The Island Columbus called the "Fat Virgin" offers a Laid-Back Escape
Straw hat atop my head and beach bag in my basket, I pedal my bike along a shady lane to a private sun-drenched beach. With cerulean skies overhead, aqua waters and brilliant sand beckoning, I speed up so I’ll have more time to savor in a king-size hammock under a coconut palm.
A warm breeze blows, ruffling palm fronds, softening distant laughter and carrying the scent of fresh barbecued mahimahi from the beach restaurant. The ocean’s endless motion, rhythmic wave upon wave, hypnotizes and I drift off, only to be awakened by the words, “Excuse me, ma’am, I don’t mean to disturb you. Here is the piña colada you requested.”
Am I dreaming? One sip of that cool sumptuous drink brings me back. I really have checked out from the world to enjoy a long weekend on one of the Caribbean’s best-hidden secrets, Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands (BVIs) with their calm, clear waters have been known for decades as the “sailing capital” of the Caribbean. Despite their reputation, they have eluded the mainstream tourism that has inundated their neighbors, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, offering a laid-back Caribbean escape from the crowds.
The jewel of this chain of islands and islets is Virgin Gorda, the third largest. Christopher Columbus is said to have named the island “Fat Virgin” for her protruding coastline, reminding him of a voluptuous woman. Quieter than the other islands in the chain, Virgin Gorda offers the most exclusive accommodation and much more to do and see than its neighbors.
Biras Creek Resort on Virgin Gorda is my destination. The ultimate getaway—an all-inclusive island within an island and longtime hideout for the rich and famous —it is only accessible by boat from Tortola. Captain Blondie pilots our vessel through the rough channel expertly into the haven of the North Sound. Passing several mega-yachts, I see Biras Creek cradled in a valley between two mountains. The long arm of its jetty reaches out, creating a welcoming harbor.
Dusk approaching, I am brought to my suite to freshen up for dinner. There I find simple luxury with a sound system, sundeck, outdoor shower and a bicycle for exploring the property. A Relais & Châteaux property, Biras Creek has only 30 secluded ocean and garden suites, accommodating 60 people on 150 acres.
The only other living creature I see as I make my way to the Hilltop Restaurant is an iguana. An open-air pavilion greets me with sweeping views of the sun setting over the North Sound to one side and the Atlantic to the other. Clinton, in charge of the bar, hands me his special concoction, the Iguana Bite, with a chuckle and a warning: “You best not drink more than one of those!”
The next few days I explore the property and surrounds in between sessions on the hammock and free lessons on the resort’s Hobie Cats, windsurfers and sea kayaks. Each night ends with a scrumptious meal at the Hilltop.
The resort’s lush gardens are still cared for by the man who created them more than 30 years ago, Alvin. He shows me trails he hand-cut and lovingly points out turpentine trees he planted. Later, long hikes along ridgetops reveal the island’s austere beauty: arid mountains peppered with blue agave, aloe and cactus; steep cliffs dropping dramatically into the sea; gardens rich with scarlet bougainvillea and tiny orchids.
When I feel like venturing to far reaches of the island, I take a day cruise to the Baths, massive granite boulders rounded by the weathering of time, strewn along a stunning white beach. Climbing through the rocks feels like an Indiana Jones adventure as I discover hidden caves and pools where sunbeams dance across the rippling water. Emerging from the boulders, I don my mask and snorkel—an underwater turquoise adventure through rock crevices accompanied by bright tropical fish.
Near the Baths is Copper Mine National Park, an area worked by Cornish miners in the mid-1800s. The ruins include a chimney, boiler house, cistern and mine shafts in a stunning scenery with dramatic coast.
On my last afternoon, the marina staff sends me off on a Boston Whaler for an afternoon to visit a nearby beach and snorkel, then cross to the famous Bitter End for lunch. I’m back in time to board the sailing vessel for a sunset cruise and stop at the colorful Leverick Bay resort, where I dance the night away to the sultry beat of West African drums.
Image 2: Guest suite at Biras Creek Resort
Image 3: The Baths