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The Keys, Please...

A six-bedroom villa perched high on Peter Island may be the ultimate in new Caribbean luxury. Richard David Story reports.

Not long after I arrived at the new Falcon’s Nest Villa Estate on Peter Island, I thought of that line from Charade, Stanley Donen’s chic romantic thriller set in sixties Paris. "Do you know what’s wrong with you?" Audrey Hepburn says to Cary Grant, teetering between falling in love and utter disdain. "Absolutely nothing." Mind you, I was neither in Paris nor in the throes of a complicated love affair but was instead all by myself in a six-bedroom, 21,645-square-foot mountaintop villa on which the vanilla-white stucco had barely dried. In fact, I had just settled in poolside, stretching out on a sumptuous white cotton–covered chaise. It was about six in the evening, the sun was setting over the British Virgin Islands. I had a copy of the FT’s How to Spend It magazine in one hand, a planter’s punch in the other.

I was to have been the first guest at Falcon’s Nest, my re­­porter’s notepad and pen at the ready. Instead a Swiss family who had been coming to the island for years had pleaded and begged that their party of 11 be the first to stay here. But then, Peter Island has always had its devotees, who liked that this small, privately owned (by the Van Andel family since 1979) BV island had only one worthy place to stay—the Peter Island Resort—as well as only one place to eat, shop, and dock their boats. Nothing much ever changed here—until now.

At $20,000 a night in peak season, expectations run high. Construction problems delayed the opening of the property for more than two years. In fact, initial designs for the villa were scrapped midway through its construction and the whole project started over again. Finally, this past May, departures was given the first on-site look. (For publication, that is: The Swiss Family 11 were the official First Guests.) What we saw and experienced did not disappoint.

If your tastes run to the small and cozy, or should you believe less is more, stop reading. This grand whitewashed hilltop palace has a few stats you should know. The "house"— a main villa with two adjoining wings designed by Robert Kelly, of the design firm Cooper Carry—is 21,645 square feet. Each of the six bedrooms has its own elaborate bath­room with an LED-lit "rain" shower, infinity whirlpool, and enough space left over for the entire family to take yoga lessons. But of course that extra square footage isn’t really necessary: Downstairs is an exercise room with an adjoining bedroom for those traveling with, say, their nanny. The views are extraordinary everywhere you look but especially from the living room, a stylish mix of deep glamour and Caribbean minimalism with Emperador marble floors, elaborate onyx mosaics in the entryway, and teakwood through­out (for both aesthetic reasons and durability in the tropical climate). In the adjoining room sits the dining table, which can ac­­commo­date 12 and was carved from solid slabs of English elm.

But it’s perhaps by the infinity pool that Falcon’s Nest is at its most dramatic, appearing to extend out to sea—or in this case, over the entire Caribbean itself. There’s a bar and a covered grill for those who prefer their lobster tails charred pool­side. There is even a waterfall, which seemed a bit over the top. But then again this is a house that pulls out all the stops. It’s neither shy nor retiring. It was obviously created for entertaining.

Here, too, you will eat well, ex­­tremely well—and exactly as you like. The on-site chef, Keenan Fifield, is terrific and his medley of signature dishes is impressive: plantain-encrusted grouper, mahimahi in a phyllo pastry, porcini-dusted rack of lamb, and my own favorite, snapper glazed in soy and orange-ginger sauce. Fifield is also a ge­­nius at adjusting his cooking to the de­­mands of your waistline—from slimming spa specialties (in which I preferred not to indulge) to incredible desserts culled from his own well-seasoned repertoire and a collection of cookbooks by James Beard, Gordon Ramsay, et al. The house is also serviced by a housekeeper and a driver/butler who is always there to take you to the beach, marina, spa, or anyplace else on the island you might desire.

For four days and three nights I was first on my own, then joined by family. One day I went to the marina for lunch (it was mediocre). On another I spent the afternoon at the beach with my iPod and took a Sunseeker out for the day, stopping by Necker Island, Richard Branson’s sprawling private oasis that goes for $47,000 a night. But I must say, if I had to do it all over again, I’d be perfectly happy never leaving Falcon’s Nest—except, perhaps, for a little reflexology at the attractive three-year-old spa. And after dinner the enormous plasma screen in the first-floor library–cum–media room is perfect for a little cinema. Something perhaps along the lines of…Charade?

Peter Island is best reached by flying to Tortola via San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there it’s a 35-minute ride on a Peter Island boat. Falcon’s Nest Estate Villa rents for $9,100 to $20,000 per night (depending on the season). Call 800-346-4451 or go to peterisland.com.