Virgin Gorda retreat Rosewood Little Dix Bay has some pedigree: it was built by Laurance Rockefeller (of the billionaire oil dynasty) and was a favourite holidaying spot for no less than Queen Elizabeth and family. But true to the nature of its Caribbean locale, it’s more laidback than lah-di-dah, just as Rockerfeller intended. He wanted somewhere that felt like a fishing village, one that ran on pioneering eco-principles that benefited the community; and he stayed true to course, creating stilted hexagonal huts and coastal-cool villas, nearly all right by the beach, and pavilions that blend in with the tropical background, looking like wild jagged peaks. Under the Rosewood aegis (fully rebuilt after Hurricane Irma) it has an added hilltop spa, upscale Caribbean dining, cultured kids’ club and rum-focused bar, but neither its moral compass nor unpretentious approach have been swayed.
82, including 42 cottages, 35 suites and five villas.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £974.62 ($1,237), including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates don't include breakfast.
Virgin Gorda might be tricky to travel to for guests with mobility issues, but once you’re there you can be driven around in a golf cart.
The resort closes annually from around the end of August through the first two weeks of October.
At the hotel
Beach, spa and fitness centre, yoga platform, organic farm, free-to-borrow non-motorised watersports equipment, six tennis courts and two pickleball courts, laundry service, free WiFi. In rooms: Butler service, Bluetooth speaker, free WiFi, personal bar, tea- and coffee-making kit, free digital newspaper, turndown service and Diptyque bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Almost all rooms are set – at most – a step or two from the beach, except for the expansive four-bedroom villas, which are on the surrounding slope and are a slightly longer stroll from the beach – so, not too much of a hardship. Columbus and Laurance houses have the best vantage point, but if you want to feel the sand underfoot as soon as you step out the door, then the spacious Two-Bedroom Suites, or even the cosy Beachfront Cottage will serve. And the stilted treehouse suites with their interconnected hexagonal living room and bedroom and vast wraparound deck feel more secluded, tucked into the trees.
The Bay has a buffer of coral reef, so its waters are kept swimmably calm. But, there are also two pools onsite: the freeform tiered pavilion pool, which squiggles its way past nodding palms and volcanic boulders. Servers are on hand to ferry rum punches from the Pavilion Lounge to your lounger, suncream is in dispensers, and there’s a shallow section for kids. And there’s an infinity pool at the spa, nestled into a flowery niche, which seems to flow into the sea.
Sense spa’s Afro-Caribbean treatments lean heavily on local lore and ancestral know-how. You might be wrapped in jumbie tree and tamarind leaves, balmed with lemongrass; scrubbed with plumeria flower and coconut oils and seasalt; packed into bentonite clay with turmeric; or slicked with papaya mousse. Let therapists work out your knots with bamboo canes and volcanic stone. Plus there are Evidens de Beauté facials and Maison Caulières skin smoothing, massages mimicking the motion of the ocean, men’s grooming and mani-pedis. The spa’s setting, high on a bluff, overlooking the Sir Francis Drake channel adds to the sense of serenity. A little further south, you can take soothing dips in natural baths pooled in granite rocks, and couples should try the ‘spa astronomy’ experience, where they’ll be gently pummelled under a glittering firmament. The gym might not be quite as relaxing, but it’s well-equipped, with treadmills, stairmasters, Life cycles, Cybex weight machines and free weights. Personal trainers can customise your workout, and there’s a range of classes available: all kinds of yoga, meditation and mantra chanting – both on a water-facing deck – strength training or cardio. Some can be held over a video call in your room on request.
There’s memorabilia from Rockefeller’s time across the Sixties and Seventies displayed proudly throughout the resort, and with design inspiration taken from Slim Arons prints and Jackie O’s holiday style, you should throw some vintage looks in with your regular holiday wear to follow suit.
On request, staff can set up a candlelit table on a secluded spot along the shore.
Very welcome, with a free and impressively imaginative kids’ club, plenty of baby kit, and expansive rooms for families.
Juniors, tweens and teens.
The Rosewood Two-Bedroom Suites are some of the most popular at the resort, and very comfortably sleep up to six. Larger families might want to book one of the larger villas set on the slopes.
The free Rosewood Explorer’s club (open 10am to 5pm, for kids aged three to 16) is an adorable space with its own little Caribbean-island-style hut, tropical murals and bean bags shaped like sea creatures, not to mention bundles of toys. But, it’s not just aesthetics –activities celebrate and educate about local culture, with landscape painting, folk arts and crafts, West Indian-music making, storytelling and jewellery making, kite-flying, tie-dying and journal keeping to encourage self-reflection. Mini adventures include nature walks, farm visits, treasure hunts, sandcastle building, beach Olympics and more. Half- and full-day programmes are available. And little ones can join you in saluting the sun with gentle yoga classes, or tire themselves out at the gym’s fun-fit session.
The pavilion pool has a shallow area for kids to safely play in.
For finicky eaters, liaise with the hotel beforehand to share your dietary requirements – otherwise, there’s lots to tempt little ones, with small plates, burgers and flatbreads at the simpler end of the dining spectrum.
Babysitters and nannies are available on request.
No need to pack
The hotel has baby monitors, highchairs, baby cots and linens, baby baths and towels, gentle bath products, diaper pails, bottle warmers, play tents, children’s shirts and strollers.
When Laurance Rockerfeller (grandson of oil baron John D Rockerfeller) bought up hundreds of acres of Virgin Gorda’s coast in 1959, his vision was to create an unconventional resort, styled like a fishing village that would do as little damage to the environment as possible, use natural resources and benefit the local economy. And he stayed true to his principles, building in local stone and wood, hiring locally, and not even allowing lawns to be ‘fine mowed’ and eschewing air-conditioning for the trade winds. So it went until 2017 when Hurricane Irma blitzed all but the four main pavilions. However, with a renewed sense of awe and respect for nature, the Rosewood Group have spent millions rebuilding to Rockerfeller’s commandments, while making things a little more luxurious. The stay is plastic free, carefully measures its energy usage, sources the bulk of its ingredients from the onsite organic farm and works alongside the BVI Tourist Board and Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) to arrange eco-friendly activities such as tree-replanting, sea-turtle tracking and learning about the coral-reef restoration.
Romantic private dinners can be taken in the Chef’s Garden or on a secluded part of the beach.
Laidback in Caribbean colour by day, then swap your flip-flops for heels and va-va-voom up the retro glam for evening meals.
The hotel has four restaurants to choose from, all supplied by the haul of fruits, vegetables and eggs from the hotel’s own farm and catches from fishermen who unload their nets each morning. Sugar Mill is set in the open-air courtyard of a stone mill, overlooking the bay, and serves up Caribbean-style tapas and ceviches, crudo and oysters from a raw bar. Order up grouper ceviche with pico de gallo and pineapple; lobster cannelloni; conch chowder; and empanadas stuffed with cod, raisins and caramelised onions in a saffron sauce, washed down with a mango sangria, lemongrass G&T or pickled-okra martini. Airy Reef House restaurant, a little further along the coast, by the dock, serves luxurious comfort food: wagyu burgers, grilled lobster, blondies and brownies. But its flatbreads win out for their taste-sensation toppings; say, jerk chicken with onions, capers, callaloo and Trinidad green seasoning; or the seafood overload of mussels, shrimps, calamari and mahi-mahi with roasted leek, garlic sauce and confit lemon. Plus there are inventive veggie options too. At Pavilion you’re privy to Virgin Gorda sea vistas and cooling trade-wind breezes, as you eat food that feels like a warm hug: plantain mofongo with red-bean stew topped with cheddar; shrimp, salt fish and calamari fritters in pepper sauce; beef pepper pot with okra dumplings and a spike of scotch bonnet chilli. And finish with the West Indian fruit cake drenched in Mount Gay rum with tamarind ice-cream and wild-thyme custard. Breakfast in Pavilion is American and hearty, with some local outliers (sweet and savoury lentil fritters, salt-fish stew, jerk-spiced corn), and each week there’s a different themed dinner (seafood, Indian, Mexican).
Dark spirits (many rare and aged) have gathered from across the Caribbean, Central and South America, and even as far as Southeast Asia in the Rum Room, where you can imbibe them in many ways: neat to sip; mixed into mojitos, mai tais, daiquiris and Dark and Stormys; and as a ti-punch: your choice of rum with lime and sugar. For the curious or connoisseurs looking to expand their palate, weekly small-batch tastings are held. If you’re rum-averse, or perhaps had a few too many of the house drink since 1964 (a Pelican Smash with four kinds of rum, whisky, bourbon, pineapple, orange, and guava), there are global wines and cocktails inspired by recipes from the Sixties and Seventies: Vesper Martini, Pisco sour, Penicillin. Soak up the sauce with coconut-bread crab cakes and shrimp cocktail sandwiches, and let the local musicians carry you away. Each eatery has its own mix of cocktails; sip a Paloma, Pineapple margarita or Acapulco Spritz (tequila, jalapeño, strawberry, citrus and sparkling wine) at Reef House; various sangrias at Sugar Mill; and Caribbean beers and yet more rum concoctions at the Pavilion. Wines are singularly excellent across the board.
At Pavilion, breakfast is 7.30am to 10.30am, lunch 12 noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9.30pm.
Rosewood Little Dix Bay is on the white-sand north coast of BVI haven Virgin Gorda’s danglier region (hanging below Gorda Peak National Park), within walking distance of Spanish Town.
Paradise isn’t easily come by; depending on where you’re arriving from, you’ll need to stop off in at least one Caribbean island (St John’s or Puerto Rico are the likeliest) and maybe another destination on top. The closest airport to the hotel is Virgin Gorda (a five-minute drive from the hotel), which you can reach via San Juan in Puerto Rico or teeny St Thomas. Roundtrip transfers are available for US$20. But the easiest route is via Tortola, which acts as the gateway to the BVI, and from which the hotel can pick you up by catamaran transfer (a thrilling 20-minute trip over luminous waters) from Terrance B. Lettsome International, confusingly on the side of Tortola called Beef Island. Roundtrip boat transfers are US$115 a person over 12, US$57.50 for five to 11 year olds, and free for under-fives.
There is a road system in Virgin Gorda, with a main road running north to south, smaller roads parallel with the coast and a small network through Spanish Town, but with the capital a 20-minute walk from the resort, plenty to keep you occupied in situ, and transfers to further afield day trips, there’s little need to drive. If you’re eager to, though, the hotel can arrange Jeep or electric Moke cars, but you’ll have to find parking nearby.
It’s possible to catch the two-hour ferry from St Thomas (although the views are more striking on the approach from Tortola), or you can chopper, charter, or hop in a private or shared water taxi from the US Virgin Islands.
Worth getting out of bed for
On discovering Virgin Gorda, Christopher Columbus thought it looked like a curvaceous woman and thus dubbed it ‘fat virgin’ – a name which massively undercuts the magnificence of the island, which in reality is much more comely, we’d say… Just look at the wall of greenery that backs the resort, sands that shimmer like crushed crystals on the half-mile crescent Rockerfeller dubbed ‘wilderness beach’, the spritely blue waters from which you might see a dolphin leap. The resort occupies an especially picturesque patch – most of which was replanted after Hurricane Irma hit, and is looking very lush indeed – and every guest gets their own designated chairs on the beach (with call buzzers for cocktail emergencies) so it’s easy to sit and simply admire its Caribbean charms. The water’s safe for swimming thanks to a coral reef around the outer edges, and watersports equipment (paddleboards, kayaks, tubes, snorkels) can be borrowed for free. Take a guided tour around the reef to learn how it was restored, and for those who want a little more aquatic adventure, scuba dives and deep-sea fishing trips can be arranged. Or go sea-turtle tracking with the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) to help monitor hatchlings and tag turtles as needed. The BVI is big on sailing too, and the hotel’s fleet of Vision catamarans can be booked for day trips (where you’ll have a private bar and trampolines to bounce above the waves on), immersive overnight stays with convivial dinners on deck and plenty of playthings, and sunset cruises, plus sailing lessons are carried out in a hobie cat. But one of the most popular excursions is the ‘beach drop’, where staff will ferry you out to a deserted slick of sand with a gourmet picnic and snorkelling equipment for some sun-kissed alone time. On the hill where the spa sits, there are also six tennis courts and two pickleback courts to use for a charge; a resident pro can help you perfect your swing, and there are clinics, round robins, match-ups and mixers every week. Staff can set you off on a tropical hiking trail, or take you around the island, and on your return you could tour the farm with gardeners Ashley and Francis, with homegrown treats (a hibiscus and basil welcome drink, mini muffins, granola bars) to try, and get a little more green fingered planting an indigenous tree as a way to show some love for the local community. Or learn how to make the island’s intensely flavoursome melting-pot cuisine in a family cooking lesson.
The three restaurants onsite could give you weeks of ‘starter, main, dessert’ configurations, but with Spanish Town so close by, you may as well spend at least one night seeing what the locals are cooking up. CocoMaya serves Asian-fusion fare with a little Caribbean spice and live DJs to accompany. Their sea-to-plate sushi is flavourfully fresh, but you should also order too many small plates (Thai money-bag dumplings, lemon-chicken bites, beef-rendang tacos), share the crispy duck with five-spice hoisin, and finish with the yuzu key-lime pie. Under an open-air pavilion in Nail Bay, diners dip coconut shrimp in a piña colada sauce, pop conch fritters, and re-embrace pineapple on pizza as it’s served with Caribbean flair at Sugarcane restaurant. For fancier feasting, the Restaurant at Leverick Bay has filet mignon and Anegada lobster; and for less high-falutin fare, tuck into gourmet burgers and tacos at colourful Bath and Turtle.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this coolly Caribbean resort on Virgin Gorda and unpacked their bottle of sip-neat rum, still humming soca tunes, a full account of their conches and cocktails break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the BVI…
It’s hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth knocking about in some flip-flops and chugging silly-with-rum cocktails, but even HRH needs a break – so where proved fit enough for a queen to kick back? Well, the answer is Rosewood Little Dix Bay resort, back in 1966 when it was part of businessman and conservationist Laurance Rockerfeller’s sustainable hotel portfolio and when the bay became known as ‘wilderness beach’. Perhaps it’s time for Liz to get back on Mr & Mrs Smith and book again because while the Rosewood group has stayed true to Rockerfeller’s strict environmental principles (he was ahead of his time in eco-friendly thinking) in rebuilding after Hurricane Irma swept disastrously through, they’ve also added a hilltop spa focused on Afro-Caribbean healing rituals, expansive villas and new eateries. The style remains classic though, chic and coastal enough for a Slim Arons composition and replete with mid-century modern pieces, many retreats have been constructed in their original hexagonal shape; and the four main pavilions, which withstood the winds, still have the ‘storm-tossed, irregular, tropical look of tamed wildness’ that original architect Walther Prokosch intended, with their jagged grey roofs that evoke mountain peaks. It may have drawn British royalty, but this stay is a celebration of Caribbean culture too, largely in the sunny island cuisine, full-to-the-brim rum bar, and kids’ club where activities delve into Virgin Gorda’s environment, history and handicrafts. It’s a place where even crown-toters find commonality in the simple joys of rum and sun.