That first glimpse of land as you glide through the twilight pink clouds above the Caribbean’s British Virgin Islands is an unforgettable moment. From the window of the propeller plane, a scattering of lush green isles emerges from a cerulean blue sea: a Jurassic landscape in which little has changed since it was first spotted in 1493 by Christopher Columbus.
It’s a view that that never gets old no matter how many times you return, which is something Lucienne Smith knows all too well, having lived in the British Virgin Islands for many years. Smith moved from her native England to become a director at Smiths Gore B.V.I. Limited, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region. It’s a decision she’s never regretted. “Purchasing property in the British Virgin Islands is a deeply personal decision for a lot of people. For many it’s about quality of life, but also about having access to their own piece of paradise; their own escape from the hustle and bustle.”
Of course, you can’t talk about the British Virgin Islands without mentioning the two Category 5 hurricanes that ripped across the archipelago in September 2017. Hurricanes Irma and Maria razed houses, ripped trees from their roots, and left boats piled on top of each other at the shoreline. However today, thanks to the efforts of residents and volunteers, beaches have been cleaned up, houses rebuilt, and, in many areas, you’d hardly know there had been hurricanes at all.
Life on the Water
Much of life in the British Virgin Islands revolves around the water. “There are regattas and events throughout the year, and of course people come here on megayacht charter vacations all the time,” says Smith. “Some private islands offer entertainment packages involving treasure hunts for children and romantic dinners on your own private beach. Motor cruising, diving, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kitesurfing are also huge here.”
Among vacationers and locals, Anegada is one of the most popular places to charter a yacht for the weekend. This is the only coral island in the archipelago and the longest isle in the Caribbean at 39 miles (62 km), including the 18-mile (29 km) Horseshoe Reef. Anegada’s network of reefs, tunnels, drop-offs, and shipwrecks offer spectacular snorkeling and diving opportunities, while sandy beaches and coves including Cow Wreck Beach, Flash of Beauty, Bones Bight, and Windlass Bight are ideal for those looking to relax in seclusion.
Purchasing property in the British Virgin Islands is about quality of life, but also about having access to their own piece of paradise; their own escape from the hustle and bustle—Lucienne Smith
Humpback whales can be spotted from December to April, and, in July, Savannah Bay and Nanny Cay fill with Puerto Rican revelers, who come in their thousands to celebrate the annual Christmas in July weekend festivities.
Things to Do
If exploration beckons (we are in Christopher Columbus territory, after all), Smith recommends chartering a boat to The Baths—a unique collection of natural rock formations and pools at the west end of Virgin Gorda, the third largest island in the territory. Follow this by lunch at Cooper Island Beach Club, which boasts a restaurant, brewery, rum bar, artisanal ice cream and coffee shop, and a boutique. After a day in the sun, head back to base for a Painkiller cocktail—a potent mix of rum, crème de coco, orange and pineapple juice, with a sprinkling of cinnamon. There may not be much call for killing pain here, but Smith explains that it’s all part of the experience.
Where to Dine
“Dotted around the islands you can find really excellent foot-in-sand restaurants and bars, and you can find some really upscale places serving all kinds of cuisines,” says Smith. Close to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, CocoMaya is a fine dining Asian fusion restaurant with a laid-back atmosphere. Meanwhile, just a short drive from Gun Creek is Sugarcane, a restaurant with a gorgeous outlook over a private golf course.
Related: Discover the Cayman Island Life
Jost Van Dyke, a smaller island on the north side of the British Virgin Islands with just 300 inhabitants, is a destination in and of itself, with many great restaurants and bars serving barbecue, Caribbean cuisine, flying-fish sandwiches, grilled fresh fish and lobster, while Great Harbour on the south side of the island is world-famous for its parties on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
On Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, Smith recommends an evening at Brandywine Estate. “It’s a stylish restaurant with great food and service. It has a more informal sister restaurant with a rooftop that puts on parties at the weekend,” says Smith. “And the food—and fine wines—are never bad at Sugar Mill, part of a boutique resort with a lovely setting. At the same resort, Tramonti is right on the water. It offers a simpler menu in a beachside setting.”
New for 2020
In Summer 2020, the most famous restaurant in the British Virgin Islands will reopen for the first time since Hurricane Irma. Saba Rock sits on its own small island equidistant from the shores of Virgin Gorda and Prickly Pear Island, with Eustatia Island, the idyll owned by Google cofounder Larry Page, just to the north. The new iteration will feature hotel rooms and reinstate the tradition of feeding giant tarpon sharks from the deck at cocktail hour.
Rosewood Little Dix Bay has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation and sits back from half a mile (0.8 ha) of crescent beach and the untamed wilderness of Virgin Gorda. The original charm remains but it now has a contemporary elegance and boasts a beautiful new boutique and outdoor dining area. Not far away, stunning Oil Nut Bay, a resort on Virgin Gorda accessible only by boat and helicopter, offers exceptional rental villas and home, as well as four piers and 93 boat slips. In addition it boasts a destination restaurant with a laid-back vibe, a boutique to stock up on home comforts, locally made fashion, and British Virgin Island gin, and a library.
“What appeals to people here is the inclusivity,” says Smith. “At any given time, you could have an entrepreneur from silicon valley sat on one bar stool; the guy who fixes dinghies on the next; a woman who teaches medicine at Harvard on the next; and a photographer next to her. It’s liberating to live here because of the diversity. What’s more, every day you wake up seeing views that will sustain you.”
Banner image: Alamy