For 30 years, Cap Juluca has been the jewel in Anguilla’s crown, set on arguably the finest beach on the island. So when we heard that experiential-travel aficionados Belmond had given the resort a revamp, wild horses couldn’t stop us being the first to check it out.
We rubbed our eyes and blinked a few times. Did we get on the wrong plane and end up in Casablanca? The view before us played tricks on our jet-lagged minds. To our right, the whitewashed, unmistakably Greco-Moorish buildings glowed almost golden in the sunset, palm trees casting dancing silhouettes upon their walls. But, like sugar-cubes sitting in a bowl of granulated powder, they melded seamlessly into an impossibly beautiful swathe of fine white sand that in turn dissolved into a hypnotic, sapphire-blue sea that could only be in the Caribbean. We were most definitely on Maundays Bay, for many people Anguilla’s best beach. And leaping out of the horizon was a perfect double-rainbow; an auspicious start to our visit to Cap Juluca, a Belmond Hotel.
Cap Juluca is legendary, lauded by OutThere travellers as one of the most coveted places to stay in the Caribbean since it first opened three decades ago. For our community of holidaymakers, laid-back Anguilla – a British Overseas Territory – was a great option in an otherwise challenging choice of Caribbean islands. This particular resort was a magnet not only because it was utterly fabulous, but because there was something in its name. Juluca was the Rainbow Spirit of the native Arawaks who once ruled the island – a mystical multicoloured god and deity said to bring luck and love to seafaring travellers. For many of us, that provided reason enough to come.
The Cap Juluca had big shoes to fill. The expectation and hype around its long-awaited re-opening had us chomping at the bit. With a rising tide of competition, especially with post-hurricane insurance dollars in the region, we were keen to see how the best would manage to stay the best.
When the news broke back in 2017 that Belmond had bought the resort, the travel industry gave a gasp. Cap Juluca needed love – and Belmond was perfectly placed to do it. More than that, it would be the first resort within the brand’s global portfolio to benefit from its new creative direction.
But, just a week after the announcement, Hurricane Irma bullied her way through the Caribbean, leaving nothing but the resort’s walls in place. It seems ol’ Juluca has a twisted sense of humour.
That left the design team at Rottet Studio with a clean slate (well, perhaps not literally, but you know what we mean) and a $121m budget to roll their sleeves up with. We caught up with the studio’s president Lauren Rottet, who shared with us her design narrative of a voyage of discovery here, finding this fine swathe of beach and building his home, then expanding it for his family, friends and other passionate explorers.
Given the Caribbean’s tempestuous social history, we winced a little at this story, but with a generous sidestep (and an opportunity to discover for ourselves what makes the property tick), we were able to enjoy the end result of Lauren’s ‘new world luxury’ approach to the resort’s redesign, which centres primarily around opening up the buildings and making the most of the incredible views, while softening and creating chic social spaces with a spirit of discovery to connect those within it to its magical surroundings.
We felt, in fact, that the new Cap Juluca implored barefoot luxury in a highly finessed environment. We roamed pie-eyed around the main house and enjoyed Rottet’s exemplary attention to detail – from the awe-striking chandelier centrepiece and bespoke floor tiles, to the lovingly mish-mashed collectibles of Anguillian craft and other keepsakes from around the world. Furnishings veered towards the natural, with plenty of island-inspired woven-reed rugs, wicker and rattan, alongside limestone tabletops carved from the island’s quarries.
Each space flowed delicately into another, from the inside out to the terrace, where we sipped champagne and grazed lazily on ceviche from the main bar, Maundays Club, soothed by water features that fed the resort’s beautiful, infinity-edged pool. It looked out to the almost perfect, crescent-shaped white-sand cove beyond, where by day we soaked up the sun on loungers and navigated the gentle ocean current on paddleboards and where on our last night we dined on a Caribbean feast, with the sound of lapping waves and the feeling of sand slipping between our toes.
The rest of the resort’s exterior is just as magical. We got lost in landscaped gardens and pathways and explored the endless species of different indigenous flowers and plants. That’s when we weren’t zooming off to breakfast on our complimentary resort bikes or hitching a lift in one of Cap Juluca’s restored, turquoise-blue VW camper vans, a story in itself that originated in Brazil.
In our suite, the outside-in, inside-out theme continued with earthy-toned, contemporary furnishings, accented with lush, eye-catching green illustrated botanical prints from the 18th and 19th centuries. The space was flooded with natural light, particularly the bathroom, which almost had an outdoor shower, the walled courtyard having no specific function except to embellish the inside-out theme from the bathtub big enough for two. Beyond our four-poster bed and billowing, lush white linen curtains, a private patio opened up to the beach, giving access to it within seconds. It was the perfect space for us to read, unwind and daydream. The resort’s higher-category spaces boast private pools and the number of bedrooms multiplies to three and five, ideal for groups of friends enjoying a milestone celebration or a multi-generational OutThere family on holiday.
Over in the Arawak Spa, Anguillian-themed treatments (crafted by our old friend Cynthia, a self-billed ‘contemporary witch doctor’ who we first met at Belmond’s property in Mexico) are on offer in a gorgeous complex with its own pool, gardens and treatment rooms overlooking the sea. If our visit during the resort’s opening already showcased some of Cynthia’s signature ‘spells’, we can’t wait to return to see what she cooks up for the future.
Speaking of cooking – and while we might have left it until last to mention the resort’s food and beverage options – Cap Juluca’s eateries are top-notch. At their most relaxed, the Cap Shack was the place to enjoy the catch of the day in a rum-shed without needing to leave the resort. Cip’s by Cipriani is a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth, offering swim-up breakfasts, from plump avocados to something more sinful and fried, and casual evening dining, with dishes inspired by the renowned CIP’s Club in Venice. Though thousands of miles may separate the two, here you can live and eat is if you were in one of Italy’s Belmonds.
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But, undoubtedly, the gastronomic highlight at Cap Juluca is chef Andrew Gaskin’s tasting menus at Pimms, which champions locally sourced, freshly prepared fine dining. While the vibe may be a little more scrubbed up (literally, as pre-dinner hand scrubbing is part of the ritual here), the food – much like the chef himself – is a rather informal and approachable affair, offering a barefoot luxury take on what was consistently delicious, perfectly prepared, modern, star-worthy cuisine.
Many are calling Cap Juluca a game-changer. On paper, we’d wholeheartedly agree. Everything is absolutely on point here and, especially when it comes to service, the Cap is a notable notch up from its otherwise laid-back Caribbean counterparts. But we realise that, operationally, it’s easy to be a game-changer when it’s your game to change. What we’re most interested in when we visit a resort like this is its soul. Beyond the multi-million-dollar facelifts, celebrity ambassadors and perfectly crafted brand stories driven by talented London-based teams, what is it that really lies at the heart of Cap Juluca? And this is particularly poignant question, because the resort is now a Belmond, whose global portfolio contains properties that each have an individual and undeniable soul and are worthy of being described as iconic.
Hopefully, time will tell. Sometimes a fine wine needs time to breathe. At the time of our visit, we felt as if they’d put the ol’ guy Juluca in a very expensive, bespoke suit, keen to parade him around and show him off to high society. In doing so, he’s not yet been able to tell the real stories of what makes him truly magical. That said, we rest assured that the spirit of Cap Juluca hasn’t been whitewashed along with the buildings and that the tales are there and will soon be told. Every so often we’d hear a little murmur of it – like from our waitress Gloria, who has worked at the Cap Juluca for 28 years. For her, staying here should always be like coming home. For Chef Gaskin, it’s about celebrating Anguilla and its natural riches. For the spa manager Cynthia, it’s about authenticity – encouraging and allowing the place to be and develop into its true self.
We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to come here to be among the first to see ol’ Juluca’s grand makeover. If you’re planning to visit soon, you’re just going to love what’s been done. But we can’t wait to come back to see how he breaks into that suit.
Anguilla is a beautiful island that has retained its natural beauty, unlike the casino-laden beachfronts of Saint Martin. As a result, it’s somewhat sleepy and its capital, The Valley, is no more than a high street. Apart from beautiful beaches, sights include the Arch, a natural wonder carved by the sea in the cliffs, and the island’s answer to a rum-shack, The Dune Preserve, owned by local celebrity Bankie Banx.