Daydreaming in Blue: Anguilla


Blue is my overriding memory of Anguilla. From its transparent turquoise waters and cloudless cyan skies, to the aqua beach bars dotted around the island, Anguilla had me daydreaming in blue. Lying east of the Virgin Islands and due north of Saint Martin, the flat, low-lying Caribbean island of coral and limestone is just 16 miles long and three miles wide. Meaning ‘eel’ in Italian, legend has it that Christopher Columbus named the island Anguilla after its snakelike shape. The territory includes a number of smaller islands. Most are tiny and uninhabited, all have fantastic names, from Blowing Rock, Dog Island and Sombrero to Prickly Pear Cays.

Arawak artifacts dating back to 1300 BC have been unearthed on Anguilla, telling of a life before English and Dutch settlers arrived in the mid-17th century. With a population of 15,000, the island is ideal for those seeking serenity and seclusion. It doesn’t shout about its charms like some of its more famous neighbours. There’s an unpolished purity to Anguilla that will appeal to travellers seeking an authentic slice of Caribbean life, untarnished by mass tourism.

Our first port of call is The Manoah Boutique Hotel in Shoal Bay, a pale pink and white, accidentally Wes Anderson palace with princess turrets and Art Deco influences. Inches from one of the island’s most pristine beaches, where implausibly blue waters froth upon dazzlingly white sands, each of the hotel’s 25 generously-sized rooms boasts its own wraparound balcony where tropical birds dance down close to pay you a visit at breakfast.

Anguillans are never in a rush, so it takes a while to adjust from London time to island time. Things happen at their own pace here and you have to roll with it. This slowing down amps up your perception, giving you the headspace to appreciate life’s little pleasures, from the sound of reggae drifting from speakers and ice tumbling around in cocktail shakers, to the heady scent of rum and lime in the air and the sight of coconuts being carefully picked from palms.

Keen to make the most of my brief stay in paradise, I kept the balcony door of my palatial suite open at night, so I could fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. Refreshed from a long sleep, the next morning I’m taken by Sharon, my barefoot guide, on a hair-raising ride around the island in a bright blue Moke. Conceived by the British Motor Corporation as a lightweight military vehicle, the open-air cars, painted in primary colours, are as synonymous with Anguilla as rum and reggae.

During our journey we pass bursts of bougainvillaea, fragrant frangipani, goats nibbling nonchalantly by the roadside, and quaint wooden houses painted peach, pink and pale blue. In addition to boasting some of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches on the planet, Anguilla is noted for its ecologically important coral reefs and an abundance of calm, clear bays that are made for snorkelling.

Celebrated as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, Anguilla’s cuisine has West African, Spanish and French influences. Seafood is king here, and mahi-mahi, red snapper and all manner of crustaceans are plentiful on menus. From fat, flame-licked prawns and flappingly fresh tuna to sweet, meaty lobsters slathered in melted butter, during my stay I felt like Marie Antoinette at court being lavished at every opportunity with some of the finest seafood I’ve ever encountered.

Another island staple are Johnny cakes – a favourite of Anguilla-born, London-based chef Kerth Gumbs, who riffs on the Caribbean classic on his tasting menu at Fenchurch restaurant on the 43rd floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building. The donut-like delights can be enjoyed both as a savoury snack rammed with melted cheese and as a sweet treat dusted with sugar and cinnamon.

At atmospheric dining spot Veya, Pennsylvanian chef Carrie Bogar – who upped sticks with her family in 2007 to start a new life on the island – serves twists on Caribbean classics with North African and Southeast Asian influences. A silky octopus tentacle redolent with paprika comes resting on a bed of impossibly smooth white bean hummus flecked with pumpkin seeds, while plump lobster fritters fragrant with lemongrass are served with a fiendishly good Sriracha aioli.

Up with the lark, the next morning we’re taken by Neil, our intrepid guide, on a nerve-shredding hike to Goat Cave. Woefully underdressed for the occasion, which required hiking boots at best and trainers at the very least, I soldiered on in my flimsy pumps, traversing ragged volcanic terrain perilously close to the cliff edge. One wrong turn and I might have toppled into the ocean. Passing bright yellow butterflies and rock pools en route, the views the walk afforded were worth the heart-thumping fear that I might break a bone with every step.

Hot and weary from our hike, on arrival at Malliouhana – the Arawak name for Anguilla – we’re presented with a fridge-cool lemongrass hand towel swiftly followed by an invigorating shot of rum punch, which settled my nerves. Due to celebrate its 40th birthday this year, Malliouhana is the grande dame of Anguilla, and sets the bar incredibly high. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the bone white sands of Meads Bay and Turtle Cove, small details are a big deal here – from the hotel’s signature yellow beach bags, bathrobes and brollies to the tangy tamarind sweets left as a welcome treat on arrival and the boozy rum cake to bid you farewell, you’re made to feel like royalty throughout your stay.

With its soaring arched ceiling, aqua paintwork, vintage suitcases and striped awning, the hallway of the hotel is particularly noteworthy. Old diving helmets are displayed like works of art along one wall. On another is a framed black-and-white photograph of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis looking effortlessly glamorous playing backgammon in the sea. The hotel is an elixir, and has such a restorative effect on me, that after a few days I feel like a snake shedding its skin.

There’s an easy elegance and home-from-home feel about the place that makes regulars return year after year. All of the rooms riff on each other, sharing a similar design aesthetic. Painted powder blue and lemon, my room boasts a heavenly four-poster bed, ornate mirror that doubles as a TV, and a sizable balcony overlooking the ocean where I drink in the views and let time stand still. Frilly yellow parasols line the infinity pool, where you can watch the sun dip into the sea from the comfort of your lounger as waiters dote on your every whim.

The island is home to Pyrat Rum, whose top-tier XO Reserve is rested for 15 years in French Limousin and American oak, and offers a sublime mix of citrus and spice notes. If you’re in the mood for something more soothing then order a bush tea – an Anguillan speciality made with lemongrass, basil and bayberry lauded for its healing properties. During an early afternoon rum and chocolate tasting hosted by the hotel’s affable sommelier, Albert Lake, I’m told that Malliouhana’s once magnificent wine cellars are being restored to their former, claret-filled glory in time for its 40thbirthday.

Before the long journey back to London, we’re treated to a speedboat ride around the island. With the engine roaring, music blaring, and the boat cutting through the sea like a knife through silk, I feel like I’m living a James Bond fantasy with a Beyoncé soundtrack. Sun glowing, rum flowing and spirits high, we get to see the island in all its blazing blue glory, as daredevils dive off rocks and beachcombers scan the sands for coral. Thinking back to it now, as I shiver at my desk under concrete skies, it feels like a delicious dream.

Prices at The Manoah Boutique Hotel start from USD$570 for the low season (12 April to 20 December 2024) in a standard beachfront room. Suites start at USD$620. Both rates include breakfast. For more information, please visit

Low season prices (from June to August) at Malliouhana start from USD$450 per night, including taxes and breakfast. For more information, visit

For more information on Anguilla, visit the official website: