Sometimes the Caribbean islands blend together. Almost all offer access to the quintessential turquoise waters, ample amounts of sunshine, and some variation of their own rum drinks. Nobody’s complaining.
But I was recently tipped off to check out Anguilla, a small island just a 25-minute ferry ride north of Saint Martin. The two main selling points—beyond the signature sands and waters, of course—were to be an impressive culinary scene and an incredible array of luxury accommodations. In both cases, far more than one would expect for an island of just 14,000 people.
That landed me for a few nights at one of the most unique hotels in the neighborhood: The Quintessence Hotel, one of just three Relais & Chateaux properties in the Caribbean and the newest one in the collection.
Yes, it is a hotel but they really make you feel at home…or more like the home of a rich friend who welcomed you to the Caribbean for the weekend. The tropical estate has just eight rooms and just the necessary staff to care to your whims, so serenity is one of the highlights. Lush greenery walls off the property from the outside world, leaving just you with the view. There’s plenty of peace by the pool and if you head down to the ocean, it’s likely you’ll be the first making footprints at the private beach that day.
Inside, the Quintessence—or Q Hotel, as it’s known for short—is carefully manicured. That might be an understatement as it took 10 years to build the three-floor mansion. Nothing about it is cookie-cutter; every piece of décor has been hand-picked and planted in a spot with purpose. That explains why it’s already earned a welcome into the prestigious Relais & Chateaux fellowship—an association for the world’s most luxurious, individually-owned boutique hotels —despite being open less than six months.
The inside of the hotel almost feels like you’re perusing an art gallery. As a matter of fact, the hotel is opening up an art gallery down the street this spring. Owner Geoffrey Fieger, a famous defense lawyer who successfully defended Dr. Kevorkian and is litigating a $100 million class-action case on behalf of the people of Flint (water crisis), has put his large collection of art on display—mostly Haitian art—with eye candy at every turn. For example, as you make your way to the gym, you’ll pass a dark sculpture of a woman with piercing white eyes. Or on the second floor, a simple passageway between the staircases was designed to have a little lookout so that visitors can appreciate a giant, floral piece of art above the entrance to the hotel.
The rooms are composed in similar fashion. What simply must be the largest—or among the largest—personal art collections in the Caribbean is also on display here with large paintings above the beds. No expense is spared in this ultra-boutique as the mattresses are hand-crafted in Sweden, the amenities are from Antica Farmacista, and the bathrooms are bedecked in marble. Most importantly, each of the eight rooms has the postcard-worthy view of the water.
But everything feels comfortable. You know that you’re in the lap of luxury at this Caribbean chateau but it’s not ostentatious.
In-house restaurant Julian’s is run by Executive Chef Dominique Thevenet and while the wine list is impressive—the cellar of 1600+ bottles helped earn the restaurant a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2018—what’s more impressive is the fact that they’re baking fresh bread on-site every day. These are authentic French breads too, such as proper baguettes and flaky croissants with French butter; that’s some impressive effort for a hotel with just eight rooms.
But that is a theme across the island of Anguilla: passion and care for cuisine. A lot of touristy spots could easily cut corners but I consistently discovered them doing the opposite. Most restaurants have impressive arrays of fresh fish on the menu—far beyond the common conch or some battered-fried whitefish. A visit to the beachside eatery Mango’s, run by a pair of New England transplants, had no less than six types of fish on the menu—with rarities like triggerfish—and that’s not even counting the other types of seafood. The story was similar at Da’Vidas in Crocus Bay as they had 10 different types of seafood across the menu with preparations of grouper and snapper, to name a few.
Nowhere is the commitment to quality cuisine more evident than on Sandy Island, a small cay in the North Atlantic Ocean only accessible by boat. It’s a popular place to go for tourists as it’s a short ride from Sandy Ground. It’s mostly just a sand bar with umbrellas, loungers and a hut with a restaurant, but it offers a 360-degree view of the ocean.
In a place like Toronto, New York, or Boston, I could easily see this type of traveler attraction fielding a tourist-trappy restaurant with overpriced hamburgers with fries, and nobody would complain. The overall experience of merely visiting an uninhabited island in the middle of the ocean is cool enough. However, the Sandy Island Restaurant ships a power generator, ice and fresh food to this little spit of sand every single day. I’d be satisfied if they merely cracked a beer and offered some shade, but they’re out here pressing fresh strawberry mojitos—or pomegranate, if you’d rather. As for the food, it’s an impressive grilled menu with dry rub ribs, charred Caribbean lobster and crayfish, and smoky chicken. And they’ll even sometimes have a band onsite that plays until the power runs out.
If you’ve been wondering why LeBron James, Robert DeNiro and Paul McCartney keep visiting Anguilla, it’s not just the anonymity that the island offers. It’s luxury accommodations like the Q Hotel and the impeccable dining scene.