I miss last week already. The grey harshness of New York in February feels especially brutal after a week of hot sun and soft sand. My skin is tan but freezing. I’m stuck at a desk instead of sending the occasional email from my new favorite workplace:
On February 5, I took off for the tiny island of Anguilla, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean that’s just 16 miles long by 3 miles wide. There are no direct flights–while Anguilla does have an airport, it’s serviced by tiny planes from San Juan–so I opted instead for a nonstop flight to St. Maarten, followed by a very pleasant 30-minute boat ride. Having been to St. Maarten before and knowing how bad the traffic can get, I opted to pay more for Funtime Charters, which leaves from a dock just a few minutes from the airport, rather than traversing the island to the French side to take the public ferry. The boat ride was actually delightful; with a rum punch and the ocean breeze, it was a lovely way to start the vacation.
Spurred on by a 25% off Expedia discount, which made the hotel a couple hundred bucks a night cheaper than other options on the island (Anguilla is many things, but inexpensive isn’t one of them), I stayed at Zemi Beach House, on Shoal Bay East Beach, in a premium ocean view king room. The view (on left) was gorgeous, and you could lie in the cozy bed and see the ocean. I was very impressed with the hotel overall; the staff was friendly and accommodating–I stayed an extra day, thanks to the NYC snowstorm, and they extended my stay at the same rate. And with only 69 rooms, the two pools (one, an out of the way, adults only tranquility pool; the other overlooking the ocean) and private beach were never crowded. After having been to large, family-oriented resorts in the Bahamas and Bermuda, I can’t tell you what a joy it is not to have to wake up at dawn and fight for beach chairs. Instead, I slept in and strolled out at 10 to take my pick of oceanfront loungers.
I stayed close to the hotel during the days. The one downside to Zemi Beach is that many of the restaurants (and other hotels) are clustered on the opposite side of the island, a $20-35 cab ride away. You can rent a car–many who wish to explore the various beaches do–but given the rural roads (roosters and goats roaming free!) and left-side driving, I decided nighttime taxi excursions were the way to go. And the beach at Zemi suited my lounging and reading needs just fine, although with slightly rough waters, it’s not the best location for swimming and snorkeling. If you do decide to explore, it’s easy–most beachside grills have lounge chairs you can rent for a nominal (about $5) fee. But I was more than content with my wide-open expanse of sand:
I did drag myself off the beach to indulge in the on-site Thai House Spa twice–well worth it, as it won World’s Best New Resort Spa 2016 in the World Spa Awards. On my first full day on the island, before I got too much sun to make massage impossible, I got the deep tissue grapefruit and rosemary muscle melt. Girl was not messing around with that deep tissue; it fully lived up to its name. On my last day, I got a much-needed cucumber and aloe wrap to soothe my sunburned skin. And the spa itself is beautiful, though it feels a bit strange (yet awesome???) to be walking around the open air setting in your robe. Spa treatments come with a complimentary bathing ritual, consisting of time in the hammam, the only one of these Turkish steam rooms on the island, a scrub or mud mask rinsed off in the outdoor rain showers, and a dip in a bathwater-temp pool. An overly friendly male employee made the ritual my only real negative moment of the trip–but it’s a bit of a story; stay tuned next week for more on that.
At night, I ventured out. The day I arrived was Super Bowl Sunday, and I watched the game on a giant screen set up in the sand at Elvis’ Beach Bar, comfortably crowded with tourists and locals alike. Aside from the tranquil beaches, the other big Anguilla draw is the food. Several chefs have decided to expat on island, and there is some seriously haute cuisine happening in tropical, open spaces. My favorite meal of the trip was at the French with Asian influences Hibernia, where I ate smoked fish and ginger cream cheese on toasted bread (like the Caribbean version of a New York bagel) and the most amazing aromatic duck with some cinnamon tea and homemade rum raisin ice cream for dessert, while overlooking this lovely art-surrounded pool.
But I also highly recommend my two other nice dinners. At Blanchards, situated right on the beach, I ate fresh corn chowder and amazingly tender braised lamb shank, followed by their signature cracked coconut, a chocolate “shell” filled with coconut ice cream. And at Veya, a palm-treehouse style restaurant with live music, I had delightfully decadent conch fritters and grilled shrimp with curry sauce–and their amuse bouche, a lobster and lemongrass soup, was the most delicious thing I ate all week.
The hotel food was similarly excellent–one of the highlights for me was the packet of macarons they left every night at turndown, which I saved to have as breakfast in the morning with the complimentary in-room illy coffee. Zemi Beach’s casual restaurant 20 Knots had a tasty lunch menu that was varied enough to keep me happy all week–I recommend the simply skewered option or the mango and zucchini salad–though you can also walk down the beach to a couple of casual grills. Breakfast in the sand was the perfect farewell to the island.
Though I have a hard time returning to places when there’s so much of the world still to explore, I could easily see Anguilla becoming a favorite winter retreat. On one of my cab rides, the driver and I started talking about the radio show he was listening to, on which a local politician was arguing for expanding the airport. While I certainly understand wanting to expand tourism–their main economic resource–the lack of a cruise port and slight inaccessibility keep many travelers away. And that’s what makes this traveler want to keep going back.