REVIEW: Belmond Cap Juluca

Belmond completes the US$121 million renovation and redesign of its Caribbean flagship, implementing a scheme that encapsulates timeless elegance and laid-back luxury.

Barefoot luxury is one of those expressions that’s liberally applied to so many resort destinations that somewhere along the way, it lost all value. There’s a growing number of properties however that are bringing new meaning to the phrase, elevating it to a level where comfort and elegance triumph over excess and extravagance, there’s a reconnection with the natural world, and every detail, down to the texture of the tiles underfoot, evokes a sense of luxury in its purest form. Belmond Cap Juluca is such a place.

Located on the shores of Maundays Bay on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, the property has undergone a US$121 million renovation and redesign, having been acquired by Belmond in 2017. Despite already boasting a loyal following, the owner-operator was keen to put its own stamp on the resort, creating a new flagship in the process. “As the first resort within the global portfolio to be reimagined under the group’s new art direction and brand guidelines, we wanted Belmond Cap Juluca to encapsulate the art of living well and create a world of timeless glamour and laid-back luxury,” explains Celia Geyer, Belmond’s Senior Vice President of Design, Construction & Project Development. “The beautiful new design pays homage to the surrounding landscape and Anguilla’s most scenic beach; blending the old-world charms of Marco Polo’s travels with new world comforts,” she continues. “It’s also about intrigue and allowing guests to feel relaxed, we wanted to invite them in to a world of exploration and discovery as part of the experience.”

Working with HKS and Rottet Studio, the refurbishment touched every corner of the resort and included the addition of an infinity-edge swimming pool, the Arawak Spa and a new events pavilion perched on the hilltop. The resort itself spans the length of the crescent-shaped bay, with the public spaces occupying the main house and guestrooms situated within the 23 villas dotted along the 2.4km stretch of pristine white sand. “An element that was really important to this project was to celebrate the spectacular views of Maundays Bay, so throughout the resort, we designed all areas to frame the incredible view whilst blending in with the existing signature Greco-Moorish architecture,” confirms Geyer. And this is evident from the off. On arrival, guests are invited to check-in at the main house, where an open-air lounge and palm-lined terraces await, and rounded arches give way to a sweeping panorama that takes in the entire bay. Without a doubt, it’s a welcome with the wow-factor, and it’s here that guests are enticed to kick-off their shoes and feel the texture of the handmade, custom in-laid tiles on their toes.

The project was not without its setbacks, however. The team was deep in schematic design in the summer of 2017 when two devastating hurricanes ravaged the island and caused serious damage to the resort. “Our challenge was to restore Belmond Cap Juluca to its former glory and seamlessly integrate the new buildings with the renovation of the existing structures,” says Geyer, noting that additional measures were taken to futureproof the property. “My favourite part of the project was to see it all come together in record time, overcoming incredible challenges such as the logistics of an entire region trying to rebuild itself.”

Architecture firm HKS was responsible for the expansion of the resort’s footprint as well as the structural definition of the main house, where the space was reconfigured into a series of public areas – a library, games room and boutique – designed for exploring at leisure. A monumental brass chandelier embellished with tassels sits beneath a domed ceiling, while interiors reflect the style of a private residence that, over the decades has acquired curios and keepsakes from around the globe. The design scheme, conceived by Rottet Studio, is one of timeless elegance, with a richly layered, authentic narrative that honours the location. “Selecting natural materials and finding colour inspiration in the landscape allowed us to be genuine in our design approach and reconnect with the surroundings,” explains Lauren Rottet, the studio’s founder. Having spent months analysing the motion of the waves, the gentle breeze and the angles of the sun throughout the day, Rottet devised a scheme that harmonises with the landscape and enhances the views, rather than trying to compete with them. That said, the new pool is something of a showstopper. Designed for sipping champagne alongside rather than swimming in, the Moroccan-style water feature is clad in handmade, emerald glaze tiles and surrounded by palms along with all-weather teak armchairs from Palecek, providing the ideal spot for a sundowner.

Materials too, take their cues from the landscape, with many sourced from across the region or designed bespoke by Rottet Studio. The limestone that tops the bedside tables and credenzas in the guestrooms was harvested locally from the same cliffs that bear carvings of the Arawak God Juluca; the floor and ceiling tiles of Cip’s are in varying shades of green to coordinate with the lush foliage planted throughout the resort; and fringed hammocks were handwoven in South America. Accessories, such as the throws handmade in Marrakech, and the decorative brass bowls cast in India, tell the story of early European settlers, who came here in the 1600s with treasured antiques and curios from their travels.

“The resort features a mix of vintage and contemporary pieces that create a tranquil, residential mood throughout the interiors,” Rottet continues. “A European dining table dating from the 1830s is positioned alongside contemporary, custom-designed furniture, imparting a quirky, eclectic vibe, reminiscent of a historical home. We also curated a collection of chairs that showcase traditional weaving styles typically associated with tropical furniture,” she adds. “These historically appropriate techniques include handmade caning, braided abaca rope, handwoven rush and sea grass, and a mixture of palm rattan, teak root and mahogany frames.”

Anguillan heritage and local craftsmanship continue to the guestrooms, which can be accessed both from the beach or via meandering pathways through the landscaped gardens. Honest materials and natural tones in both the bedrooms and spacious en suites are complemented by botanical prints and potted plants, while wall-to-wall sliding doors open up to a spacious veranda, with views once again framed by the architecture.

Although Belmond Cap Juluca is firmly rooted in the locale, its food and beverage programme tours the globe. Alongside Pimms, which champions healthy Anguillan and Caribbean cuisine, there’s Maundays Club, serving Peruvian tapas on the terrace, and Cip’s by Cipriani, inspired by the famed Cip’s Club in Venice. At the far end of the beach, The Cap Shack – a simply constructed hut that is the epitome of Caribbean life – serves creative rum punches to the sound of calypso and reggae,  and perhaps even more surprising for a luxury brand, is the vintage food truck that was setting up for the season during Sleeper’s visit.

A new spa, state-of-the-art fitness centre, tennis courts and water sports contribute to a rounded resort experience, however it’s the authentic design scheme and connection with the locale that really impresses, and which led Belmond Cap Juluca to be crowned best resort at the recent AHEAD Americas awards. The judging panel praised the team for ushering in a new era of luxury while preserving the charm of the original property, stating that Belmond has shown there’s a place for innovation in a sector of the market so often curtailed by clichés.

For Geyer, who spent the best part of three months living on site to see through completion, the project is one she’s particularly proud of. “It’s a very special place,” she concludes, adding that the challenges, setbacks and time constraints led to incredible teamwork, which eventually paid off. “Sitting on the terrace next to the pool at Maundays Club, sipping a cocktail, it was truly amazing to see this barefoot luxury destination completed in full Belmond glory.”

Words: Catherine Martin
Images: Courtesy of Belmond

This review originally ran in Sleeper 85.