Dancing in public is not an activity I partake in regularly. While I have been known to enthusiastically pull a few shapes after enjoying the odd drink or three at a family wedding – my own recent nuptials included – it would not be unfair to say my sense of rhythm means I will not be troubling the producers of Strictly, whenever the time comes for them to find a new cast of twinkle-toed stars. So when I was invited to join an ensemble that would be dancing its way through the capital of a sun-kissed Caribbean island in front of several thousand onlookers, I was somewhat taken aback.
But, as I cheerfully messaged friends 3,000 miles away in chilly Scotland, it’s not like I was going to bump into anyone I knew. And it’s not like this opportunity was likely to present itself again. The demand for bearded Scotsmen – especially those blessed with two left feet – to dance in exotic carnivals is, surprisingly, rather low.
I was in Anguilla, a beautiful low-lying island of coral and limestone in the Caribbean Sea. More specifically, I was in The Valley – a capital city that doesn’t look anything like any other capital city I have visited. It has the look and feel of a relaxed beach suburb. Its few streets are filled with bungalows, neighbourhood bars, and the occasional shop selling everything from chilled drinks to speedboat parts.
Anguilla simply does not have a need for a shiny metropolis filled with tower blocks. For a start, there’s no room. The island is just 16 miles long and about three miles in width. The population is just under 15,000. Everyone knows everyone. The pace of life here is very different to what city-dwellers like myself are used to.
I was here for the Anguilla Summer Festival, a week-long bonanza held every August. It is the biggest event of the year for Anguillans. The population of the island swells as hundreds of expats return home to visit family and friends and take part in the festivities.
The fun begins shortly after sunrise on what locals call J’ouvert Monday – a mass street party that officially kick-starts the carnival. Dozens of floats, each with their own live band or DJ, make their way from The Valley down to the beautiful beach at Sandy Ground. The action is well under way by 9am and a properly banging beach party will go on throughout the day.
It’s an enthralling experience and one you’re unlikely to forget, especially if you’ve never sampled a Caribbean carnival before. The trick is just to pick a float and join the hundreds of other revellers following in its wake. Locals and tourists party side by side. You’re free to go at your own pace. Some dance, others are happy to stand in the shade and soak up the atmosphere.
It’s not compulsory to enjoy a stiff rum cocktail before 10am – but normal rules don’t apply on J’ouvert. While it’s hot work partying in the Caribbean sun, the beach event where the procession concludes offers you the chance to cool off in the sea. It’s also a feast for food fans – there are dozens of beach barbecue joints selling fresh sea food.
My chance to dance would come later in the week at the Parade of Troupes. For now, I could wind down after all the excitement of J’ouvert Monday at our first port of call. We were staying for a couple of days at the Anguilla Great House, a West Indian cottage-styled hotel that sits right on the beautiful Rendezvous Bay. The pristine beach was a 60 second stroll from the front door of my chalet. What more could you need? This is the kind of resort that proves not every hotel stay in the Caribbean has to break the bank.
Unlike other, larger, island nations, Anguilla’s coast has not been over-developed. Large parts of it remain relatively untouched. There are no fewer than 33 pristine white sand beaches – all of which are open to the public. It’s no secret that tourism is the backbone of the local economy. But the Anguillan authorities have taken a different approach to attracting visitors. This is not a cruise ship destination. There is no major international airport.
You can get a plane to Anguilla, but only as a short transfer from a larger airport nearby. We flew from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic to Antigua, a journey of roughly nine hours. From Antigua, you can make the short hop to Anguilla with TransAnguilla Airways. Our pilot, Elvis, was standing at the check-in desk to greet us. When you pilot a nine-seater aircraft, it’s easy to get to know your passengers.
Later in the week, we moved on to the Zemi Beach House. This upscale resort sits on a six acre site on the tranquil Shoal Bay. The hotel blends a contemporary luxury with experiences anchored in the rich island tradition. From nourishing treatments within an ancient Thai house to small-batch rums enjoyed within the elegant Rhum Room, guests are transported by experiences that awaken and engage their senses.
If luxury relaxation at a top Caribbean resort is your thing, you could also check out at CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa, which offers a blend of relaxed elegance and five star service – all set within instantly recognisable Mediterranean architecture.
It also offers one of the best golf courses found anywhere in the Caribbean, which is handy if you want to keep your swing in when not on the beach.
It was another beautiful day when I joined in the Summer Festival Grand Parade of Troupes. Groups from all over the island come together on the last Friday of the festival – and I was one of them. Visitors to the island can register to take part – and I thoroughly recommend that you do. With a few rum punches down you, and the support of your fellow dancers, you too can feel like you belong in a Caribbean carnival. n
Caribtours is offering 7 nights at Zemi Beach House from £2,399 per person including breakfast, return flights, private transfers, and access to a UK airport lounge. To book visit www.caribtours.co.uk or call 02037337088.
Tropical Sky is offering 7 nights a CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa from £2,189 per person including return flights and transfers. To book visit www.tropicalsky.co.uk or call 01342 885219.