WHY SHOAL BAY?
WHY SHOAL BAY?
The Coolest Beach in the Caribbean? Surely it's St Jean in St Barts, where beauties in a mere nuance of a bikini bottom strike a pose and stride into the hip bar Nikki Beach. But, it's just too chichi. At Negril, at the western tip of Jamaica, reggae emanates from every second bar, and is too crowded to be cool. Perhaps it's Silver Sands in Barbados, where nut-brown, straw-haired kiters ride the winds. Frankly the activity is enough to put you in a panic. In the end, cool in the Caribbean must be low key. The powder-soft white sand and clear shallows receding into the surreal blue sea are given, but cool is quiet and uncrowded. Chilled in the tropics: that has to be Shoal Bay East, on the north shore of Anguilla. Anguilla is unfeasibly cool. In 1967 the islanders even staged a cool revolution. They severed links with St Kitts without a shot. It was called the 'Bay of Piglets' and 'the Mouse that Roared' by the pundits. Scenically, the little coral island doesn't have much going for it, lacking the lush vegetation of other Caribean islands. Except, superb beaches and a fantastic blue sea, and now some very smart hotels, villas and restaurants. Shoal Bay is the best of the beaches, two miles of sand that is so sumptuous that you sink in up to your ankles. Mostly unspoiled by buildings, there are just small clusters of sunbathers, marking the hotels. Shoal Bay is where people come when they're escaping St Maarten, the manic half-Dutch, half-French island next door. They catch a ferry over and spend the day. At weekends it livens up (well, slightly) as Anguillians come out. If there is a heart to Anguilla, it is found in the scattering of bars. When the urge strikes you, stroll over and grab a beer and a chat in Uncle Ernie's. Eventually the smell of the barbecue will stir you. Thereafter just settle back into the hammock under the trees. The Caribbean as it should be.
Anguilla is in the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean. It is best reached via Antigua with an onward flight on LIAT or Caribbean Star. There are direct flights to Antigua from London with both British Air- ways and Virgin Atlantic. If you prefer a tour operator, try Caribtours and Harlequin Worldwide.
Christmas is the height of the season and then between mid-January and April, which is the most expensive time to go to an already expensive island. The weather is as good into July (it is hotter between August and October) and then again from December.
There are few things to see in Anguilla, unless you're a student of contemporary villa architecture: there are striking buildings around the island. Take a boat trip for the day to 'Gorgeous' Scilly Cay or to Prickly Pear Cay, both beach bars on offshore islands.
The name shoal is old English for a reef, scary for mariners, but fun for stalking fish and it's right offshore. To see it close up, go to Skyline Beach Rentals, which provides rafts, beach towels and snorkelling gear. For a walk and music, try Gwen's Reggae Bar, on the eastern end of the bay.
Accommodation in Anguilla is expensive, but standards are high. Covecastles offers villa accommodation on Shoal Bay West, geometrical abstractions in terra cotta and white stucco windswept faces looking out to sea. In the middle of the Bay are Shoal Bay Villas' 15 studios and apartments. Nearby is the Rendezvous Bay Hotel, laid back to the point of sedation.
Elodia's, located on Shoal Bay in a wooden shed, has some of the best simple food. For something a little more French, Didier at Le Bar offers cheese platters and chilled white wine. If you prefer a smart night out try the delightful Hibernia, at the nearby Island Harbour, where French cuisine meets the Far East. Or at the other end of the island in Meads Bay, Blanchards serves excellent fare.
Shoal Bay East quietens down at sunset and the crowds move to the at the Pump House at Sandy Ground, where the drinkers start the evening and often finish it. On the beach side, Johnno's, features a wooden deck. But the coolest bar, one of the coolest anywhere in the Caribbean in fact, is Bankie Banx's Dune Preserve. A mock galleon built of driftwood and upturned hulls atop the dunes of Rendezvous Bay.
PO Box 248 Shoal Bay West (00 1 264 497 6801; www.covecastles.com)
Shoal Bay Villas
PO Box 81, Shoal Bay (00 1 264 497 2051; www.sbvillas.ai)
Rendezvous Bay Hotel
PO Box 31, The Valley, Rendezvous Bay (00 1 264 497 6549; www.rendezvousbay.com)
Island Harbour (00 1 264 497 4290; www.hiberniarestaurant.com)
Meads Bay (00 1 264 497 6100; www.blanchardsrestaurant.com)
(020 7751 0660; www.caribtours.co.uk)
(01708 850300; www.harlequinholidays.com)
(0870 850 9850; www.ba.com)
Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com)