British Virgin Islands | Country & Town House
Country & Town House Magazine | October 2013
Like a Virgin
The British Virgin Islands may be a playground for the mega-rich, but the vibe is distinctly laid-back – with watersports at the top of the agenda. Laura Ivill goes island-hopping.
Dead Man’s Chest, Scrub Island, Devil’s Bay, Frenchman’s Cay, Smuggler’s Cove – are we on set forPirates of the Caribbean? Head out to the unspoilt British Virgin Islands and explore them for real, as the BVI was inspiration for the films’ scriptwriters, where cut-throat sailors of old really did mutiny aboard mercenary galleons seeking treasure on the high seas.
Flying in by light aircraft, steep hillsides of lush vegetation that make up this enchanting archipelago are laid out before you – up to 60 islands, islets and cays. Clusters of yacht masts nestling in white-sand coves below are the only sign that this is where the well-heeled relax. In contrast to much of the Caribbean’s gated enclaves and beach hassle, the BVI emerges as a peaceful, natural, upscale playground for anyone who loves being near the water.
Building development has been kept fiercely in check and much of the 59 square miles of this British Overseas Territory are national parks, both on and under the water. Most of the 28,000 inhabitants live on the main island of Tortola; elsewhere a smattering of marinas, beachfront villages and resorts dot the coastlines; the majority of the lesser islands are uninhabited. Charter boat companies, sailing schools and dive companies thrive in its sheltered waters, and the vibe is so easy-going that rooms are let without keys.
Getting there: Virgin and British Airways fly to Antigua, then a light aircraft takes you on to the BVI in one hour. Public ferries and private-island transfers get you around. bvitourism.co.uk
Guana Private Island
Best for: Romantic nature-lovers
The vibe: Guana Island is a private wildlife sanctuary, all white-washed beach-chic, overlooking a turquoise Caribbean bay to one side and the wilder Atlantic Ocean to the other, with just the sound of crickets and the waves for company. Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz holidayed in the secluded North Beach Cottage, and discretion is key. All of the 15 cottages are unique, with shuttered windows, wicker lamps and shades and upcycled wooden chests. Take meals in the lush garden, lit by lanterns and candlelight in the pitch-black evenings, or ask for lunch on White Bay Beach.
While you’re there: Hiking trails criss-cross the island’s 850 acres. Native Caribbean flamingos gather in the vast salt pond that was once a sugar plantation and herons, sandpipers, pelicans, boobies, kestrels and owls are found all over. The little snakes are harmless, as are the timid 6ft iguanas – only the lucky will spot one.
Book it: Doubles from $695, including meals and boat transfers. guana.com
Jewels of the BVI
Best for: Island-hopping explorers
The Vibe: A BVI ‘Jewel’ is a guesthouse, inn or hotel owned and run by locals, and there’s a whole cluster to choose from. All are rated for quality and character. The Mongoose Apartments (from $145), a stone’s throw from one of the most stunning beaches on Tortola, are brightly decorated in Caribbean style with ceiling fans and oil lamps. The white coral sand is spectacular – watch boats come and go and pelicans dive for their lunch.
While you’re there: Hop on the inter-island ferry to Virgin Gorda. The natural rock formations of granite boulders on the southwest tip create a dry microclimate and The Baths (where sailors of old used to do their laundry) is an idyllic, sheltered spot for a swim. Here Guavaberry Spring Bay has 20 apartments nestling in treetops (from $150 per night). Relax on your verandah surrounded by hibiscus, oleander and the hanging roots of the banyan tree.
Book it: Most BVI Jewel rooms or apartments cost around $100-$200 per night. jewelsofthebvi.com
Skippered yacht charters
Best for: Freedom-loving luxists
The vibe: The BVI is called the ‘sailing capital of the Caribbean’ for good reason – it’s a yachties’ paradise. With sheltered bays, pristine islands clustered together and fair winds, you are never far from the next anchorage for a snorkel, lunch and a round of rum cocktails. The Moorings has one of the most modern fleets, including three brand-new catamarans (the 5800) sleeping 10, all ensuite. With a skipper and even crew in separate quarters, you are taken to all the best bars, bays and islets without having to lift a finger.
While you’re there: Getting on the water is your passport to freedom. Prickly Pear Island is a national park and a favourite spot for a morning’s sunbathing where shoals of fish play in the shallows. Ask for a kayak and a paddle board aboard and explore the virgin coastline at leisure.
Book it: The Moorings’ all-inclusive yacht charter costs from £775 per day, sleeping up to six. moorings.co.uk
Bitter End Yacht Club
Best for: Watersports-mad families
The vibe: An institution, this is the place to come to learn to sail. It’s a yacht club resort with a sailing school, mile-long beach, villas amid bougainvilla, and is stacked to the rafters with kit, all included in your stay. A dive centre, kids’ club, spa, marina, bars, restaurants and an outdoor cinema and sports screen keep you entertained from dawn till dusk, yet it’s all very relaxed, Caribbean style. Crew from the megayachts like to come for a beer in the sunset bar, perfect for a sundowner as the sky melts from pale blue to orange-pink.
While you’re there: Choose a different craft each day – Hobies, Lasers, J-24s, Optimists, Boston Whalers, kayaks, plus windsurfers and kitesurfers. If you need to polish up your skills, the sailing school offers tuition for all ages and levels (some charges are made). It’s a safe spot for kids to learn confidence.
Book it: Doubles from $454 per night all inclusive. beyc.com
Oil Nut Bay
Best for: Easy-going millionaires
The vibe: With Richard Branson’s Necker Island and Larry ‘Google’ Page’s Eustacia Island as neighbours, Oil Nut Bay is a high-end new-build community. Accessible by boat or helicopter to the remote northeast tip of Virgin Gorda, those who love the BVI lifestyle will find much to rave about. The resort looks down to sea over swathes of bright bougainvilla, lush landscaped gardens and swimming pools. With the feel of a private island, freehold plots cost upwards of $2.4 million. Iguanas bask on the paths and clouds of white butterflies swarm around the tropical gardens.
While you’re there: Try before you buy? Oil Nut Bay has three cliffside suites for rent, along with private villas. A wellness centre is being built, alongside tennis and sports courts; kayaks and Hobies are free to use and a Nature Centre for kids has just been completed.
Book it: The one-bed Cliff Suites cost from $1,500 per night. oilnutbay.com