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A SUN-KISSED PARADISE ISLE; annette lord visits the british virgin islands.

ON the edge of the Caribbean Sea nestled between Puerto Rico and Antigua, the British Virgin Islands are every bit the paradise isles conjured up in Caribbean dreams - sun-kissed pristine beaches fringed by palm trees, crystal clear warm seas, exotic experiences and friendly locals.

The temperature doesn't stray far from 27degC (80degF) all year round and the islands have luckily avoided hurricanes in recent years. Off the radar compared to more famous destinations such as Barbados, St Lucia and Jamaica, the small airport means no big planes and therefore no direct flights from European destinations, including the UK. But the extra effort needed to reach the British Virgin Islands (BVI for short) makes them feel more exclusive and special.

The islands are a British Overseas Territory and have a governor appointed by the Queen. So you don't need a visa if you're a British passport holder.

There are two main ways to get there. British Airways fly from Gatwick to Antigua, from where there are connecting flights, or you can fly to the USA from Manchester and other local airports then connect to the US Virgin Islands, from which you can take a short ferry ride to the BVI.

There's also a new route from Miami direct to Tortola starting this year, although it looks like being a bit pricier than the other options. My advice is to treat getting there as part of the trip. I went the Gatwick-Antigua route, staying overnight at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick's south terminal. Spacious and restful, my executive suite contained a full-size deep bath as well as a shower but seemed a trek from the lobby after a tiring day. With a gym for the more energetic and breakfast options from 5.30am, my stay there was otherwise quiet and relaxed - just right to prepare for the rest of the journey.

The BVI is made up of 60 islands, islets and cays (low banks or reefs of coral, rock or sand), but there are four main islands - Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. It's quite easy to island hop as ferries run between the main ones - in fact I would say it's a definite must-do, as each have their own highlights.

Warning - this is not a destination to try to do cheaply. But if your goal is a once-in-a-lifetime luxury holiday or honeymoon then you can't go far wrong.

Millionaire's Playground Peter Island is a true private island resort, with a private boat transporting guests from Road Town. There's a number of beaches, some with great snorkelling, and a five-mile loop by road offering spectacular views. Enjoy the sunset at a hilltop viewpoint complete with champagne, cheese and fruit, or spend time at the spa.

I booked in for a Signature Massage, with essential oils and a medium to light touch to enhance relaxation, improve circulation and relieve muscle tension. Finished off with warm stone foot therapy and a scalp massage, it left me feeling deliciously sleepy.

If money is no object then you can hire a private hilltop villa for up to $18,000 a night. Otherwise choose from Beach Front Junior Suites, with direct beach access and a two-person jacuzzi, or Ocean View Rooms overlooking the marina and pool. Evening meals are provided in the onsite restaurant, headed by executive chef Todd Howard, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal.

If you want to feel like an A-lister and not lift a finger, then this is the place for you but I would recommend also visiting some of the other islands to get a true taste of the BVI before flying home.

Watersports The BVI is considered to be the sailing capital of the world thanks to calm waters, clear lines of sight and almost ever-present Trade Winds - making island hopping a doddle. So sailing is THE big thing to do here, with a number of events through the year. King of those is the international Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival, which is a big deal for the sailors and the islands. It is hosted by Nanny Cay on Tortola, which boasts accommodation, bars, restaurants, a beach and after expansion this year will have mooring for 300 boats.

Scuba diving is another popular activity, with a number of world class reef, cavern and wreck sites including the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a Royal Mail steamer sunk in a hurricane in 1867. Or choose from a host of other watersports such as snorkelling, surfing, paddleboarding and kayaking.

Other attractions There's plenty of historical and natural attractions on the BVI. One of the most amazing natural wonders is The Baths on Virgin Gorda, a combination of massive granite boulders and tidal rock pools which is among the islands' 21 national parks. In the BVI capital, Road Town, a number of buildings hark back to the islands' past - including the Folk Museum which takes visitors on a journey from first settlers to present days and Her Majesty's Prison Museum, which is a chilling look at jail life on Tortola going back 230 years. The Old Government House Museum, once the governor's residence, has a colonial feel, while Callwood rum distillery at Tortola's Cane Garden Bay produces rum as the Caribbean has done for centuries.

If you are lucky enough to be in the BVI for full moon, don't miss one of the famous full moon parties. Bomba Shack on Tortola hosts the wildest, while the one at Trellis Bay, Beef Island, has a more family feel.

Island within an island Frenchman's Cay is on Tortola's West End, connected to the rest of Tortola via a small bridge. Intimate, with a private island feel, it is also a good base from which to hire a car to see the whole of Tortola and also get a ferry to the other islands.

Accommodation at Frenchmans is in eight one or two bed villas, in an elevated position with a veranda overlooking the ocean. Surrounded by lush gardens, they are intimate and secluded, with names like Star Fruit, Lime and Mango.

I was in Passion Fruit, with comfy wicker cocoon seats hanging from the roof of the veranda - perfect for lazing in - and patio doors with a fly screen, so at night you can sit in the living room and enjoy the coolness and sound of the ocean without letting the mozzies in.

There's good snorkelling direct from the shore and the bar/ restaurant area is a stone's throw from the beach.

Just be aware that the restaurant is not open on Sunday evenings, so enjoy one of the eateries at nearby Sopers Hole instead or buy in some food and make dinner at your villa.

How to book Annette was a guest of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board during Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival 2017. Rates at Frenchman's Cay (www. start from PS388 per night on a room only basis. Rates at Peter Island Resort ( start from PS360 on a room only basis. Return flights from PS473pp with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic to Antigua. Interconnecting flights from Antigua to Beef Island, Tortola, start from PS195pp with InterCaribbean ( For more information visit www. Prices at Hilton London Gatwick airport start from PS90 per night when booking direct at Or phone 01293 579072.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:5ANTI
Date:Jun 19, 2017
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