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On Island Time
By Michael McCarthy | Photo: Courtesy of Cap Juluca | May 28, 2015
Fresh from a $15 million refurbishment project, Anguilla’s Cap Juluca offers a best-bet Caribbean getaway to refresh your attitude, relax your spirit and rekindle some romance.
We’re on the beach dining with a small group, and my wife briefly turns away from a nearby conversation, leans over and kisses me. It’s a quick, passionate strike. There’s meaning behind this rum-punch smooch. Was she caught up in this atmospheric moment? You tell me: White linen tablecloths and candles adorn the table; wine chills with the private server nearby; tiki torches light our corner of the abandoned beach; and above us the Milky Way looms like a romantic sentry. With our feet buried in the cool nighttime sand, I whisper a one-word question to her: “Happy?” She is, and we are—Cap Juluca, Anguilla’s revitalized gem, has us under her spell.
I’ve always believed that life—and especially marriage—is filled with a series of memorable snapshots. During three days at this 179-acre haven, our mental photo album overflows. The beachfront property, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is a favorite among Hollywood celebs as well as jet-setting moguls. The resort has benefited greatly from a $15 million refurbishment project that began in 2012 and is still ongoing.
All guest rooms and villas, public spaces and all three resort restaurants received design updates, detail work, new furnishings and decor. Landscaping was updated with 60,000 new flowering plants, and kitchens and other “back of house” service areas were refreshed and modernized as well. By meshing together improvements that can be readily seen and those that stay behind the scenes, Cap Juluca’s overall easy, luxurious vibe is now more seamless than ever.
Besides the billowing cabanas and pop-up bar oases, the property’s pristine mile-long beach hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. The island was occupied in 1500 B.C. by a tribe of Amerindians known as the Arawak, who hailed from South America. Cap Juluca, or “rainbow,” gets its name from the Arawak.
The 15 villas housing 70 guest rooms showcase domed and terraced white-washed Greco-Moorish architecture. Each room faces the Caribbean and features a private covered terrace and floor-to-ceiling louvered plantation shutters for additional evening privacy. “I know every inch of every room, and I want guests to fall in love with this stretch of beach the way I did nearly 25 years ago,” says Linda Hickox, who, along with her husband, Charles Hickox, opened the property in 1988.
Linda, one of my dinner companions on the crescent-shaped Maundays Bay beach, understands the essence of providing a luxurious getaway and fine-tunes everything from decor to activities to assure a curated experience. The owner and her staff figure that the one-size-fits-all resort is a relic of the Caribbean’s past; the watchword of customization reigns here, from private dining on the beach to exploring off-the-beaten path beaches with nothing but an affable local guide, a snorkel and a cooler packed with icy Red Stripe lagers.
The first considerations for the property’s renewal were the overall aesthetics of each guest room. Linda, a New York City-based interior designer, added new furniture and abstract art that contrast playfully with the cool, white ceramic floors. Other charming details include Frette linens and towels, Molton Brown bath amenities and Bose Wave music systems. But the owner gets especially animated when she leads me on a tour of the 3,290-square-foot Jonquil suite.
The suite, boasting two master bedrooms, a full-service kitchen, a dining terrace and a private infinity pool with marble Jacuzzi, was the flashpoint for the property’s renovation. “Our vision for this space carried over into the rest of the property,” Linda says. Guests will find modern art, wood-beam ceilings and textured jute rugs with bursts of turquoise that reflect the water just outside. “The property is such a passion for me. I test the form and function of everything here—from every closet to every faucet. I want a flawless stay for everyone,” explains Linda. The obsession shows. The suite’s open floor plan is intimate enough for honeymoons and anniversaries, but the space is also perfect for private cocktail parties.
Of course, one comes to Cap Juluca for the sand and sun, and this is where the resort shifts into custom overdrive. I meet the director of activities, Cardigan Connor, a massive fellow who’s a former English first-class cricket player. The native Anguillan explains that anything my wife and I want—scuba, snorkeling, sea kayaking, sunrise yoga—can be arranged. We first opt for midday snorkeling and find a spot on Juluca Pride, the resort’s 38-foot luxury cruiser.
We climb aboard and are ferried by Elvis—the resort’s courteous captain and local legend—to a private beach roughly 20 minutes away. The crew anchors in a cove. My wife and I slip fins onto our feet, fasten goggles and flop into the clear, 80-degree water. We follow a sea turtle as it glides away from us toward gray coral cliffs, hinting that this is where we’ll find our visual treasure. We kick smoothly in unison; our heads are submerged below the surface, pivoting to see a vibrant color grid in 360 degrees. The current is gentle as it nudges us toward the beach.
I also climb a rope ladder to the top of a rock that juts 30 feet above the water and jump. We clamber back aboard the Juluca Pride and are handed our choice of rum punch and the aforementioned Red Stripe. The simplicity is grand, especially as we dine on fresh lobster rolls and plantain chips prepped for us by the resort’s new Michelin-starred French-born chef, Daniel Le Guenan.
We follow up our snorkeling foray by grabbing a couple of sea kayaks from Cap Juluca’s water-sports center (complimentary paddleboards, Sunfish and Hobie Cat vessels are also available). We paddle the mile stretch across the bay’s mouth, which is a hot spot for yachts to anchor for the evening as their occupants visit one of the resort’s restaurants. Most visitors head for the elegant signature restaurant, Pimms. Its 3,200-bottle wine inventory has received lots of recent hosannas, and with Le Guenan now leading the kitchen, the seafood—from Anguillan paella valenciana to crayfish and plantain cromesqui—marries the lofty execution of Michelin-style dining with local culinary traditions.
A sense of ease is mirrored throughout Cap Juluca, even at sunrise on our last day. I grudgingly roll out a yoga mat near the beach because my bride thinks it would be the perfect start to an active day. The resort’s visiting instructor leads us through a series of poses for 45 minutes and ends by telling us to remember this moment and the swaying palms above.
Later that afternoon, Connor knocks on our door with another staff member, a masseuse. “Ready for your couple’s massage?” he asks. It turns out to be one of the best we’ve encountered in years. Twenty minutes into the treatment, I open my eyes to see my wife on her own massage table a few feet away. “Happy?” I ask. My wife closes her eyes, grins and says nothing. After 72 hours at Cap Juluca, I already know her answer. From $995 per night during the peak winter season, $595 during the offseason, Jonquil suite $2,622-$5,862 per night