Thirty-three white sandy beaches. A hundred good eateries. And a literary festival from May 19 to 22 this year, with sparkling conversations not far from sparkling blue seas.
The small Caribbean island haven of Anguilla can offer laid-back upscale escape or low-key lovely leisure. Balm triumphs buzz. Not being seen is more important than being seen. Recharging is more important than charging.
Unless, of course, you time your visit for May, when Anguilla hosts a holiday treat for mind as well as body and spirit with its fifth annual Jollification Literary Festival at Paradise Cove (www.anguillalitfest.com).
Featured authors this year range from New York Times Best seller Kristina Baker Kline (Orphan Train) to Caribbean luminaries Colin Channer (founder of Jamaica's Calabash International Literary Festival) and story-teller Paul Keens-Douglas.
This year's festival will also feature mystery and crime writers, including Kate White (former editor of Cosmo), Alafair Burke (the popular Ellie Hatcher series), and Valerie Wilson Wesley (former Editor of Essence).
Last spring, I enjoyed being a bookworm and beach bum, when my first visit to Anguilla combined tourist pleasures with the festival's mental fuel and social experiences. "Jollification" is a Caribbean term referring both to a time to pull together for a shared aim and to a gathering for celebration and mutual help.
Local school children, tourists, and distinguished Anguillans enjoyed the Festival's panels, question sessions, and mingling opportunities — including a cocktail party with local artists and poets, and the Governor of the Island Kristina Scot.
While the writers helped and inspired attendees, Anguilla also inspired the visiting authors. Krista Bremer, visiting Anguilla for the first time, was moved by the beauty around her and quipped, "I always thought those posters were Photoshopped. I can't believe those colours are real."
THE GOOD BLUES
This British overseas territory's motto, "Tranquility wrapped in blue. Find your shade of blue," poses a lovely challenge in a realm where blues and turquoises stretch out to the horizon and down in warm seas. Snorkelling, parasailing, kayaking, and sand-napping are all good ways to seek your blue.
For the actress Annie Potts, also a part-time Anguillan, you could say the right shade of blue was the hue of her blue swim goggles. She lent them, years ago, to a local boy who couldn't speak. That started a friendship that inspired her to write "Kemarlay of Anguilla." She illustrated the story with her own bright drawings, and proceeds go to the Arijah Children's Foundation to help young people with special needs.
Caribbean travel expert and writer Sue Campbell likes to immerse herself in the liquid blues. She actually became a mermaid for a day at Anguilla's new Mermaid School International, a first of its kind in the Caribbean.
I sought the blues on horseback. Tonia Richardson, at Seaside Stables in Cove Bay, takes riders along the coast, through fields, then into warm bay waters while on the horses. I also enjoyed floating on the blues before a lobster feast on Sandy Bay Island, thanks to the boat tour of Shoal Bay Scuba.
English is the dominant language in this small Caribbean territory of the U.K., but Anguilla enjoys its own culture. Generations of Anguillan heritage are celebrated in local community festivals throughout the year. When I was there, the literary festival was followed by the Welches Festival. The sounds of live music and children laughing mingled with the slapping percussion of fast-played dominoes.
Anguilla offers laid back and luxurious in its 90 square kilometres. Visitors can opt to stay in private villas with staff or without staff. Many guests of the literary festival stayed at the nearby, upscale CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa, with its seaside activities, beautiful suites, gardens, pampering, pools and multiple eateries.
The less-expensive Anacaona Boutique Hotel, further away, offers some good rooms for the more budget conscious. This west-end resort has tropical gardens, two pools, lovely staff and good food on the tropical grounds.
Most travellers to Anguilla arrive by ferry after flying into St. Martin, a Caribbean island that is part Dutch and part French. To begin my Anguilla time rested, I spent a night on St. Martin at Mary's Boon Beach Resort and Spa, a colourful place full of character and characters.
If you are looking for literary characters, the upcoming Jollification Literary Festival is a place to pursue your joys, whether you are seeking mysteries, muses, or mermaids. Once you're there, you also can seek your right combination of books and beaches and your own shade of blue for the tranquility of Anguilla.