Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017

© Viceroy Anguilla

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The Anguilla angle

What does this Caribbean pearl have that others don't? Seclusion, exclusivity and loads of soft adventure

I’m wondering how long I can stay in this perfect water before my toes and fingers become so pruny that dinner at a chi-chi restaurant is out of the question. Is an hour too much? The sky is wide and the sea I’m bobbing in is a luminous aqua, brilliantly lit by streams of sunlight. Water like this is too good to pass up, so I adjust my mask, inhale a deep breath through my snorkel and decide that, worst case scenario, I'd wear my winter gloves at dinner.

Water — whether you're in, on and under it — is so very seductive. I’ve never met a snorkelling reef I didn’t like nor a kayak I would turn my nose up at. But I do draw a line in the sand at jet skis and wakeboarding. No wonder the island of Anguilla is my nirvana: an island where most of the resorts ban motorized watersports. It’s the perfect venue for combining the divine beauty of the Caribbean with some nature-friendly, low-impact fitness.

For most of its untroubled history, Anguilla was an island of fishing and boat building with an unbridled passion for racing sailboats. Sailing is the national sport and the subject of much local competition. Before tourism came along and bumped fishing from the number one spot, the island’s economy was based on pulling bulging nets filled with red snapper, mahi mahi and lobster. There were a few 18th-century tobacco, cotton and sugar plantations, but not as deeply entrenched as on some of the neighbouring islands. Then, in the early 1970s, electricity and running water arrived on Anguilla and the careful development of tourism was not far behind.

Wind, waves and seagulls

So, equipped with snorkelling gear and a tube of high-SPF sunscreen, I jumped onto a water taxi called Happiness, my ticket to one of Anguilla’s more remote attractions, a miniscule offshore cay known as Sandy Island (mysandyisland.com). Ringed by small-scale reefs and plots of sea grass, the tiny dot of sand was once just a stopover for local fishermen who needed a break on some terra firma.

At the restaurant, I spoke with waiter Dion Gumbs, as he unloadsed cases of Carib beer and goods for the outdoor grill. He explained that 20 years ago, the first open-air restaurant was built on Sandy Island. Hurricanes, tropical storms and severe wave action have all constantly reshaped the island, and the restaurant has weathered its share of the storms. It was rebuilt after the island was almost washed away by Hurricane Luis in 1995, then again after massive Hurricane Lenny in 1999.

Sandy Island is not a large place. More like a sliver of land where you’d barely break a sweat sprinting from one end to the other. The only building is the one-room restaurant serving meals of grilled chicken, baby back ribs and red snapper. Only a few dozen visitors make the trip each day, most hitching a ride on Happiness.

Most important is what’s not here: no beach vendors hawking cheap trinkets, no swim-up bars, and nothing that even resembles the thumping noise of a boombox. There’s a sign tacked up to the side of the brightly painted loo: "Live natural music by the seagulls, wind and waves band."

I stretch out on a chair at the edge of the water, the waves gently lapping at my toes, and try to lose myself in a thick novel. But the lure of being in the water is irresistible. Most visitors to Sandy Island are drawn to the underwater world of the reefs, sharing an hour or so with moray eels, triggerfish, bright blue parrotfish and the occasional sea turtle that shows up to munch on the waving sea grass. Pruny fingers aside, it turns out to be the best hour I’ve spent so far on my trip.

Heart-pounding climb

At the parking lot of Pelican Trail and Watersports, located at Little Bay, I find something of an Anguillan anomaly — an elevated vantage point boasting a screensaver view on an island that is mostly flat coral limestone. I spot glass-bottom kayaks bobbing at the dock but they’re at the bottom of a 400-step staircase built into what was once shear cliffside.

Pelican Trail’s two-hour kayaking tours takes you to hidden coves for snorkelling and eco-friendly encounters with sea turtles and an entire rainbow of tropical fish. Incredible water in shades of blue that defy imagination — turquoise, navy, marine, aqua, teal — and the marine life below the surface are the big selling features. Time spent in these waters is pure playtime. The fitness challenge comes at the end of a day in the water — the only way out is up that staircase with a heart-pounding climb that raises core temperatures to broil.

Satiated with my water fix but sweat-soaked from my climb, it’s back at the tony Viceroy Anguilla resort that I find the ultimate cool down: the sunset yoga class held on the bluff overlooking the ocean. Working towards feeling calm, centred and gently energized is just one choice on an extensive gym menu built for fitness gurus.

The island’s largest property (and a bit of a haven for the who’s who of Hollywood) the resort has been known to fly in celebrity trainers from Los Angeles during the peak holiday season. When they come for vacation, NBA greats Michael Jordan and Gary Payton shoot hoops on the resort’s basketball court. Movie celebs Julianne Moore and Sandra Bullock stretch and pose their way into the yoga bliss of mind and body balance. Fitness is serious business, even on holiday.

Sport at the dining table

For a place its size (population: 15,000) there might be no better eating island in the Caribbean than food-obsessed Anguilla. “The signature of this island is that dining is a sport,” explained Jeff David, the Viceroy’s general manager.

Seafood at his five restaurants is usually pulled from the ocean only a few hours before making it onto a dinner plate, but with St. Maarten (and its pipeline to Europe and Miami) a quick 20-minute ferry ride away, David stocks his menu with oysters from Brittany, butter from Normandy and Heineken from the Netherlands.

It’s the same at many of the island’s 100 restaurants — a focus on authentic (though not necessarily local) ingredients that speak for themselves.

There’s the impressive five-star CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa, where a huge, glass greenhouse built to withstand hurricane force winds houses one of the few hydroponic farms in the Caribbean, producing an enormous number of tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and herbs for the resort’s restaurants.

There are modest endeavours, too. Anguilla is known for its unique food vans — trained chefs serve up local specialties like lobster bisque, curried goat and conch soup from mobile cooking trucks with names like Hungry’s and Papa Lash.

And then there’s the simply mind-boggling. The 25,000 bottle wine cellar (representing 1300 wines listed on the menu) at the upscale Malliouhana Hotel & Spa, a beachfront property Condé Nast Traveller named one of 2011’s top three restaurants in the Americas and the Caribbean. It’s 9PM and I’m lingering along the beach, listening to the swoosh of water lapping at the shore and the soothing breath of the Trade Winds. The sun is low in the sky. Pink splashes of sunset seem to dance along the horizon. I begin to understand that Anguilla’s timeless beauty isn’t a place to escape the world; it’s a place to embrace it.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

Showing 4 comments

  1. On December 17, 2011, Anguilla said:
    Next time you come to Anguilla, take the time to meet the people with one of Anguilla culture tours. Trust me, you would have many more reasons to fall in love with Anguilla.
  2. On January 5, 2012, tashanna said:
    nice to have had you in paradise, come again soon
  3. On January 5, 2012, Crismas said:
    That sums it up perfectly. I can't wait to get back to AXA!
  4. On January 6, 2012, Ron said:
    Would love know how you had dinner at Mallihouana in December. I believe it is closed

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