Tiny Anguilla has the best beaches in the Caribbean, no contest. And when it comes to pumping out sunny reggae beats and being a foodie pioneer, it bolts ahead of its bigger brothers
There’s a great-value, feel-good place on Crocus Bay selling barbecued baby-back ribs and Piña Coladas. Everyone tries to get to da’Vida by 11 am to bag a lounger in the shade, but even if you’re late someone will shuffle along to share.
Up on stage, Omari Banks plays smooth R&B and light reggae; chickens scratch about in the sand, and hummingbirds steal sips from rum punches. Before lunch I take a long, lazy swim to neighbouring Little Bay, where kids climb up a craggy rock face to leap, squealing excitedly, into the sea. I could get used to Sundays like this. It is the West Indies I remember best; gentle as the Eighties Lilt advert with steel-band beats and that fanciful strapline, ‘a totally tropical taste’.
A skinny, flat island in the Lesser Antilles, Anguilla attracts an entirely different crowd to St Barth’s, which is just a 10-minute flight away. They say you go to St Barth’s to be seen, and to Anguilla not to be. Here the talk is about food rather than fashion, music rather than money. This is where Robert De Niro reads film scripts from his base at the supremely private Cerulean Villa, long known as the island’s best. Last year Justin Bieber spent a quiet family Christmas at the new Beach House on Meads Bay, with its clean lines, basketball hoops and infinity pool.
The real allure of Anguilla is its unassuming ways and sensational beaches backed by clapboard Wendy houses painted in sugar-almond pastels or bold rasta stripes. The Valley, its tiny capital, is but a few low-slung government buildings and a row of food trucks called The Strip serving conch soup, roti and salt-fish patties. Children walk to school in uniforms matching the colour of their building so you know where they belong, from the pinks of Orealia Kelly Primary to the greens of Vivien Vanterpool. There are herds of friendly goats and incessantly crowing cockerels. You’re woken up by a cock-a-doodle-doo no matter where you are.
Deliciously laid-back and instinctively unhurried, Anguilla is one of the few places in the world where time feels in good supply. Only 15,000 people live here and almost everyone knows each other or might even be related; there seems to be only a half-dozen surnames on the island. There are six traffic lights, but people are so considerate there is no real need for road rules. A taxi driver from Dominica tells me he moved here ‘for the quiet life’, a sentiment echoed by a masseuse from Jamaica, a bellboy from Guyana and a barman from St Kitts. There’s even a waitress from Nevis, who says she came here to escape ‘the rat race back home’.