WHY WE LOVE THEM
- Exquisite islands with plenty of upscale resorts; deserted coves for quality time together; fantastic scuba and boating (but not a lot of nightlife).
- Deserted isles, reachable by rented boat or chartered yacht, with great beaches and evocative names: Fallen Jerusalem, Prickly Pear, Dead Chest, George Dog.
- The exclusive single-resort private islands: Peter, Necker, Little Thatch and Guana.
- Underwater, the wreck of the RMS Rhone, one of the world's top dive sites, and the Painted Walls near the Dog Islands; on land, the Baths at Virgin Gorda and Mt. Sage National Park, with the highest peak in the BVIs.
WHEN TO GO
The top resorts are booked up from December through April. Look for bargains in July and August. Divers should avoid summer because of reduced visibility.
WHAT TO BUY
Pusser’s rum and "Nelson’s Blood" ceramic hip flasks; coral art; unique larimar and green jasper jewelry.
WHAT TO PACK
Bathing suits, polarized sunglasses, sunblock, camera, U.S. passport, binoculars (if you’re a birder). For evenings, "smart casual" clothing; a small number of the fancier restaurants request that men wear jackets at dinner.
Contact the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board (800-835-8530; bvitourism.com). There are North American offices in Los Angeles (3450 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1202; 213-736-8931), New York (1 W. 34th St., Suite 302; 212-696-0400) and Kennesaw, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta (1275 Shiloh Rd., Suite 2930; 770-874-5951). Other useful sites include bviwelcome.com, bviguide.com and limin-times.com.
GETTING MARRIED IN THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
You’ll need to buy $110 worth of stamps from the Road Town post office and then bring them, together with a marriage-license application form, passport and relevant divorce or death certificates, to the Attorney General’s Chambers. After the three-day license-processing period, the ceremony will be performed by the islands’ Registrar. The fee is $35 for a ceremony in the office or $100 plus transportation costs if you're getting married on the beach or elsewhere in the BVIs; you also need two witnesses for the signing of the marriage license. For more information, call the Government of the British Virgin Islands at 284-468-3701.
THE BATH AND TURTLE
Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda
You won’t necessarily want to snuggle in silence through every meal down here. When you're up for something livelier—or for a meal that’s a bit kinder on the wallet—this tavern-style spot is the quintessential BVI boaty scene (along with the Bitter End; see Sleep). Ensconced at the marina and shopping center toward Spanish Town’s north side, the casual bar-cafe serves pizza, burgers, salads, and surf and turf, as well as such Caribbean fare as patties, roti and conch—plus many, many gallons of drinks daily. The unofficial social center of the yachting/bareboat scene, it’s great for people watching.
Biras Creek Resort
We’re not sure what’s more magnificent: Virgin Gorda–born chef Jermaine George’s tropically influenced contemporary menu or the view out over North Sound at this exclusive resort’s open-sided hilltop dining room. The restaurant delivers a ravishingly romantic candlelit night out in an elegant-casual atmosphere (trousers and collared shirts for gentlemen). The wine list isn't huge, but it's wide-ranging and well chosen, and the impressive menu offers dishes like papaya-glazed duck confit and scallops in ginger-shallot dressing. Cap it off with a refreshing iced banana parfait with mango crisp and chocolate ganache. Even if you’re not staying at Biras or the nearby Bitter End, it’s well worth the boat ride out.
BRANDYWINE BAY RESTAURANT
Sir Francis Drake Highway
Turin-born, Florence-raised and a refugee from Manhattan’s fast lane, chef Davide Pugliese and his Aussie wife, Cele, serve up one of the great dining experiences in the BVIs, on Tortola’s south shore between Road Town and the airport. The lovely flagstone terrace overlooking Drake's Channel is a definite plus for romance. The Tuscan-based but globe-trotting menus (scrawled on a big dry-erase board) change daily. Thai pumpkin soup and roast duck with mango chutney might be followed by Livorno-style stuffed rabbit. Do save room for Italian dessert classics like panna cotta and an outstanding tiramisù. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.
CAPRICCIO DI MARE
196 Waterfront Dr.
Road Town, Tortola
Another Davide Pugliese production, across from Road Town’s ferry dock, "Caprice of the Sea" is a cute cafe with a shaded wooden terrace that’s a little more casual—and easier on the wallet—than Brandywine Bay, though it still serves top-notch Italian and other food. You can go lighter at lunch with salads, sandwiches and tasty bites like bresaola (Italian-style cured beef). At dinner you may prefer to turn up the volume with the long pasta list (chicken Alfredo with fettucine, penne or spaghetti), eggplant parmesan and specials such as pan-friend mahimahi.
Opposite Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda
Laissez la bonne cuisine rouler! Behind an aqua fence, American expat Rose Giacinto's French Caribbean-Creole bistro, in a brightly painted gingerbread building on the north side of town, has been called by some these islands’ best. (Others say it’s overrated and overpriced—but you know how that goes.) In the candlelit dining room and on the patio, Bourbon Street meets the BVIs in tasty ways (conch gumbo, cher?). There's also West Indian–inflected fare—regular Morgan Freeman likes the curried lobster and fresh swordfish. The live Friday-night local music is the hottest ticket in town. The restaurant is open for dinner only; try to book well ahead, especially for Fridays.
DE LOOSE MONGOOSE
Picture your ideal Caribbean beach eatery—pink gingerbread, funky blue picnic tables, palm trees with rope lights and rowboats bobbing in the shallows. Well, this is it. Part of a charming guesthouse, it overlooks Trellis Bay and Bellamy Cay. Conch fritters and Anegada lobster are the delectable house specialties. Pop in on Sunday evening for the weekly barbecue and tunes from a local music dude who calls himself MJ Blues—though he spins not just blues but also reggae, soca, R&B and lots more. The Mongoose is close enough to the airport to make it your final fling before winging your way back to reality.
Jost Van Dyke
Here at de legendary Foxy’s, de West Indian grub is tasty and de cocktails potent. Have a whack at the sly fox, the dread fox or the friggin’ in the riggin’; Foxy's also has its own microbrews. The place is a mainstay of the island of Jost Van Dyke, northwest of Tortola. Bearded and dreadlocked owner Foxy Callwood is the big draw—a calypso virtuoso and a Caribbean icon. If you chat him up he’ll improvise songs about you. (Bring your vidcam or voice recorder!) The digs are simple barefoot-beach-bar, and a lazy lunch or quiet weekday dinner here has a castaway romance. If you’re in the mood to party hearty instead, come for the Friday- and Saturday-night barbecues or for special events like the New Year’s Eve party.
PETER ISLAND RESORT
Even if you’re not staying at this exclusive private-island resort (see Sleep), it’s worth catching the shuttle boat with your sweetie to indulge in the fancy fruits from the kitchen of recently hired Irish chef Michael Clinton, a veteran of upscale resorts in Bermuda and the Seychelles. Here you’ve got a pair of options that are romantic in different ways. Tradewinds is the inside fine-dining restaurant with picture windows, a bit of a dress code and cutting-edge contemporary fare along the lines of plantain-crusted grouper with mango salsa. Deadman’s Beach Bar and Grill offers torchlit dinner on the sands and a Caribbean-American menu with the likes of jerk chicken, gumbo, wood-oven gourmet pizzas and New York strip steak with peppercorn sauce. Whichever you choose, memories are guaranteed to light the corners of your mind.
PUSSER’S ROAD TOWN PUB
Main Street at Waterfront Street
Road Town, Tortola
The distinctive red-roofed two-story building with filigree woodwork toward the south end of Road Town is a bit of a social center, thanks to its busy pub. The grub is pretty good too—a mix of American (burgers, Philly cheesesteak), Caribbean (jerk, roti, conch chowder) and English (fish and chips, shepherd’s pie). After you’re done (or while you’re waiting), you can browse in the attached shop for Pusser’s-brand rum, logo stuff and more (see Shop). There’s a branch called Pusser’s Landing out on Frenchman’s Cay in the West End (284-495-4603) with a similar menu plus some fancier entrées such as ginger-glazed chicken with pineapple-habanero salsa and citrus-macadamia-crusted catch of the day with garlic and Romano cream sauce.
THE SUGAR MILL RESTAURANT
Little Apple Bay, Tortola
The BVIs have no shortage of romantic settings, but this north-shore resort restaurant (not to be confused with the Sugar Mill at the Rosewood Little Dix Bay) may be the heaviest hitter of them all, thanks to its view from the terrace out across the water toward Jost Van Dyke, its beautiful gardens and its warm, candlelit dining room, set between the stone walls of a centuries-old sugar mill’s onetime rum distillery. And chef Matt Webb’s food? Well, the two proprietors of the resort (see Sleep) were contributing editors for Bon Appétit. Culinary creativity plus fresh local ingredients yield an eclectic California-international menu that changes nightly. How about curried banana soup? Or crab timbale with mango, kiwi, pineapple and avocado? Or grilled quail with mango-strawberry vinaigrette? The palate boggles.
BIRAS CREEK RESORT
North Sound, Virgin Gorda
Tel: 284-494-3555, 877-883-0756
The setting of this Relais & Châteaux member—a 140-acre peninsula (they bring you in and out by boat or helicopter from the airport)—couldn’t be more idyllic. Guests get bikes and free instruction in all water sports, including the use of 24-foot Folkboats for sailing off to deserted bays. The main restaurant is one of the best in the BVIs (see Eat); the more laid-back Fat Virgin’s Cafe and Treasures are just down the hill. The 31 rooms have white decor with pops of Caribbean Blues, and the beach is small but private. For service and seclusion, Biras is beautiful.
BITTER END YACHT CLUB
North Sound, Virgin Gorda
Tel: 284-494-2746, 800-872-2392
Just around the bend from Biras Creek Resort (you can walk the short distance), this marina village, run by the Hokin family since 1973, is especially appealing for active types, water bunnies and people who like kids. (The youngsters, though, have their own programs, and if you want to avoid them you can easily do so by getting a North Sound Suite.) Evenings are casual, punctuated with sunset cruises, movies and steel bands. As you’d expect, water sports are big. In addition to the pool there are three beaches, a sailing and windsurfing school, a scuba outfit and a resort fleet of more than 100 boats. The 70 bungalow-style units are comfy and teaky, with an old-time Caribbean flavor. A spa and two good restaurants complete the not-so-bitter picture.
COOPER ISLAND BEACH CLUB
Tel: 284-495-9084, 800-542-4624
Are Peter and Necker and Guana islands a bit beyond your budget? For that private-isle experience at far gentler rates, this eco-friendly 11-room property on a (sometimes) practically deserted mile-and-a-half-by-half-mile island south of Tortola could be just the ticket. Rooms aren't exactly the amenity-choked lap of luxury (no phones or TV, for example), but they're bright, cheerful and comfortable, and they all have kitchenettes. Run by Channel Islander Toby Holmes and fellow Brit Christopher Tilling, the place is popular with boaters and divers. You'll love it if you can embrace the idea that there’s not a whole lot to do here beyond enjoying the beach, eating at the restaurant, diving, snorkeling, kayaking and generally chilling out.
Those pining for pricey Virgin Gorda while stretching their honeymoon dollar can do it in charming style at this 20-unit family-run place on its own fetching stretch of beach yet within walking distance of the "action" (such as it is) of Spanish Town. You can choose from among the dozen nicely furnished rooms (complete with TV and phone) in a double-decker building or the more private triangular beachside cottages with kitchenettes. On-site amenities include a good little Caribbean restaurant and water sports but no pool—which is no biggie when you’ve got the beach steps away from your door.
JEWELS OF THE BVI
If you’re in the market for digs that are homier, more private and often less pricey than the run of the mill—meaning either a villa, a bed-and-breakfast or a small hotel—the BVI tourist board has made the hunt easier by putting together an online directory of 43 top locally owned ones. They range from the cute but motel-like A & L Inn in Road Town to the upscale and elaborate Villa Majesty near Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay. Not surprisingly, Tortola has the most properties, but there are also listings for Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke and the ultra-exclusive Guana Island.
Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson’s beyond-luxurious Balinese-style private islet, just north of Virgin Gorda, is one of the Caribbean’s tip-top sybaritic escape pods. It boasts a huge, open-sided Great House and four smaller "Bali Houses"; various beaches; Michelin-star chefs; a gym and a marvelous spa; a quintet of pools; a pair of tennis courts; and, not least, 50 staffers who will pamper the daylights out of you. The downside is that most of the year you’re required to rent the whole place—all 74 blessed acres’ worth. But during several adults-only, all-inclusive "Celebration" weeks" each year (you’ll have to call to find out when), you can limit your rental to a room or villa at this ultimate resort. Either way, the rates are strictly plutocrat territory (though they're still cheaper than a ticket on Virgin Galactic).
PETER ISLAND RESORT
Tel: 800-346-4451, 284-495-2000
Peter Island is quite a bit larger than Necker—it’s the fifth-largest of the BVIs. An L-shaped 1,800-acre expanse across Sir Francis Drake Channel from Tortola, it's deserted except for this eponymous resort, which covers about a fifth of the whole and comprises just 52 rooms and three villas—even the smallest of which have terraces overlooking the Big Blue. The place makes for a luxuriously low-key hideaway, with five beaches, various hiking trails, a pool, a spa (expanded to 10,000 square feet in 2004), tennis and various other land and water sports, and a sublimely discreet staff. Even if you don’t stay here, a jaunt out on the shuttle boat to the day spa and/or the two superb restaurants (see Eat) is a treat. If you want to splurge a bit, consider one of the villas.
ROSEWOOD LITTLE DIX BAY
Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda
Tel: 284-495-5555, 888-767-3966
This eco-sensitive luxe classic on a splendid half-mile crescent, founded in 1964 by Laurance Rockefeller, has stayed at the top of its game by upgrading with a state-of-the-art gym and dramatic clifftop spa with a split-level infinity pool; gorgeous new suites and villas; and a hot new chef, Dutchman Marcel Driessen, late of Sandy Lane in Barbados. The 100 handsome garden or beachfront rooms sport soothing decor heavy on wood, tile and flagstone, along with such varying perks as Bose audio systems, patios or terraces with hammocks, outdoor showers and oversize bathrooms with soaking tubs. The three restaurants are top-notch, and other on-premises amenities include a duo of lovely pools and six tennis courts. Little Dix may be a little less laid-back than, say, Biras Creek Resort, but it doesn’t stint on fabulousness.
Little Thatch Island
For total castaway seclusion that’s considerably more affordable than Necker, this beachside cottage nestles on yet another private islet, 54 acres west of Tortola and just north of St. John in the USVI. It’s a quaint yet elegant gingerbread affair with a pickled-pine cathedral ceiling, terracotta-tile floors, rattan furniture, a mosquito-netting-swathed four-poster and a wraparound veranda—not to mention the run of the practically deserted isle. A daily maid, basic entertainment (TV, DVD, CD), a hot tub, a full kitchen, a professional-style barbecue, and drinks and groceries stocked up prior to your arrival constitute the extent of the assist you get from the management. After that, you're pretty much on your own—though you can always hop a boat over to Tortola’s restaurants and shops.
THE SUGAR MILL
Little Apple Bay, Tortola
Tel: 284-495-4355, 800-462-8834 (U.S.), 800-209-6874 (Canada)
A top-rung contender for the most romantic and historic resort in the BVIs, this intimate north-shore property on popular Apple Bay Beach is indeed a converted sugar mill and rum distillery. Given that it's owned by a husband-and-wife team of hotshot food writers, it of course has a gem of a restaurant (see Eat), but there’s plenty else to love about the 23 rooms, starting with the friendliness and the fine service. The standard units have fresh, colorful contemporary decor. Some of the deluxe villas are absolutely charming; a delightful one has a steep wooden ceiling. There’s a nice little pool, as well as a small stretch of sand—and there are plenty of great beaches nearby.
As Jimmy Buffett warbled, "I hear it gets better, that’s what they say / As soon as we sail on to Cane Garden Bay." Yachties and many others do indeed dig this palmy stretch on Tortola’s north coast—so much so that it can get more crowded than any other beach in the BVIs. Additional nearby beaches worth a gander include Long Bay (quieter on its western end), Brewer’s Bay (very uncrowded), Apple Bay (popular with surfers) and Josiah Bay (ditto). For a more castaway vibe and great snorkeling, head out west of Smuggler’s Cove; there’s even an occasional nudie out here. On Virgin Gorda, don’t miss a dip at the Baths (see below). Its other top strands include Devil’s Bay and Spring Bay, both near the Baths but with fewer people; for even more seclusion, try Savannah Bay (a.k.a. Pond Bay). Jost Van Dyke’s White Bay is also well worth a visit.
Besides Jost Van Dyke’s world-famous Foxy’s and De Loose Mongoose (see Eat), the BVIs have more than their share of beach shacks known for their tropical tipples, island ambience and colorful owners. Some are stand-alone, others part of inns or resorts; some are quiet, others rowdy—but they all embody that irresistible searchin’-for-my-lost-shaker-of-salt vibe. Top picks on Tortola include Bomba’s Surfside Shack (284-495-4148) on Apple Bay, especially famous for its outta-control full-moon parties, and Quito’s Gazebo (284-495-4837), run by Quito Rymer, one of the BVIs' best-known reggae musicians. Jost Van Dyke also boasts One Love Bar & Grill (284-495-9829), owned by Foxy’s kid Seddy, and White Bay’s sail-in Soggy Dollar (284-495-9888), famous for its painkiller cocktails and so called because you’ve got to wade up with your greenbacks, which are known to get wet. On Anegada, check out Big Bamboo (284-499-1680) and the Cow Wreck.
Along with paradisiacal (if hardly deserted) sands, limpid waters and a place to buy snacks and drinks, the Virgin Gorda beach near Spanish Town known as the Baths has a fascinating extra: an extraordinary half-dozen-acre network of sun-dappled grottoes formed by granite boulders. Wandering through this maze is a way-cool, sometimes otherworldly experience. To get here, you park up along the road (where there are a couple of restaurants and shops, such as the Top of the Baths) and hike 15 minutes down a trail to the shore. Though it’s just about the most famous sight in the BVIs (and therefore the most popular), it’s well worth the visit. And it’s swell for snorkeling.
The second-largest BVI, this flat coral-and-limestone island 16 miles north of Virgin Gorda and 30 east of Tortola is famous for its lobster and so off the beaten track there’s not even a ferry—you have to rent a boat or catch a quickie puddle-jumper from Tortola. Note to Paris Hilton: You want the simple life? Here it is: just a couple of teensy villages, a handful of little places to stay and eat, wildlife sanctuaries and three world-class beaches that alone make a day trip or an overnighter worth the effort. Cow Wreck Bay Beach is a pristine white-sand stretch with a bar-restaurant. Loblolly Bay Beach is miles long, with two bar-restaurants, hammocks in the seagrapes and a spit for walking out into the sea. The pink Flash of Beauty Beach has an adorable conch-shell trail to its bar-restaurant.
ROCK AROUND THE DOCK
On Tortola, Tony and Jackie Snell no longer run their famous cabaret at the Last Resort (284-495-2520), the tiny, funky, eccentric restaurant with a pirate past ("Black Sam" Bellamy plundered Spanish galleons here) on Trellis Bay’s Bellamy Cay. Now it’s in the hands of son Jeremy, daughter Jessica and her husband, Ben. The singing dogs are gone and the donkey died—but Dad still occasionally entertains, and the new house act, Al Broderick and his interactive rock band, makes for a memorable, sometimes zany, sometimes dancing-on-the-tables night out. Just be ready for tequila shots if they make you part of the act. The new à la carte bistro menu—a mix of Asian and American—is surprisingly good. Call ahead and they'll pick you up from the Trellis Bay jetty.
COP A ’COPTER
Possibly the only thing more breathtaking than experiencing the BVIs from the water is scoping out this vibrant green string of isles set amid gorgeous shades of blue from the air. The best game around is Brad Hanger’s Air Carolina (284-495-2538; helicoptersbvi.com). Based at the Tortola/Beef Island airport, Hanger and his pilots will bring you up in sleek Bell helicopters for a 30- to 55-minute tour of the BVIs. Or they'll provide transfers from airport to resorts with helipads—Biras Creek Resort, Bitter End Yacht Club, Peter Island Resort, Little Thatch Island and Necker Island. They also offer day hops from island to island. They’ll even run you outside the BVIs, to the USVI, Anguilla, Nevis, Puerto Rico, St. Martin or Antigua.
DIVE, WE SAID
The BVIs are one of those places that make divers’ hearts beat faster, thanks to more than 60 of the most dazzling dive sites in the world. Wreck dives are all over the place (more than 200 off Anegada, for example); for many, the big star is the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a royal mail steamer that in 1867 sank off Salt Island. (You’ve seen it if you’ve ever caught the ’70s stinker The Deep, set in Bermuda.) Other spectacular sites include the Indians off Norman Island, the Painted Walls near the Dog Islands, the Chimney near Great Dog and Ginger Island’s Alice’s Wonderland (sound promising?). You can get a listing of BVI Scuba Organization dive shops at bviscuba.org.
SAIL AWAY, SAIL AWAY
Boating is, of course, the BVIs' single most popular pastime—some islands or significant chunks thereof all but revolve around it. And there are so many divine coves and beaches, anchorages and provisioners that the place can credibly lay claim to being the world’s top sailors’ playground. You can take to the waves by bareboat (try Bareboats BVI: 284-495-4168; bareboatsbvi.com) or by crewed yacht (check with the Charter Yacht Society of the BVI: 284-494-6017; bvicrewedyachts.com). You can learn how to sail at Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School (800-221-4326; offshore-sailing.com). The less ambitious can sign on to one of many day sails on the catamarans of Patouche Charters (284-494-6300; patouche.com) or Blue Ocean Adventure’s 75-foot catamaran (284-494-2872; aroundthebvi.com), among many tour operators.
THE ALLAMANDA GALLERY
124 Main St.
Road Town, Tortola
In the 20 years photographer Amanda Baker has lived in these islands, she’s created an impressive repertoire of island scenes, ranging from luminous seascapes to penetrating portraits and brilliant, glowing close-ups of native flowers and birds. On display in her Road Town gallery (named after one of those flowers), opposite Sunny Caribbee (see below), are beautiful examples of all of it, available framed or unframed, as well as a selection of cards and gifts. By the way, if you’re looking for a wedding photographer, that’s a specialty of Amanda’s—she can make the big day come vibrantly, tropically alive.
This shop and studio near De Loose Mongoose (see Eat) and the airport, on a small island connected by bridge to Tortola’s East End, has an airy, exotic feel and some great browsing. Owned by Tortolan artist Aragorn Dick-Read (his mom was a Tolkien fan), it sells his dramatic copper and steel art. You can also get high-quality T-shirts, prints and cards with silk-screened etchings; organic produce, spices and sauces; and traditional baskets and pottery by Carib Indians. If you’re lucky you might even catch one giving a demonstration at the in-house studio. You can also take lessons in crafts, learning Carib basketry or how to carve a calabash.
THE CORAL STUDIO
Tree House Lane
Green Bank, Tortola
First of all, let’s make it clear that with coral endangered in parts of the Caribbean, the artisans whose work you see here use not the living stuff but white fossil coral rock found washed up on shore, especially on the island of Anegada. This by-appointment-only gallery up in the Tortola hills has been run since 1999 by Brits Fiona and David Dugdale, and looking at what’s on display it's hard to believe what graceful, delicate mini-masterpieces can be coaxed out of the skeletons of dead micro-critters: rose-fringed turtles; creamy yellow Christmas ornaments; Wedgwood-like blue wall plaques and dishes; lovely little jade-green clocks adorned with turtle doves, frangipani and metal plates engraved with whatever you request.
CARIBBEAN LANDSCAPES ART GALLERY
Next to Coco-Plums Restaurant
Apple Bay, Tortola
Out toward the West End, near the Sugar Mill cottage colony and the famous Bomba’s Surf Shack, Canadian expat David Thrasher paints a vivid fauvist-impressionist take on Caribbean themes and scenes. You can stop here for a peek at his evocative oils, lithographs, giclées and note cards. Foxy’s, Bomba’s, Road Town, Virgin Gorda, surfers, fisherfolk, kids on donkeys, Anegada’s salt ponds—practically anything and everything BVI is here. David’s rates for special commissions are fairly reasonable too. How about an oil of your wedding on the beach or even of your honeymoon suite? He also features abstract work by Fredrica Craig and graphics by David Carson.
102 Main St.
Road Town, Tortola
For a more varied selection of local artists, check out this gallery, run since 2003 by Brit Lisa Muddiman Gray in a century-old cottage in Road Town not far from Pusser’s (see below). Her array of limited-edition prints and original paintings—watercolors, acrylics and oils—includes her own slightly abstract silk batik paintings of flora and marine life. She also carries 27 other artists, mostly from the BVIs. (One top example is the self-taught Tortolian Lutia Tai Durante, whose oils, with their flair for textures and movement, capture BVI scenes, both from now and from his childhood.) Also check out Canadian Linda Babin’s vibrantly colored handpainted silks of West Indian architecture, as well as various artists’ maps of the Caribbean, gorgeously adorned with fanciful drawings and borders.
Main Street at Waterfront Street
Road Town, Tortola
Also on Tortola’s West End, Leverick Bay, Marina Cay
Tel: 284-494-2467, ext. 121
It’s not easy to miss the red-roofed two-story building with the filigree woodwork toward the south end of Road Town. Many Caribbean islands have a classic rum; Pusser’s is the BVIs'. The business was founded in 1979 by sailor and all-around character Charles Tobias, with the aid of the recipe used for centuries by the British navy for its sailors’ grog. Now it’s sold in 47-proof and smooth 15-year-old versions—and at less than half the U.S. price. (And if you buy five bottles, you get a sixth free.) You’ll also find logo products like mugs, watches and "Nelson’s Blood" ceramic hip flasks, plus a nifty selection of foods and beach- and resortwear. If you like painkillers—the cocktail—you can pick up the mix too.
94 Main St.
Road Town, Tortola
In the BVIs you’ll find the same standard international rock-and-bauble pushers you’ll find throughout the Caribbean. But this one, run by the Bibby family since 1971—currently it’s Richard and his British wife, Sally—can set you up with special keepsakes with tropical and nautical designs that really say BVI. They carry a nice range of precious local materials such as green "virgin jasper" (jadelike but earthier), volcanic blue larimar and pink conch shell, all set into gold and silver earrings, pendants and more. They also do custom work. Other cool stuff includes coins from the shipwreck Atocha, both loose and in settings, and little sloops with gold or silver sails and hulls of wood, amber or black coral. Another branch, Caribbean Jewellers, is out on the West End in Soper’s Hole Marina (Frenchman’s Cay; 284-495-4137).
SUE’S PURPLE TURTLE
Next to Kenneth’s Gas Station
Setting Point, Anegada
If you’re visiting or staying on tiny Anegada, swing by Sue Wheatley’s place (yes, it’s pretty much all purple, with a white picket fence) out near the Anegada Reef Hotel. Sue is from England, and for years she ran the hotel with her late Virgin Gorda–born husband. She carries many of the same things you’ll see elsewhere in the BVIs—Pusser’s rum, beachwear, jams, chutneys, soaps, CDs, artwork and crafts—but showcases them all in a particularly attractive, cozy and laid-back setting. It’s also the island’s prime spot to check your e-mail (if you really must).
SUNNY CARIBBEE SPICE CO. LTD.
119 Main St.
Road Town, Tortola
Founded by a trio of Americans who’ve been living here since 1979, this shop in a sweet West Indian–style house stocks more than 300 products. About two-thirds of the merchandise is edible—your usual hot sauces, chutneys and so forth but also some more unusual items such as hibiscus wine. The rest includes crafts, books, soaps, fragrances and more. Being gringos, they’ve got that marketing savvy, hawking the likes of Arawak Love Potion (a local tea) and the Sunshine Style Starter Kit (West Indian seasonings).There’s also a gallery of artwork from not just the BVIs but also the USVI and beyond, including the likes of Lisa Etre’s colorful geometrics and David Clough’s impressionistic BVI scenes.
VIRGIN GORDA YACHT HARBOUR
Given how boaty the BVIs are, it’s no shocker that the best place for shopping in Virgin Gorda’s low-key capital is its marina, in the middle of town. Of the 21 tenants, all but four are shops of some kind. Two are especially fine. Dive BVI (284-495-5513; divebvi.com) sports a nice collection of tropical wear, shoes and gifts. Thee Artistic Gallery (284-495-5104) carries good-quality tropical-themed jewelry (especially tanzanite and opal) as well as local artwork, music, spices, books and sundry stuff that makes great mementos or gifts. When you’re done, have a bite or a nip at the well-known Bath and Turtle (see Eat).