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Linda-Marie Singer is The Live Wire

Linda-Marie Singer - Click to Enlarge
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TAIL’S UP, TAIL’S DOWN in the British Virgin Islands

Tortola, British Virgin Islands: Here in the BVI it’s no wonder locals like to show off  “Nature’s Little Secrets” – everything from balmy weather, ideal diving and snorkeling to white sandy beaches and sailing which is said to be the best in the Caribbean.  While hundreds of yachts account for nearly half the total tourist “beds,” there are also deluxe properties such as Little Dix Bay along with the inns, cottages, hotels and villas of Intimate Hideaways.  


The BVI ... a paradise for sailors
If you haven’t visited the British Virgin Islands, you’ll find them at the edge of a huge underwater shelf extending eighty-five miles from Puerto Rico before dropping off in the Atlantic to the north and the Caribbean to the south.  With over sixty islands, only a handful are inhabited.  Tortola, home to the capital of Road Town, is the largest with a population of 18,000.  Bursting with colorful West Indian culture, Tortola, much like the neighboring islands, remains free of crash commercialism.  There are no high rises or casinos, and since buildings cannot be taller than a pine tree, the town remains unfettered with a sprinkling of multihued homes on the hills.  No wonder the scenery remains so lush.

 

No highrises or casinos.  Just a  sprinkling of multihued homes on the hillside - click to enlarge
No highrises or casinos.  Just a  sprinkling of multihued homes on the hillside
And so do the other islands.  Virgin Gorda (home to The Baths, the most famous beach on the BVI) is the second largest. Jost Van Dyke (picturesque wooden houses on a sandy beach) and Anegada (miles of uninterrupted beaches) are conveniently connected by ferries.  Not surprisingly, these islands are also renown for diving, sailing, snorkeling and exploring.  One of the few remaining outposts of the old British Empire, the BVI is loaded with fun and festivity while it respects manners and maintains its dignity. Crime is rare and nudity is not encouraged. 
"Island Girl" - click to enlarge
"Island Girl"
Sunsetting on the marina - click to enlarge
Sun setting on the marina

There are discos and nightclubs in Tortola, but you can also find lively entertainment at Myett’s Garden Inn where the tropical décor is lush, and the restaurant crowd gets to dance to an energetic Caribbean beat.  The Heritage Inn has abundant ocean views, but you’ll want to book a table at Bananakeet, their tiptop restaurant with a welcoming staff.  Another gathering place is Icis Villas offering consummate dining along with a vista of swaying palm trees on the hillsides. 

"SHARLITA" - Miss BVI 2004 photographed at Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda - click to enlarge
"SHARLITA" - Miss BVI 2004 photographed at Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda
And yet the British Virgin Islands did not achieve real notoriety until the 1960’s when Laurence Rockefeller developed a resort on Virgin Gorda (the fat virgin) at Little Dix Bay.  Still one of the most luxurious vacation spots and a popular honeymoon setting, Little Dix Bay has amenities that range from 100 unique guest rooms and three restaurants along with sailing, kayaking, water-skiing, deep-sea fishing, diving and snorkeling.  It also has The Spa with unique services such as a  “Virgin Gorda Goat Milk & Honey Wrap.”  Rates from January-March 2005 are $625 for an Ocean View Room; a Three-Bedroom Villa runs $4,400.  

While the Rockefeller name is prominent, it was really Christopher Columbus who first discovered the islands in 1493.  Many famous seafarers followed through including Sir Francis Drake.  Dutch Buccaneers settled in the seventeenth century, but it was not until the 1800’s when the British gained a firm hold. 

Folklore has it that pirates rampaged around the waters, while Normal Island is reputed to be the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictional “Treasure Island.”  Today the British Virgin Islands remain a colony of the United Kingdom, and are considered to be one of the most politically stable territories in the Caribbean.

Speaking of Stevenson and Normal Island, bring your snorkel, scuba and dive gear to The Caves where you’ll night dive to 80’ and also examine wrecks alongside exotic plant and marine life.  Underwater enthusiasts can delve into Dead Chest Island where it is said that the pirate Blackbeard marooned fifteen men with a bottle of rum and a sword.  But it’s really the remarkable dive sites that explain why the BVI has been rated one of the best diving experiences in the Western Hemisphere. For instance, head off into “The Deep” –the location of the “Wreck of the RMS Rhone.” Now a marine park, you can swim 75 feet below the surface to The Rhone’s bow section where there are abundant colorful snappers, parrotfish and soldierfish.  The area around the Rhone is a BVI National Park -- the only such park in the world that owes its existence to a shipwreck.

“The Chikuzen” is another well-known dive site that lies at 75’ and is ten miles from Virgin Gorda.  While the ship sank in 1981, its encrusted rigging gives an eerie feel for dramatic underwater photography.  The 246-foot length of this vessel teems with fish, big rays, horse-eyed jacks, and barracudas.

A sailor’s paradise, all of the BVI’s water-based accommodations include access to equipment ranging from snorkeling and scuba diving to wind surfing and water-skiing.  What’s more, the BVI has the greatest concentration of bareboats (boats rented without a crew to experienced sailors) in the world, with The Moorings operating the largest charter yacht fleet in all the Caribbean. (www.moorings.com). 

Tortola being the Territory’s main tourism, business and transportation hub, is only minutes away from the airport.  And so is Hodge’s Creek Marina Hotel with views of Sir Francis Drake’s Channel. Comfortable and cozy, the venue is conveniently located, but then so is the picturesque Fort Burt Hotel that overlooks Road Harbour and the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Built on the ruins of a seventeenth century Dutch fort, the property is close to restaurants and Road Town for shopping.


Cooking up a storm at Fort Burt Hotel


Bomba Shack -- always the center of attention for good times

Wandering around Tortola is easy and convenient.  Besides water activities and plenty of sun, there are other sites to visit: J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens has an array of indigenous and exotic tropical plants; Sage Mountain National Park at 1,780’ is the BVI’s highest point:; Main Street, the capital’s shopping street that runs through the center of town is filled with colorful wooden and stone buildings; Smuggler’s Cove, a small sandy beach, lies at the western tip of Tortola; Apple Bay is the “surfing beach” and home of the surfer’s bar called Bomba’s Shack:; The Callwood Rum Distillery at Cane Garden Bay needs no explanation.

No matter where you travel in the capital, you’ll hear locals referring to “Tortola’s Alarm Clock.”  When I tried to buy one, a shopkeeper just laughed.  "Darling, look outside,” she said sweetly, and then pointed to a gaggle of roosters strutting up and down the street.  Another time I told one of the islanders that I was surprised to see a flock of sheep.  “Don’t be so sure,” he said.  “They could be goats.  Were their tail’s up or down?”  Apparently when you see either goats or sheep coming, the only way to distinguish between them is by their tail.  If the tail’s up, you’re looking at goats.  If the tail’s down, you’re looking at sheep. 

"Tortola's Alarm Clock" - click to enlarge
"Tortola's Alarm Clock"

Before it was time to leave, I wandered into town and listened to a “Scratch band” playing West Indian music on wash tubs, gourds, bottles and flutes mixed with a Caribbean beat.  Some people began bouncing to the rhythm and everywhere I looked, I saw playful happy islanders.  The same was true of the friendliness I encountered whenever I walked into a shop. “Darling, what can I do for you?” was always the question. Maybe that, too, was the answer. 

Allamanda Estate --a villa dream come true. - click to enlarge
Allamanda Estate --a villa dream come true.
 

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For more information:

  From left to right --->   Lillian Africano, president, International Food, Wine &   Travel Writers Association, Dorothy De Nonno of BVI's International Hideaways,   Dr. The Honorable D. Orlando Smith, Chief Minister of the British Virgin   Islands, and Nicole Mahoney of BVI's International Hideaways - click to enlarge
  From left to right --->   Lillian Africano, President, International
Food, Wine &   Travel Writers Association, Dorothy De Nonno of
 BVI's International Hideaways,   Dr. The Honorable D. Orlando
Smith, Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands, and
Nicole Mahoney of BVI's International Hideaways

BVI Tourist Board
1270 Broadway #705
New York, NY 10001

Phone: 800-835-8530
Email:
bvitouristboard@worldnet.att.net

British Virgin Islands Intimate Hideaways
205 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Phone: 866-GO-TO-BVI
Email: dpdent@att.net  (Dorothy De Nonno)
Email:
nicole@centriccommunications.com

How to get there:

American Airlines and American Eagle are the most direct and reliable transport to the BVI from any gateway city.

Where to dine and stay:

Bananakeet at Heritage Inn
Phone: 284-494-5842
Email: heritageinn@hotmail.com
Web:  http://www.heritageinnbvi.com

Fort Burt Hotel
Phone: 284-494-2587
Email:
fortburt@surfbvi.com
Web:  http://www.bviguide.com/fortburt

Hodges Creek Marina
Phone: 284-494-5000
Email: margaretapenn@yahoo.com
Web:  http://www.hodgescreek.com

Icis Villas
Phone: 284-494-6979
Email: icis@icisvillas.com
Web:  http://www.icisvillas.com

Little Dix Spa at Virgin Gorda
Phone: 284-495-5555
email:
ldbspareservations@rosewoodhotels.com
Web:  http://www.littledixbay.com

Myett’s Garden Inn
Phone: 284-495-9649
Email:
myettent@surfbvi.com
Web:  http://www.myettent.com

Allamanda Estate in Road Town
Phone: 284-494-2263
Email:
almanda@surfbvi.com
Web:  http://www.allamandaestate.com

This is one ritzy estate!  Treat yourself and your friends and family to a beautiful and enchanting hideaway.

Photos by Linda-Marie Singer

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