It’s a good problem to have when your oceanfront room’s proximity to the surf is so close that it actually wakes you a few times during your first night’s stay—until you get acclimated, so it lulls you instead. (General manager John Vasatka told me I wasn’t the first guest to have that experience.)
Frangipani Beach Resort isn’t the largest property on Meads Bay (that would be the Four Seasons), nor is it the oldest (a distinction that belongs to the Malliouhana, built in the 1980s). But this resort on the British island of Anguilla is one of those elusive destinations that accurately encapsulates that overused-in-the-travel-industry term “barefoot luxury.”
You can’t ignore the accolades, like a few years ago when Travel + Leisure named it the #1 hotel in the Caribbean and the #3 in the world. When I checked in, though, I wondered just why, though, with all the seemingly similar beachfront hotels dotted on islands around the Caribbean, Frangipani stands out as so exceptional. By the time I departed a few days later, I think I had figured it out: a secret sauce of location, service, and a laidback, lowkey vibe that’s not only welcoming but refreshingly modest and sans attitude, especially considering all the awards it has garnered over the years. Oh, and that swoon-worthy water doesn’t hurt, either.
But it is quite a to-do to get to this tranquil turquoise haven. Like most visitors, I flew to St. Maarten, then took a private 25-minute ferry from the nearby terminal to Blowing Point, followed by a 15-minute taxi ride. My total travel time from D.C. with a layover in Charlotte was almost 12 hours, door-to-door. American Airlines recently added direct flights from Miami, but the timing didn’t work for me. If you’d rather, you can skip the ferry and take a quick 7-minute flight from St. Maarten aboard Anguilla Air Services, or like the many celebrities who frequent the island, arrive on your own private plane.
Frangipani has just 19 rooms, many of which face the water—literally steps from your room. My deluxe ocean-view room, one of several added in December 2020, is located on the second floor above Straw Hat Restaurant. It definitely doesn’t lack for space, with a king bed, ocean-facing sitting area with sliding glass doors, mini-fridge, coffee bar, and an enormous bathroom with double vanity and walk-in shower. With two sitting areas on the patio, I spent a lot of time outside, watching the hue of the water continuously change as the angle of the sun did. Bliss.
The resort also offers luxury oceanview rooms, with upgraded amenities and decor, as well as suites of various configurations and non-oceanview rooms. The newest addition is a 5,000-sq. ft., 4 bedroom/4.5 bath villa. Designed for families and groups, it comes with a fully equipped kitchen for prepping your own meals, with the option to hire a private chef to take care of the chopping and sauteing for you.
Straw Hat is Frangipani’s on-site restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The covered tables are outside, right next to the sand and surf—I really couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. Local twists on breakfast dishes include lobster Johnny cake benedict and a seafood frittata. For lunch, nosh on ahi tuna bites, conch fritters, curried goat, or pan-seared island snapper. And at dinner, anything freshly caught and simply grilled is a sure bet, like mahi mahi or Anguilla crayfish.
If you need a break from all those luscious frozen cocktails, the bar shakes up a well-balanced Ti Punch with Mt. Gay Rum, and the wine list is peppered with thoughtful global options.
What a small resort lacks in calendared, structured activities, it makes up for in personalized, curated experiences. One evening I asked the concierge if they offered yoga; the next morning I was practicing tree poses with my instructor on the second-floor balcony of an unoccupied oceanfront villa. Another day, I booked a massage in my suite, after which I donned my robe and watched the sunset from my patio. (You can also have treatments on the beach or inside the small Plumeria Balinese Spa; cool options include an Indian head massage with coconut oil and a Javanese Lulur body scrub with turmeric, rice, clove, and galangal.)
There are oceanfront and lobby-side pools, but since most of the time the sea is just as calm, you’ll want to take to that saltwater. Paddleboards, kayaks, and Hobie Cats are complementary, as are snorkeling equipment, beach toys, and rafts. Tubing, wakeboarding, and water skiing is offered behind their 17-foot boat, Baby Relentless. Guests can also book excursions on the FrangiCat, a 36-foot power catamaran that stays docked right offshore, which makes stops at Little Bay, Shoal Bay, and lunch before cruising the island’s north side while you sip rum punch and rosé. A row of shaded palapas lines the beach for an afternoon of sunbathing or reading.
The island, which lies east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is small—just 16 miles long by three miles wide. For its size, Anguilla has a lot of sheltered bays, which make that already calm water even more placid. Meads Bay is in an enviable location. Let’s put it this way: if you had no intention of ever venturing out, you could find everything you wanted just a short stroll away.
Walk left down the beach and there’s the open-air Ocean Echo Restaurant. Continue a little further and you will come upon Savi Beach Club, with Japanese small plates, hand-crafted cocktails and live music. At the end is the Four Seasons, whose swanky Sunset Lounge is the place to be to watch it dip below the horizon. In the other direction, Blanchards Beach Shack is a must-do for a toes-in-the-sand, casual lunch; adjacent is the more upscale Blanchards Restaurant, with a global, heavily Caribbean-influenced menu.
But its manageable size certainly makes Anguilla easily explorable by taxi or rental car. A highlight is an afternoon on Sandy Island, accessible via a quick boat ride from Sandy Ground Wharf. The tiny island is just big enough for a handful of visitors who choose to be marooned for the day, with a 360 beach, coral reef (BYO snorkeling gear), and a restaurant and bar. Order lunch, then settle into a lounge chair with a Pina Colada while the kitchen prepares it. Coconut shrimp is not the expected battered and fried version; the succulent shellfish are instead bathing in an irresistible curried coconut cream rum sauce. Anguilla lobster is the most expensive item on the menu but, hey, you’re on vacation (and it’s well worth it). They arrive in the shell, lightly seasoned and grilled, served over a salad with fresh avocado and coconut-ginger sauce.
I met people from all over the world, including a family from Norway who was sailing around the Caribbean and a couple from Chicago on their honeymoon; it’s really a fun, convivial way to spend a day.
Other must-try dining options include the wildly popular Sharky’s, launched a few years ago by Lowell Hodge, a former chef at Blanchards. The casual resto regularly gets 5/5 reviews on Yelp and an impressive 4.8 on Google, which means reservations are required if you want to sample Hodge’s small but well-executed menu. To start, crispy, airy calamari is served with parsley chipotle, and tender mussels are steamed in coconut milk, cilantro, and tomato. I couldn’t pass over Anguilla’s national dish: pan-seared whole red snapper with lemon garlic butter sauce, rice and peas and grilled vegetables.
Another hotspot for dinner is the chill SandBar, located directly on Sandy Ground Beach. Start with the Naked and Afraid, a smoky, sweet-tart, herbal libation with mezcal, Aperol, green Chartreuse, and lime. My ordering strategy was challenging-—I wish I had been dining with a group rather than solo so we could have tried everything. A mound of tuna poke tossed in a creamy chile sauce is sprinkled with green onions and black sesame seeds and served with wontons; herby, garlicky chimichurri is spooned over grilled flat iron steak; and a swath of romesco sauce is a bed for roasted asparagus. Arrive before sunset, and you’ll be able to watch the boats in the harbor.
Throughout my stay in Anguilla, I learned that there’s a mindset here of IYKYK. Expats who had moved from the States kept telling me what an amazing place it is to live. (Since I’m considering island life at some point, this was duly noted.) Frangipani welcomes a large number of repeat guests, many of whom have returned 5, 7, 10 times—or more. (They get first dibs on their room or villa for the same week the following year, which are often booked before checking out with a “see you next year, John.”)
When I consider all the other tropical destinations I have on my bucket list, I found it a bit surprising that there is such a large contingent that returns to this one, especially considering the lengthy journey. But as I sat on the ferry back to St. Maarten with the salty breeze in my hair and an ice-cold bottle of Carib in my hand and watched Anguilla get smaller in the distance, I realized that when you discover a destination that ticks off the boxes, why wouldn’t you return to a postcard-perfect, paradise found?
Frangipani Beach Resort offers several packages, including a Honeymooner’s Paradise, featuring a seven-night escape in a deluxe ocean view room or a one-bedroom suite, a bottle of Champagne, a beach hopping boat trip, and a beachside couples massage.