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DETAILS: Virgin Gorda

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

GETTING THERE: There are no direct flights from Washington to Virgin Gorda or, for that matter, anywhere in the British Virgin Islands. But you can avoid multiple flights and puddle jumpers by flying to St. Thomas, USVI (about a 4 1/2 -hour flight), then taking a ferry to Tortola, BVI, and another from Tortola to Virgin Gorda (about 1 1/2 hours total). My round-trip flight on United from Washington Dulles to St. Thomas was $368; the two ferries were $74 round trip. You can also fly from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda; round-trip fare on Air Sunshine is $250.

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GETTING AROUND: If you stay in the Valley, you can get away without renting a car; restaurants are nearby, Spring Bay is about a half-hour walk, and you can take a taxi to the Baths or Little Dix Bay ($4 to $6). But if you want to explore the north end of the island, a rental car is recommended. As you'd expect, BVIers drive on the left.

WHERE TO STAY: I loved the casual, slightly raffish atmosphere at Fischer's Cove Beach Hotel (the Valley, 284-495-5252, http://www.fischerscove.com), where the beachfront cottages offer real value at $200 a night double in high season (mid-December through mid-April) and feature kitchenettes with fridge, stove and microwave. No TVs or phones in the cottages, which I considered a plus. (There's a lovely open-air common area with cable TV and free WiFi.) There are also 12 hotel rooms with garden views for $125. Fair warning: Ants are a problem, the bathrooms need an overhaul and the music blaring from the adjoining marina can be annoying. Still, I'd go back in a heartbeat for the location and cost.

Another affordable option is Guavaberry Spring Bay Vacation Homes (284-495-5227, http://www.guavaberryspringbay.com), with one-bedroom houses for $220 a night double, but they're not on the beach. Then there are the five-star resorts, including the Bitter End Yacht Club (800-872-2392 or 284-494-2746, http://www.beyc.com), where rooms start at $860 a night and include three meals a day and a sailing course, and Rosewood Little Dix Bay (284-495-5555, http://www.littledixbay.com), with garden-view rooms starting at $725 a night.

WHERE TO EAT: Eating out on Virgin Gorda isn't cheap, with entrees at most "nice" places in the $20 to $30 range, but the open-air dining rooms with killer views help. Order the catch of the day grilled and you can't go wrong. I liked the Rock Cafe for its intimate outdoor decks set amid boulders and waterfalls (dinner for two about $75); the Mine Shaft Cafe for its 360-degree sunset view (dinner for two about $65); and Little Dix Bay for its bountiful lunchtime buffet ($40 per person; try the grilled swordfish and chilled cantaloupe soup). The Bath & Turtle, a lively bar and restaurant in Yacht Harbour, is a good place to grab breakfast or a burger (about $15).

WHAT TO DO: The dramatic boulder-strewn beach known as the Baths is the island's most famous attraction and can get crowded, but you'd be crazy not to go. It's one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. Admission is $3. Once on the beach, don't miss the 20-minute hike under, around and over the rocks to adjoining Devil's Bay; pack your snorkel gear. Also check out Spring Bay for its less touristed, more secluded boulder scene. Diving and snorkeling are huge here; rent equipment, join group excursions or charter boats at Dive BVI in Yacht Harbour (284-495-5513, http://www.divebvi.com). An afternoon snorkel excursion is $30; all-day snorkel trips to Anegada Island are $80. Note that trips are canceled if there aren't enough participants.

INFORMATION: BVI Tourist Board, 800-835-8530, http://www.bvitourism.com. Ultimate BVI, http://www.ultimatebvi.com.

-- K.C.S.


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