect for what we needed and was furnished very comfortably. Our one complaint was that the water pressure was a little low, but this can certainly be a common problem on an island with no fresh water source.
Even though we were at the Frangipani during high season and the hotel was full, we never once felt crowded. There were always chairs available by the pool and on the beach - my husband said he felt like he was a guest at a friend's large villa. The staff is very personable and always helpful, but you will not feel like you are being hovered over. A large variety of watersports are available right off the beach - you simply have to ask and you can be waterskiing or paddleboarding within minutes.
Check out Shannon's blog The Wanderlust Effect for more information on Anguilla as well as details from their extensive travels!
Anguilla has no shortage of great places to eat - and of course, fabulous fresh seafood! These are the restaurants we visited on this trip:
Blanchard's Beach Shack: When the American Blanchard family moved to Anguilla, they envisioned this type of restaurant - a laid back beach shack where you can eat at picnic tables under palm trees. Due to the high cost of beachfront property on Meads Bay, they had to first open Blanchard's, the four star restaurant next door. The beach shack is much more our speed. From their website: "Lobster rolls, a spicy Jerk chicken sandwich, tacos with homemade corn tortillas made fresh daily and big bowls loaded with rice, beans and your choice of mahi, shrimp, beef, pork or chicken. Our menu also features all-natural burgers, fresh-cut fries, rum punch, sangria and an extensive list of frozen drinks (mango coladas and frozen mojitos top the list) as well as a carefully chosen selection of beer and wine." My husband and I particularly loved the peel and eat shrimp as well as the burgers and fries, all enjoyed with a gorgeous view of Meads Bay. This is a place we are very excited to take our daughter and is just an easy stroll down the beach from the Frangipani. Who doesn't like a great meal with their toes in the sand and fresh ocean breezes?
da'Vida Beach Bar and Grill: A formal restaurant and spa anchor this beautiful property on Crocus Bay, but the Beach Bar and Grill is the perfect location for a laid back lunch. We stopped here during our boat trip the first day and really enjoyed the fresh food and cocktails on the shaded porch. Beach attire welcome! da'Vita also features an abundance of very comfortable beach loungers and does rent kayaks and paddleboards if you are interested in visiting nearby Little Bay (only accessible by water).
Gwen's Reggae Grill: This iconic restaurant has sadly closed the Shoal Bay East location that we visited due to long time issue with erosion, but I was thrilled to hear they had reopened on the west side of the same beach. Can't WAIT to visit the new spot on our trip in March - will report back but expecting much of the same - tables and hammocks by the water, friendly service, fabulous fresh Caribbean food, live music... It's everything a Caribbean beach bar should be.
Sandbar: A beachside tapas restaurant in Sandy Ground. Sandy Ground is one of the island centers for restaurants and nightlife, so you'll likely find yourself here often around sunset. Sandbar was delicious, laid back, and casual. It's also lower priced that most of the options on the island for a nicer sit down dinner. I wore a sundress and felt very comfortable; I would recommend slacks and a polo shirt for men. Great place to go with a group - we had dinner here with another couple from our hotel and really enjoyed the vibe.
Dolce Vita: Certainly the best "fine dining" experience we had on the island. It really may not look like much from the front, but the patio on the beach is so romantic and especially lovely at sunset. The Italian style food will not disappoint - the gorgonzola gnocci appetizer in particular is like something dreams are made of. They often have live music but as a nice accompaniment to your meal - this is where we saw island legend Sprocka (he typically plays here on Friday nights). Make reservations ahead of time and ask for a table near the water. This is the nicest I dressed on the island - women will feel comfortable in a dress and heels although I certainly saw more casual as well.
The Sunshine Shack on Rendezvous Bay: Quite literally a shack, but a wonderful one :) Run by the delightful Garvey, it's one of the best places on the island to waste an hour or six. Rendezvous Bay has a wonderful view of St Martin as well. The Sunshine Shack offers a variety of cocktails and a limited BBQ menu for lunch and dinner - our options were fish or chicken. We opted not to eat here, but we did enjoy drinks in beach chairs with frequent swimming breaks. There is also a bean bag game available as well as a Hobi cat you can rent for a sail.
Smokey's at the Cove: A very friendly restaurant on Cove Bay. Here you will find classic American cuisine and wonderful cocktails, as well as a view you can't beat from the patio or the beach. We saw many people swimming right out from lunch. Very casual beach dress. There is often live music on the patio as well - if you are there on a Saturday you will really enjoy The Musical Brothers in the afternoon. I would say this restaurant, especially on the weekend, is more crowded than most of the places on Anguilla and has more of a beach party atmosphere.
Nat's Place: Located on Savannah Bay, this is another great little beach bar. Do not be swayed by its location on the tip of the island or the long, winding dirt road you have to travel to get there. Seafood is literally pulled right from the ocean. We didn't eat at Nat's on our first visit but will certainly remedy that when we return, as we plan to spend a lot more time at the exceptionally quiet Savannah Bay beach. The rum punch, however, is all it's advertised to be :)
Tasty's: One of the friendliest restaurants we have been to! It was very quiet the night we went there, but the food is classic Caribbean and the service was impeccable. It is not on the water but the decor makes you feel peaceful and happy. Dress is casual. The chef Dale Carty came out and introduced himself to each guest, which we thought was a wonderful touch. Will be returning without a doubt. Good place to take the family.
Straw Hat: This restaurant shares property and a beach with the Frangipani, but is run by different owners. Definitely make reservations and ask for a table by the water. You will then be at the edge of the beautiful patio, looking over Mead's Bay, a great place to watch the sunset. Children are often seen playing on the beach while their parents dine. Straw Hat is slightly upscale dining but still quite beachy casual - it's a great place for a "nicer" dinner in a relaxed atmosphere. They often have live music in the evenings. They also serve breakfast and lunch, breakfast being included with your room if you are a Frangipani guest. Their chocolate croissants were a very welcome addition to breakfast every morning, and you would enjoy any of their wonderful seafood dishes for dinner.
To be honest, nightlife is not something we actively seek out anymore on vacations. We prefer to spend our days immersed in whatever culture we find ourselves a part of, eat a fantastic dinner, then crash in preparation for the next day. However, there are certain nights and occasions where we like to get out and have a good time!! Anguilla certainly offers some options here, especially in the area of Sandy Ground.
The Pumphouse: Picture a very casual nightclub in a building that looks like a pub, and you'll start to get an idea of The Pumphouse, located in Sandy Ground. It's always lively, with a very capable bar, a full dance floor, and a strong local flavor. Thursdays are the big night for nightlife on Anguilla for locals and tourists alike - my husband loved it when one of the Frangipani staff asked him Thursday afternoon if we were headed to The Pumphouse that night. It's a big happy party for all involved.
Elvis's Beach Bar: We read about this beach bar before we went to Anguilla and knew it was a place we had to check out. Just down the road from The Pumphouse, the bar is actually made of an old wooden boat and has an extremely relaxed vibe. We only met Elvis briefly but hope to see him more on future trips. There are food options here, although we did not partake, and it is also a wonderful place to watch a sunset. Of the two nights we visited, one included a rather small and strange foam party - I am guessing this is not the norm but who knows?? It's definitely worth checking out!
This only comes around once a year, but if you happen to be in Anguilla for the Moonsplash festival, it's worth some time! My husband had read about this and it happened to be in late March when we were on the island. It is basically a huge reggae festival held at The Dune Preserve, a resort owned by island music legend Bankie Banx. You can buy tickets as you walk in. We were a little concerned about our safety at this type of event and discussed it with several people from the island, but as long as you aren't planning on going alone and practice your typical safety precautions, you should be just fine. We saw people from all walks of life, tourists and locals, enjoying the music.
Omari Banx (son of Bankie)
Bankie Banx's sister - we loved her ensemble and referred to her as the Queen of Moonsplash :)
All in all, you should not leave Anguilla hungry or stressed. So much here to enjoy! Next, I'll take you on a beach tour with some island hopping thrown in...