Virgin Gorda—Nature’s Little Secret

Find the best resorts, attractions and restaurants on the third largest of the British Virgin Islands.

I walk into an Aquamare villa on Virgin Gorda and gasp. The ethereal beauty of the luxurious villa with its 30-foot vaulted ceilings, exquisite furnishings and enormous glass doors opening to an infinity pool and the great blue beyond of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is worth savoring—if just for a few moments.

You see, I’m not actually staying at Aquamare, with beginning prices at $20,350 per week in high season and frequented by the likes of Harrison Ford. But, a girl can dream. And it’s so easy to dream here, on this island that is one of “Nature’s Little Secrets,” as they say in the BVI. Virgin Gorda is perhaps not as well known as some more touristy islands, but when it comes to Caribbean splendor, this natural beauty pulls out all the stops.

Virgin Gorda is the third-largest island of the BVI, striking a chord with even Christopher Columbus, who came upon the island and thought its picturesque silhouette resembled that of a shapely woman, naming it Virgin Gorda, or “Fat Virgin.” Hundreds of years later, Laurance S. Rockefeller became enamored with its pristine beauty and stunning emerald vistas. He set about creating one of the most idyllic resorts in the Caribbean, Little Dix Bay, just around the bend from where Aquamare is now located. (More on that resort later.)

Stonehenge of the Caribbean

No one can visit Virgin Gorda without seeing The Baths, a natural phenomena of enormous granite boulders piled up at water’s edge like a natural version of Stonehenge. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the BVI. The formations create amazing natural cathedrals and grottos with sunlight streaming through to crystal wading pools. Plan on lunch at the Top of the Baths restaurant to complement your grotto wanderings.

Also interesting to visit are the Copper Mine ruins on the southeast tip of the island, a pretty picture at cliff’s edge with mine remains from more than 150 years ago. To quench your thirst, stop by the funky nearby Mineshaft Café before heading to Gorda Peak, the highest point on Virgin Gorda, for stunning vistas.

A favorite restaurant on the island (outside of resort dining) is The Rock Café in the valley. The café, which features a piano bar and entrées ranging from $19 to $40, is set amidst huge boulders like that at the Baths. Who needs walls when nature can provide them?

Balance in Nature—and Resorts

Life on Virgin Gorda revolves mostly around its fine resorts and villas. At front and center is Little Dix Bay, a Rosewood Resort, situated on a crescent-shaped beach shaded with palm trees. Most of the luxury accommodations are steps from the beach, offering an elegant simplicity where less is more, so the focus is on the beautiful surroundings. Ixora shrubs with pink flowers line stone walkways, fishtail palms bend with the gentle breeze and a mahogany preserve offers welcoming shade. There are 500 acres of such beauty.

But at the heart of Little Dix is its beach and Polynesian-styled pavilion for waterside dining, with many visitors choosing to go no further. That is, of course, until they discover the Sense spa. The spa’s offerings are decadent, and the infinity pool seemingly falls off directly into the Caribbean Sea. It’s hard to imagine a setting more calming for inner balance.

A highlight of visiting Little Dix is the private water taxi beach drop service—a resort boat whisks guests to the stunning beach of their choice nearby and returns later to pick them up. The resort also has one of the best kids’ facilities in the Caribbean, the Children’s Grove, with myriad fun activities.

For a special meal when the sun goes down, the resort offers fine dining at the Sugar Mill restaurant (entrées mostly $30 to $40; meal plans are available, which include discounts for families), and for extra romance, guests may choose a special spot on the beach for candlelight dining ($75 extra).

Snorkeling, Sugar Mill Stays and Yachter’s Paradise

All along Virgin Gorda’s shores are waters ideal for snorkeling (and scuba diving). In addition to the Baths, one of the best snorkeling sites is Mountain Trunk, just below the 148-acre Nail Bay villa enclave. Among the villas for rent is one modeled after a historic sugar mill, its circular stone building featuring two residence levels overlooking the sea with a rooftop pool ($530 per night and up). It makes for an interesting stay, in sync with the island’s storied history of sugar production.

The island is also known as being a sailor’s paradise with no better place to park your boat than at the Bitter End Yacht Club, a sailor’s delight in Virgin Gorda’s North Sound for more than 35 years. It’s likely that any sailor worth his mettle has stopped by the yacht club at some point. Created by a couple who wanted their children and grandchildren to learn about and enjoy the seafaring world, the beachside resort is still family run. Reachable only by sea—ferry or private boat—the resort has 85 cottages and villas ($630 and up per night), with brown clapboard interiors as pretty as any on a luxury sailboat. There are also several restaurants, including the lively English Pub.

Bitter End also has a wide boat rental fleet to enjoy with everything from Hobies and Lasers to Hunters, Boston Whalers, Vanguards and more. Hourly rentals start at $40 with 50 percent off each additional hour (use of the Club Fleet is included in vacation packages). In addition, sailing, windsurfing and kite-boarding lessons are all available, including summer programs for child sailing students (age restrictions and swim tests required).

Non-sailing activities include a nightly kid’s movie followed by one for adults (during family fun weeks throughout the year) and various partial and full-day tours. A treat is a snorkeling tour including Eustatia Reef, which features forests of bright orange elkhorn coral, an endangered species. The reef is just off adventurer/mogul Richard Branson’s private Necker Island (which can be rented out in its entirety for a mere $51,000 per night). [Read more about Private Island Resorts.]

The North Sound has two other nice resort properties: Biras Creek Resort, a more secluded resort around the bend from Bitter End (rates start at $700 per night), with lovely, rugged natural surroundings traversed mostly via bikes; across the bay, the pastel buildings of the casual Leverick Bay Resort & Marina are tucked into the hillside, a Virgin Gorda bargain with rates starting at $119 per night (though the beach below is small and busy with adjacent marina traffic). But like everything on Virgin Gorda, all the North Sound resorts blend in well with their surroundings—no five-story monoliths disturb the natural beauty.

So now that I’ve let you in on the little secret that is Virgin Gorda, visit and soak in the tranquility of the island that’s cast a spell over so many. You’ll find yourself returning time and again, but perhaps wanting to keep the secret all to yourself.

Destinations: British Virgin Islands, Caribbean, Virgin Gorda

Themes: Beach Vacations, Romantic Getaways

Activities: Scuba Diving, Sightseeing, Snorkeling, Swimming, Boating