I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in the UK autumn is, so-far, a bit of a grey affair. It’s around this time of year that I start to miss the warmth of the South of France, where we spend a lot of the year on our boat – and start to look to where I can get a sunshine top up. For Lorna and I, as for many people, the answer is a winter break in the Caribbean.
Swapping leaden skies and puddles for blue horizons and soft sand beaches seems like a great deal to me. But I think you do need to be careful where you book to avoid the crowds who agree! As the founder of a luxury holiday provider I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of the Caribbean and discover some of its unexpected corners, beautiful and untouched by the rampant commercialism of many of the bigger islands. If you want a relaxing break with a difference then here are my top three suggestions for a sunshine break this winter….
Anguilla is perhaps my favourite places in the whole of the Caribbean – it’s certainly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It’s a small island that offers a slower pace than some of the larger Caribbean Islands such as St Bart’s, which can start to resemble Monte Carlo by January… by contrast Anguilla is quiet at the best of times but especially during peak season.
Instead of big glitz, you’ll find villages, small cottages and private villas scattered throughout the Anguillan forests. The relative lack of development on the island is very appealing, with much of the island left to its natural beauty. Of course it has the obligatory endless beaches and tropical blue waters of the Caribbean, but one of Anguilla’s most precious attributes is its people. The people of the island are extremely – and genuinely – warm. They welcome visitors and are happy to share the beauty of Anguilla with anyone that comes across their piece of paradise.
My must-visit: Shoal Bay, two miles of unspoiled sandy beach where you can take a glass bottom boat tour of the coast of Shoal Bay and peer into an underwater paradise.
The smallest of all the Caribbean islands, Saba is in fact pretty much just an extinct volcano, Mount Scenery, its peak wreathed in cloud. A visit here isn’t a classic Caribbean holiday – you won’t find large developed sandy beaches here lined with chain hotels and bars. The island has only one main road and no casino, a large part of its seductively low-key vibe.
Accommodation is a handful of small, charming hotels, inns and villas to stay at while you explore the natural charms of the the island – it’s big draw. Most of Saba is covered by dense, colourful tropical forests that are great for hiking in, and clumps of mango and mahogany trees – all dotted by the small, white clapperboard houses of the islanders. The island itself is surrounded by deep blue waters rich with wildlife and top diving spots in the Saba National Marine Park.
Just a 12-minute flight from the island of St Martin, Saba is also home to one of the shortest commercial runways in the world, a 400m strip – it’s quite an experience landing here!
My must-visit: Climb the 800 stone steps from The Ladder to the settlement known as The Bottom – this was where all the goods that came to the island were transported up by hand even up until the late 20th century.
The Cayman Islands are a popular holiday destination, but Cayman Brac, the most easterly, is one that often gets overlooked. One person who didn’, however, was Christopher Columbus, who discovered this tiny cheese-wedge shaped island in 1503.
At just 12 miles long, its packed full of character and characterised by its dramatic rock formations, caves and coves, all of which set it apart from the other Caribbean islands. The south side of the island is particularly spectacular with its cliffs, blowholes – sea caves that shoot water high into the air – and seams of the semi-precious stone Caymanite.
Unlike the other Caymans, the majority of locals here do not work in the tourism industry and everyday life here is a low-key and authentic affair. The only real sign of tourism is around the dive industry and the waters surrounding Cayman Brac are some of the clearest and bluest in the Caribbean and ideal for snorkelling, diving and fishing.
My must visit: Scuba divers will love diving the wreck of the Russian Koni Class Frigate, deliberated scuttled in shallow water here in 1996 to become a dive attraction. It is one of only a few sunken Soviet naval vessels in the Western Hemisphere that can be dived– and there are even parts of it that can be explored by non-wreck-certified divers.