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Anguilla heats up

With endless beaches and some of the Caribbean's best hotels and restaurants, this laid-back enclave remains the height of island luxury. hits the sands.
David Nicolas
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With endless beaches and some of the Caribbean's best hotels and restaurants, this laid-back enclave remains the height of island luxury. Richard Alleman hits the sands.

As far as the Caribbean goes, Anguilla, the British West Indian island just north of St. Martin, has been very fortunate—it managed to duck the brutal batch of hurricanes last autumn. But its most serendipitous moment came back in 1980, when the government of the virtually hotel-free island decided to limit development to discreet, small hotels and elegant, upscale resorts. A quarter of a century later, the 16-mile-long territory known for its pristine beaches has stuck to this policy (which means there are no casinos, large cruise ships, or shopping malls) and is now home to what is arguably the Caribbean's highest concentration of luxury properties. Most of them are on the western half, which encompasses Shoal Bay West, Rendezvous Bay, and Meads Bay; the eastern portion is more residential. Although still a long way from being overdeveloped, Anguilla is becoming decidedly more sophisticated with each season. The island is buzzing with recent and imminent openings of new hotels, restaurants, and "super villas" (an Anguillan specialty); its airport runway has just been expanded to accommodate larger commercial planes in addition to private jets. And here's more good news: the English-speaking Anguillans have remained unpretentious, and their island is still the West Indian charmer it always has been.

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THE SUPER VILLAS Smart travelers know the unbeatable luxury and privacy of renting an entire house. But visionary architect Myron Goldfinger is responsible for upping the ante with his bold, monolithic mansions on the southwestern tip of Anguilla. Called Covecastles (Shoal Bay West; 800/223-1108 or 264/497-6801;; from $1,095 per day), these two- to five-bedroom houses feature enormous rooms with tropical minimalist interiors, the latest electronics, andfull hotel amenities (concierge, 24/7 room service). The super-villa concept has flourished on Anguilla, as has Covecastles, which now includes 15 villas; the most recent, the Point, is a five-bedroom extravaganza that rents for a cool $4,295 a night.

• Just up the beach, Altamer (Shoal Bay West; 888/652-6888 or 264/498-4000;; $35,000 per week) is another impressive compound with three towering five- and six-bedroom residences, also designed by Goldfinger, each with a private gym, a 45-foot swimming pool, and a staff that includes a butler, a concierge, and, by request, a personal chef.

• Big-name celebrities seeking total seclusion book Cerulean (264/497-8840 or 212/285-2070;; $39,000 a week, including butler, private chef, and spa services) on Barnes Bay, a seven-bedroom, multi-domed villa designed by Modernist architect Deborah Berke, with handcrafted Moroccan and Mexican furnishings, limestone floors, a pool and gardens, and in-room spa treatments.

• The newest member of the super-villa set is Temenos Anguilla, a St. Regis Retreat (Long Bay; 264/222-9000;; from $33,033 a week, including personal butler). Each of its three two-story units resembles a mini-Aman resort, wrapping around a spectacular infinity pool above a palmy beach. Architectural surprises abound—from Santorini-style terraces to secret alcoves, perfect for meditating or napping. Scheduled to open this summer is the island's first 18-hole golf course, which was designed by Greg Norman without disrupting the seaside setting. Also on the horizon (in 2006): a 97-bungalow hotel on the 4,400-foot-long Merrywing beach, just five minutes away.

WHERE TO EAT It used to be that serious foodies heading for the Caribbean went to St. Bart's, feeling that it was the only place to find really memorable cuisine. Anguilla has more than met the challenge posed by its French neighbor and has become a culinary destination in its own right. At Blanchard's (Meads Bay; 264/497-6100; dinner for two $120), a palm tree grows through the roof and teal shutters open to tropical gardens that resemble a 3-D Rousseau painting. The food also resembles a work of art (and it tastes as good as it looks): creamless corn chowder and filet mignon of tuna are just two of the chef's signature dishes.

Altamer (Shoal Bay West; 264/498-4040; dinner for two $100), the centerpiece of the villa complex of the same name, is a sleek, streamlined dining room by the sea. Here, French chef Maurice G. Leduc prepares decadent lobster-chicken-truffle sausage and orange-ginger roast duck.

• You're almost sitting in the ocean at Mango's Seaside Grill (Barnes Bay; 264/497-6479; dinner for two $110), a casual seafood standby with a great wine list (350 choices) and sublime just-caught yellowfin tuna sashimi.

• Jamaican chef Deon Thomas has been perfecting Caribbean cooking in Anguilla for 14 seasons at Deon's Overlook (South Hill; 264/497-4488; dinner for two $110). While his devout followers know to order his lobster pancakes or pan-seared crayfish with coconut sauce, dessert—chocolate rum cake, mango Key lime pie, rum raisin rice pudding—can be a more difficult choice.

• At Tasty's Restaurant (South Hill; 264/497-2737; dinner for two $80), a pastel roadhouse run by Malliouhana-trained Anguillan chef Dale Carty, conch salad and coconut-crusted parrotfish with spicy banana rum sauce are among the standouts.

• For a dose of trendy St. Bart's without leaving Anguilla, simply head to Le Bar (264/497-0099; lunch for two $50) on Shoal Bay East. This très cool barefoot bistro (think lobster salade niçoise, strains of Piaf and Josephine Baker) serves to-die-for mango and banana daiquiris.

• Excellent northern Italian pasta and seafood dishes make everyone—especially kids—happy at Trattoria Tramonto (264/497-8819; lunch for two $50), a pretty white beach shack on Shoal Bay West. Lounge chairs are provided for guests who want to catch some rays before or after lunch.

• Closed for 2 1/2 years due to damage caused by Hurricane Lenny, one of the island's most celebrated establishments, KoalKeel (264/497-2930; dinner for two $175), reopened this winter in the same lovely, albeit newly decorated, plantation house in Anguilla's main village, the Valley. A new chef (Scott Gerow) is on board, promising sophisticated Caribbean cuisine.

• A 4x4 is helpful when trying to reach Palm Grove Bar & Grill (264/497-4224; lunch for two $70), but it's worth the trek. Owner Nat Richardson serves up the most wonderful crayfish and snapper in his shack that sits between Junks Hole and Savannah Bay.

SPA SCENE Prompted by the ever-increasing popularity of spas and restorative retreats on other islands, Anguilla has reinvented itself as an island of wellness, recently unveiling innovative new fitness programs and facilities. Leader of the pack: the Spa at Malliouhana (264/497-6111). Its 15,000-square-foot building is virtually a resort within a resort, offering an array of aromatherapies, facials, polishes, wraps, scrubs, and rubs from around the world.

• The specialty is personal training at CuisinArt's Venus Spa, with everything from Killer Abs to Fitness Over 50 programs ($75 an hour for one person, $115 per couple). Yoga sessions are held in a thatched pavilion hidden among the palms.

Cap Juluca is making wellness a priority this season with its soon-to-open fitness center, a yoga and Pilates studio, and six spa treatment rooms—plus three newly arrived masseurs from Bali. The resort's highly popular five-day Mind, Body & Spirit program features a new-millennium mix of massage, yoga, bioenergetics, aromatherapy, and astrology readings. ($6,175 for one person, $7,690 per couple, including accommodations and meals).

WHERE TO SHOP If you're a serious shopper, Anguilla is not your island. But with great boutiques just a 30-minute ferry ride away (264/497-2231; $25 round-trip) on French/Dutch St. Martin, shopaholics can get their duty-free fix. On Anguilla itself, Anguilla Rums, Ltd. (Road Bay; 264/497-5003; factory tours by appointment) ages, blends, and bottles premium Caribbean rums. The ultimate take-home: super-smooth Pyrat Cask 23 sipping rum in a handsome handblown decanter and cedar gift box ($180).

RICHARD ALLEMAN is a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure.