Anguilla promises pristine fairways and memorable beach bars. Just watch out for the Duneshines and mojitos!
By Ted McIntyre
“THIS is the famous Dune Preserve?” a visiting scribe ponders, scratching his head at the modest green-roofed, multi-level, open-air edifice CNN has previously ranked as the No. 1 Beach Bar in the World. Constructed of predominantly driftwood, salvaged remains of wrecked sailing and fishing boats, seashells and other pseudo building materials, the place is owned by Bankie Banx, the grizzled icon of Anguillan reggae who can often be found entertaining his eclectic patronage with his Bob Dylan-like riffs. Appearing to be just a minor gale from relocating to a neighbouring Caribbean island, the Dune Preserve is home to the annual Moonsplash Music Festival, but it’s also the birthplace of the legendary Duneshine, a slightly sweet, fermented ginger drink whose delayed punch will lay you flat quicker than Mike Tyson.
Although it has been flanked since 1999 by the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and its accompanying Greg Norman-designed course, back when it was conceived in 1994, “Planet Dune” was a remote outpost on the beautiful crescent of Rendezvous Bay in Anguilla. In its early days, a 50-foot sand dune separated Bankie’s one-room cabin from his humble beach bar, but a 1999 hurricane and shifting tides took their toll on the once majestic beachscape. But Banx continues to work with the Anguilla National Trust in an attempt to restore the dunes to their previous grandeur.
Spectacular beaches, after all, are among the primary lures of Anguilla, an upscale, 90-square-kilometre independent British territory that sits a 25-minute ferry ride north of St. Maarten at the dogleg of the Caribbean, just before the chain of islands sweeps to the south. Many of Anguilla’s 33 powdery beaches, the sands of which blaze a blinding white beneath the midday sun, are accompanied by excellent food and beverage. But the Beach Grill just 80 yards away from Bankie’s hot spot, at the foot of the five-star CuisinArt Resort, is a good place to start. The specialty of the house is the greenest frozen mojito you’ve ever seen. It’s fortified with Bacardi Superior white rum and infused with lime wedges, but it’s the homegrown mint leaves that make it the mother of all mojitos. As with my lunchtime salad ingredients, the mint has been freshly picked—possibly just two hours ago—from the resort’s 18,000-square-foot hydroponic farm that helps fuel an unsurpassed cuisine on an island renowned for its refined tastes.
Pairing up delectable edibles with the right alcoholic beverage is somewhat more of a challenge at CuisinArt’s AAA, Four Diamond-award-winning restaurant, Le Bistro at Santorini, owing to the resort’s 3,600-strong wine menu. (I highly recommend the wine tastings, which, guided by the resident sommelier, run Monday to Thursday from 5-6:30 p.m., as well as the rum tastings at the lobby bar at 4 p.m. every Wednesday.)
While Santorini’s menu favours a Mediterranean-Caribbean blend, guests also have the choice of Tokyo Bay, Italia and the more casual Mediterraneo. But even the resort’s weekly buffet—teeming as it is with lobster, calamari, steak, chicken, vegetables galore, lasagna and a dessert menu that Homer Simpson would be proud of—holds one’s attention.
A year ago, they completed a $15 million renovation to the resort and its neighbouring golf course, which seemed to me a lot like applying a little spit and polish to your five-carat diamond ring, because I didn’t see anything that particularly needed improvement during my stay. But then they do like to tend to the details here, be it CuisinArt’s Venus Spa, the largest and most luxurious spa on the island, or the stock in the boutiques (I spotted a $36,000 necklace of diamonds, amethysts and emeralds at the resort’s jewellery shop.)
CuisinArt, the architecture of which has been inspired by the Greek island of Mykonos, not surprisingly attracts a discerning guest list. But the resort has yet to record a single instance of theft. That said, missing golf balls are a regular occurrence at the golf course next door. Yes, there’s ample landing area on most fairways, but players need to be able to work their balls both ways if they’re to negotiate the steady trade winds at this challenging layout. But there’s also plenty of opportunity to exhale, thanks to a routing whose views vary from overlooking St. Maarten at the tumbling opening hole to the climactic tee shot over a thicket of mangrove and marsh and subsequent 40-foot climb back to the Mediterranean-styled clubhouse.
In between, you can count on billiard-table-like conditioning and an impeccable staff that has been trained to bring themselves and their vehicles to a complete halt whenever they see you preparing for a shot. You see the same sort of thing back at the resort, where employees take great pride in learning your name—even before you arrive.
Should you feel compelled to leave the resort, check out Shoal Bay’s sublime stretch of beach; or the bar at Sandy Island, a speck of sand about an eight-minute boat ride off the mainland; or better yet, Sandy Ground, Anguilla’s main port. It’s a marvellous swirl of beach lying between a densely treed cliff and a bay dotted with fishing boats, and backed by a huge salt pond and a stretch of small hotels that spring to life by night. They say there are no dangerous indigenous creatures lurking in that thick underbrush, but caution should be taken of the stilted bar just offshore, the famed Scilly Cay. What you remember from your lobster, crayfish and dancing depends on your discipline to stop after just one rum punch—although one is likely sufficient to impair your faculties. Right after the U.N. is finished ferreting out the chemical weapons in Syria, I expect they’re coming for the rum punch at Scilly Cay.
Next of their hit list would be Bankie’s place.
WestJet flies three times a week into St. Maarten, from November through April. Air Transat, Air Canada, American Airlines, United and other major carriers also provide connection options. For more information, visit cuisinartresort.com or ivisitanguilla.com.