Some travellers experience the British Virgin Islands by sailing on a private charter yacht for flexibility and convenience, to see as many different islands as possible. The archipelago consists of 60 islands and keys, many of which are uninhabited. The most luxurious resorts are on small, remote islands, each with their own idiosyncrasies. A couple of commonalities include American-made cars driving on the left side of the road and wild chickens roaming free in the streets.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, privateers and pirates ruled the seas here, but today tourism and offshore financial services are the most important industries. North Americans and Brits make up the largest contingent of tourists, particularly during the winter. With a population of just 26,000 residents and one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean, these idyllic islands are the perfect escape from hectic city living. You’ll meet plenty of expats working at various resorts, and the few who become permanent citizens are considered ‘belongers’ by local islanders.
Peter Island Resort & Spa
Guests stepping off the ferry at this private retreat are greeted with a refreshing cold towel and rum cocktail chock full of freshly grated ginger to soothe queasy stomachs. Thoughtful touches like these and exceedingly friendly service make every guest feel instantly at home, whether it’s your first visit or twentieth. There are just 52 rooms and three villas on the 1,800-acre island and 83 per cent of the land is left completely untouched, inhabited by wild goats and iguanas. Seclusion never leads to boredom here though – there’s far too much to explore, both on foot and at sea. Book a romantic, private afternoon at Honeymoon Beach, go beachcombing at Big Reef Bay or try snorkelling at White Bay. Take a leisurely walk or jog around the verdant island, with playful white and yellow butterflies flitting about to keep you company.
Most evenings there’s live music at dinner, and guest services manager Collin will even serenade diners with pop ballads. The lavish Saturday evening gala buffet at Tradewinds is not to be missed and the resort has the most extensive wine list in the British Virgin Islands. A new general manager and new chefs are taking the dining to ambitious new heights, incorporating more local ingredients and flavours into the menu and starting a garden centre this year. A few classics, like Jean Kelly’s coconut-crusted French toast for breakfast, will remain though.
The 10,000sqft spa is tucked away on a secluded beachfront and specialises in Ayurvedic therapies developed by Sabari, an Indian-trained naturopath. After a consultation to determine your dosha, he will prescribe the best treatments to detoxify and revitalise the body and mind. For example, a turmeric and yoghurt body wrap to cleanse and moisturise or a hot oil abhyanga massage to calm the mind and increase circulation. Sabari even blends his own dosha-specific oils and leads yoga classes open to all guests each Sunday morning. There are also more traditional body treatments, massages and facials using Natura Bissé products.
Cooper Island Beach Club
The vibe at this eco-friendly resort is casual. Feel free to dine in a bikini or swimming trunks. As many as 30 sailboats and yachts moor in the bay each evening, so even though there are just 10 rooms, the restaurant and bar are always lively. The menu is frequently changing, but trust that the food is excellent. When in doubt, order whatever is on special or ask the servers for recommendations. Locally caught yellowfin tuna served with carrot mango slaw and spicy sesame purée and a sweet and spicy West Indian vegetable roti wrap are highlights. Both pair well with the Saint Ursula cocktail – a fruity but not-too-sweet blend of Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, muddled strawberry and Prosecco served over ice.
Rooms are straightforward but clean and well-furnished in driftwood tones with tile floors. Sustainability is a core value, with more than three quarters of the energy used provided by solar power. Rainwater is collected under each guest room in cisterns and triple-filtered for drinking. Bathrooms are stocked with natural and organic bodycare from Pharmacopia. There is no air-conditioning or pool here, but there’s no need for a pool with the turquoise waters of Manchioneel Bay just steps away. The calm seas are a great place to try scuba diving or snorkelling for the first time, or paddle a kayak to nearby Salt Island. Just be sure to wear plenty of insect repellent at all times. There’s good reason for the mosquito netting over the bed.
The self-sustaining ethos extends to beverages too. Importing beer – which is 95 per cent water – was seen as too wasteful, so the beach club recently opened its own microbrewery on Cooper Island, producing lager and pale ale. A spacious boutique offers fashion-forward resort wear along with local honey, tea and spice blends while the coffee shop next door has a selection of house-made ice cream and locally roasted coffee. The small rum bar could seduce Captain Jack Sparrow with its selection of more than 100 rums from across the Caribbean and around the globe. Try flights of premium rum, sip inventive cocktails like a rum lassi or Eldermeister (a surprisingly smooth martini-inspired concoction with rum, gin, Jagermeister and St. Germain) and smoke Cuban cigars while enjoying the sunset views. Richard Branson is known to visit with his friends and family every month.