Limin’ on Tortola
When I read supermodel Kate Moss called Frenchman’s Lookout, a villa in the British Virgin Islands on Tortola “the most beautiful place I have stayed in the Caribbean,” it immediately piqued my curiosity.
“We start off by having a big breakfast. Then we lie by the pool before going down to the dock. We’ll have a late lunch on the boat or on another island somewhere,” I read with fascination in Caribbean Travel & Life. Of course, the second thing that grabbed my attention: what exactly constitutes a big breakfast for the notoriously slender Moss – two pieces of fruit?
Perched atop a steep hill above Frenchman’s Cay on the island’s West End, the luxury villa is designed Carolina-style, with a wraparound verandah on each floor to catch sea breezes (as often seen in Charleston, South Carolina). The verandah is strategically positioned for serene views of the Caribbean Sea and the verdant island of St. John, a mile away, that are, in a word, sublime.
A hammock tucked into each corner of the powder blue-trimmed verandah offers a delightful twist on the breathtaking views. From the hammock outside the master bedroom, I see a panorama of pristine nature – the St. Francis Drake Channel and St. John – nothing created by the hand of man, unless you count a small boat or two silently scudding that infinite turquoise far below.
From another hammock: the view is magenta-colored bougainvillea, a tall coconut palm, and a blue BBQ gazebo next to the private pool. Yet another hammock features a view of the marina of Sopher’s Hole, scarlet and magenta bougainvillea, plus houses dotting the hillside. At night, it’s the most glittery view.
Rotating among hammocks – or, as they call relaxing here in the British Virgins, “limin'” – will be probably be your most strenuous activity during a stay in 10,000 square-foot Frenchman’s Lookout. (The local newspaper is even named The Limin’ Times.) At night, those hammocks exert a magnetic sway, as you admire the sky spangled with thousands of stars, easily picking out the Big Dipper and Milky Way. Cares melt away in the constant trade wind breezes.
Called the “Sailing Capital of the World” for good reason, the British Virgins are 60+ islands, most uninhabited, which offer many tempting coves and empty white-sand beaches to dock and savor solitude. Largely pristine and undeveloped, they’re utterly unlike the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands.
No large hotels or high-rises of any kind are on Tortola. Villa rentals are the lodgings of choice, and Frenchman’s Lookout, a five-bedroom, five-bath villa, was called one of the Caribbean’s best by Travel & Leisure some years ago. The islands do, however, boast some of the world’s most famous beach bars, like the Soggy Dollar on Jost Van Dyke, for sipping a “painkiller,” an ambrosial blend of pineapple and orange juices, and coconut cream, topped by freshly-grated nutmeg.
On a sail one day, I snorkeled in a sea that shaded from jade green to turquoise, cobalt and variants thereof, and viewed classic sights like The Baths in Virgin Gorda, a dramatic pile of big boulders strewn on the beach that protects small coves and grottoes for swimming and snorkeling. As soon we approached Sandy Spit – a tiny islet of white sand encircling palms so swaying they resembled the Caribbean version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, utterly uninhabited – I knew this vision straight out of a South Pacific calendar was the “sweet spot” I’d traveled from.
Pirates sailed the British Virgins starting in the 16th century, and their legacy endures in many island names. As we sailed past the island named Deadmen’s Chest, our captain said this is where Blackbeard abandoned 15 of his men, alluded to in the song, “Yo-ho-ho on a dead man’s chest, 15 men and a bottle of rum.”
Blackbeard was the nickname for the English pirate Edward Teach, who actually lived in Soper’s Hole below Frenchman’s Lookout in 1715-18. Similarly, the Sir Francis Drake Channel, of which our villa has a commanding view from its superb lookout point, was named for another English pirate, who plundered Spanish ships for the British Crown.
The island Jost Van Dyke was named for a Dutch pirate, while Norman Island is believed to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, says local lore.
Each morning, villa staff opened all the mahogany French doors on the first floor to admit soft breezes into the living room. And each night, before settling beneath the snowy white duvet on my king-sized bed – was it the one Moss slept in, I wondered – I padded over mats woven from sea-grass to open the French doors in my bedroom to welcome the nature sounds of the Tortola night.
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