Watersports, white-sand beaches and even the occasional flamingo; Stylist’s editorial assistant Moya Lothian-McLean uncovers the variety on offer in the British Virgin Islands
Here is an important discovery: I am a natural at paddleboarding. Possibly even better than Orlando Bloom. I get on the board, I stay on the board and nothing shall shift me. However, mastering the art of balancing on a big plank is made easier when you’re doing so in the midst of an extremely calm – and gorgeously aquamarine – Caribbean Sea, in sight of a white-powder shore hemming 850 acres of tropical forest. Fear of failure is removed when there’s 27°C water to break the fall.
The blindingly white beach I’m floating towards belongs to Guana Island, one of the few remaining privately owned pieces of land that make up the British Virgin Islands (BVI). As a destination, this group of 60 unspoilt islands has, until recently, been a mystery –a collection of secluded beaches topped by lush vegetation lapped by sky-blue seas. In short, straight-up, no-bones-about-it paradise. It’s been dismissed as a billionaire’s playground – Richard Branson and Google co-founder Larry Page are two such examples with islands of their own (they often play pranks on each other from their respective bases, a local guide tells me). But the promise of 365-days-a-year warmth (December’s 21°C low would be considered a fine summer day in the UK) and incredible variety between each island has seen the BVI climb travel lists over the last few years. The only cumbersome part is getting there: fly direct to Antigua and, from there, catch a domestic flight – which, if you’re lucky enough to travel at sunset like I was, affords stunning panoramic views.
Guana Island –a private resort-cum-nature reserve with flamingos, iguanas and tortoises among its residents – is the first stop on my 10-day tour of three of the BVI’s 15 inhabited islands; basically three separate holidays in one trip. With 36 guests at maximum capacity and sparse Wi-Fi, Guana is a true getaway. I’m staying in the island’s only three-bedroom villa, Jost House, although the sea-view cottages are cosy and close to the delicious orchard-to-table meals on offer at Guana’s main house. The villa provides an expansive space to pitch up at after a day on the beach or, for the more adventurous, a hike across 12 miles of trails. My suite has a luxurious stroll-in shower, plus a whirlpool bath and pool overlooking the spectacular Technicolour landscape; definite honeymoon territory.
The closest I’ve ever been to a yacht is the dock at Surrey Quays. I have a horrible suspicion I get seasick, so I’m not harbouring (sorry) high hopes for Bitter End. Luckily, I’ve got it all wrong. A 40 minute boat journey from Guana, Bitter End offers mooring and access to its numerous facilities if you’re lucky enough to own your own boat. Alternatively you can spend nights in a luxe beachside cabin, complete with requisite hammock. Bitter End is the BVI’s biggest watersports provider, and I spend my days working off their renowned key lime pie (an engineering marvel; the difficulty of making chilled desserts in 30°C heat cannot be overestimated) with a mix of kayaking, swimming and refining my paddleboarding skills. Day trips are also on the agenda, including a visit to geological phenomenon, The Baths.
While on the island, I take the opportunity to breakfast at Sugar Apple, a cafe known for serving fried fish and Johnnycakes [cornmeal flatbread] made by owner Cynthia, an émigré – like many BVI inhabitants – who hails from St Vincent. Which gives me direction for my post-Brexit plans…
Despite it being low season (November to June is the peak period for boat-borne visitors) there’s plenty to occupy me, including an obligatory snorkel that reveals the thriving microcosm that Sir David Attenborough is always talking about. I spot what I believe to be an angel fish, sea urchins (angry, spiky, malevolent – bad hombres) and a host of other sea life I can’t name. This is trumped a day later when I swap the busy atmosphere of BitterEnd for the dreamy ambiance of Anegada Beach Club, a three-hour sail north. In the waters there, I come face-to-face with a stingray. I can tell we’re both wondering how we ended up somewhere this perfect, a feeling that continues as I wander back to my beachfront tent. It’s more akin to a cabin; you can roll up exterior flaps to usher in the sun or block out infrequent rain showers, but it’s built around reassuringly solid foundations. Plus, standard camping trips don’t tend to include a copper design aesthetic – or a standalone shower.
Exploring Anegada leads to one of my favourite moments of the trip. While walking along the island’s sole road, I come across one of its seemingly infinite salt ponds. My camera can’t quite capture the swathes of rippled sand topped with beautiful glassy, azure water. So I put the snapper down and meditate on 10 days spent in unmistakably individual and incredible destinations. And begin scheming my return.
10 nights in the British Virgin Islands (including three nights at Guana Island, four nights at Bitter End Yacht Club and three nights at Anegada Beach Club) from £3775pp with Turquoise Holidays; turquoiseholidays.co.uk. Flights with Virgin Atlantic from 473pp; interconnecting flights with InterCaribbean from 196pp; intercaribbean.com. For more information visit bvitourism.co.uk.