If the cruise ships and tourist hoards docking at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands make the chain a little too bustling for your Caribbean vacation, head further east to the quieter British Virgin Islands (BVI). They’re harder to get to but that’s a plus: with no direct flights from the mainland (you’ll be changing planes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, or St. Thomas), the extra stop keeps the crowds away. Once there, if the rustic main island of Tortola is too developed for your tastes, then continue on to serene Virgin Gorda, home to only 3,000 residents, the world-famous Baths and a handful of luxury resorts.
The generally dry and scrubby landscape and the island’s coral origins (as opposed to other, more lush and volcanic islands in the Caribbean) translate into glowing white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Laurance Rockefeller was just one of many visitors to be taken with the island’s appeal and in 1964 he opened Little Dix Bay, which remains one of the island’s leading luxury resorts.
The property consists of a string of villas laid out like a necklace along the bay, one of Virgin Gorda’s most stunning. While the resort boasts nearly 50 years’ experience welcoming guests, the rooms have been refurbished repeatedly and don’t have the dated look of its sister resort, Caneel Bay, on nearby St. John.
Little Dix Bay arranges day trips to Caneel Bay aboard a high-speed ferry boat, as well as to The Baths and other beaches on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are the most famous sight on Virgin Gorda, if not in the entire BVIs. A jumble of granite boulders, eroded by the wind and surf, form a series of aquatic chambers and coves that can be explored on a quarter-mile hike. Almost as famous as The Baths is the Soggy Dollar Bar on nearby Jost Van Dyke. The only way to reach the bar, at which the Painkiller (a rum, pineapple, coconut, and orange juice concoction) was invented, is by wading through the surf (hence, the name).
The BVI’s are also known worldwide for their incredible sailing thanks to the consistent trade winds and friendly line-of-site navigation thanks to all the islands. Board the luxury catamaran Vision for a full-day or half-day sail, or to watch the sunset paint the horizon. For a fully immersive experience, combine your resort stay with an extended sea escape of at least two nights in luxurious cabins.
Whether your palate calls for slow-cooked comfort fare or bold Caribbean flair, every culinary journey here is a delicious interplay of fresh local ingredients from farm and sea, in an ambiance of sublime island ease and colonial refinement. Enjoy the adventure of an eclectic mix of restaurants and creative concoctions, plus mix it up with a weekly themed dinner event—perhaps a seafood feast or an exploration of Indian spices.
If Little Dix Bay is the granddaddy of Virgin Gorda resorts, Aquamare is the flashy newcomer. Opened in 2008 on Mahoe Bay, on the island’s west coast, Aquamare has three, five-bedroom, 8,000 square-foot villas, each accommodating up to 12 guests. You can rent one, or all three, for a blowout celebration with 30 of your closest friends.