Rustic Beauty: The Natural
ONE TO WATCH We can think of a few private islands (Necker and Petit St. Vincent, for example) that surpass Guana in man-made luxury. But no place in the Caribbean tops the natural splendor of this British Virgin island. All 850 acres are carefully maintained to preserve their tropical landscape and wildlife—Caribbean roseate flamingos, hawksbill sea turtles, Anegada rock iguanas, Antillean piping frogs—and seven beautiful beaches. Accommodations are limited to 15 rooms in seven whitewashed stone buildings from the 1930s (some built on the foundations of a Quaker plantation house). The interiors won't win any awards; they're utterly simple—a rattan chair, desk, and bed—and lacking in modern conveniences like television and air conditioning. The rooms to get are Fallen Jerusalem, for its breezes (which helps if you're in air-conditioning withdrawal); Eleuthera, which is big with wraparound views; and North Beach Cottage on the Atlantic side of the island. Dinner is served communally on candlelit terraces from a set menu of well-prepared dishes (asparagus soup, duck breast with tamarind sauce, profiteroles). Lunch is more casual but equally good—seafood salad and chicken rôti with mango chutney and black-eyed peas. The rest of your time is spent outdoors: There are 20 hiking trails, boats to take on explorations of the island's hidden coves, and plenty of blue-green water in which to float, swim, whatever. Rates, $850-$1,500 for two; $15,000 for the entire island, includes meals and drinks $; 800-544-8262, 914-967-6050; www.guana.com.
Hot Property: Refresher Course
Biras Creek Resort has spiffed itself up dramatically since we visited five years ago. The Virgin Gorda encampment was renovated last year, including all 31 suites. And its two Grand Suites and the enormous Premier Suite are reason alone to come. With double-height ceilings, teak furniture and trim, and a large freestanding tub in the three-chamber bath suite, these stunning rooms are clean-lined, breezy, and just steps from the Caribbean. Biras' charms are many, in fact, but the trump card is the superb Continental-Caribbean cuisine, supervised by British chef Neil Hitchen. His menu includes dishes such as five-spice duck salad with orange-onion marmalade and beet dressing, Stilton soufflé with pear and pecan salad, and simple, expertly grilled grouper, wahoo, shrimp, and lobster. In November, Biras will continue its self-improvement with a spa offering massage, body and facial treatments, acupuncture, and yoga. Rooms, $835-$1,825; 800-223-1108, 284-494-3555; www.biras.com.
Private Island: Virgin Territory
ONE TO WATCH Sir Richard Branson's private 74-acre island, Necker, in the British Virgin Islands, has been available to the public for a decade now. And it's never looked better. When you rent Necker—and it's booked heavily by actors, artists, models, and royalty, who, as Branson says, want to "pull up the drawbridge and escape"—it becomes your own Xanadu. There are four houses here. The ten-bedroom Great House on Devil's Hill is open on all sides and mixes West Indian architecture with Balinese hanging oil lamps, colorful fabrics, and bamboo furniture. The three multi-tiered Balinese pavilions have large, airy sitting rooms and wrap-around windowed bedchambers: Bali Lo sits in the center of the island with ocean views and its own sizable pool; Bali Hi edges the northwest coast and has a plunge pool; Bali Cliff, opened five years ago, perches on the bluff in front of Bali Hi, so secluded that the bathroom is exposed to the ocean on three sides. Such comfort is necessary if you fill your days, like Branson and his family, with tennis, racing Hobie catamarans, surfing, and swimming within the surrounding reef. Meals on the island are usually taken communally, at one and eight, and center around healthy but delicious grilled chicken and fish, roasted root vegetables, and fruit. Branson continues to improve the island—it is, after all, where he spends three months a year. He recently installed a spa just below the main house. He says it is the last new building to go up on Necker; a committed environmentalist, he will not disturb the island's ecology any further. "The challenge of developing a location like this is in determining how to enhance it. Most of the exclusive, beautiful places in the world have been spoiled." Except, of course, for this one. Rates, $22,500-$36,000 per day, depending on number of guests. Book through Sanctuare, 456 Glenbrook Road, Stamford, CT; 800-557-4255, 203-602-0300; www.neckerisland.com.
Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.