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Bliss on the beach in the BVIs

In the laid-back British Virgin Islands, Vincent Graff discovers he can do without room keys and TVs - and finds all the space he needs on the pristine sands

By my third day here, I'm finally comfortable with none of the hotel rooms in the British Virgin Islands coming with a door key. This corner of the Caribbean runs on trust.

No need to lock anything up and nothing seems to get nicked. There are other things missing. Many of the hotels don't bother with TVs - but I've found something better to watch: the pelicans skimming the surface of the smooth sea inches from your face, the frothing, red blooms of the tamarind trees, the hummingbird who joins me for my hotel breakfast.

Not to mention the broad shouldered giant iguana - the size of a cat - who, one day as I get back from the beach, lurches across my path with the threatening gait of Phil Mitchell on his way to a pub fight.


A gentle stroll in search of giant iguanas


The BVIs are a little off the beaten path, and all the better for that.

Perched between Puerto Rico and Anguilla, the country consists of 60 islands, 20 of them inhabited and lots of them with silly sounding names: Great Dog, Prickly Pear, Fallen Jerusalem.

It's a strange nation in some respects: the Queen is on the stamps, they drive on the left and the bottled water is, almost without fail, Highland Spring. But the currency is the U.S. dollar and probably 90 per cent of the visitors are American.

It's a friendly place. One day, we're in a taxi heading out to a restaurant when the driver pulls over. A middle aged woman in big, hoopy earrings is waiting at the bus stop, obviously on her way to work.

'She's your chef,' says our driver. 'Do you mind if I pick her up?' Why would we?


The blissful view from the Guana Island resort


We start off with a couple of nights at Guana Island, an 850-acre private island – so-called because locals reckon it resembles an iguana on the map. (In fact, it looks more like Rod Hull's Emu.) We're collected off the boat and driven up a winding hill through a cedar forest.

When we get to the top, we can see this piece of craggy rock in all its glory: lush, green, a lake with flamingoes, beaches on all sides.

There are never more than 30 people on Guana at a time. Our room is a whitewashed stone cottage with heavy wooden shutters. It wouldn't look out of place in the Algarve.

Dinner is served up overlooking the Caribbean, the lights on the yachts winking at us in the dark.

Andrei, the Romanian-born general manager who came here via Canada, tells me what he likes about the BVIs - the things it doesn't have. 'If you want the bright lights, go to Puerto Rico,' he says. 'There's no cinema in the BVIs. Or a nightclub to talk of.' Perfect for this city dweller.

I try paddleboarding for the first time (a cross between surfing and punting).


Hobie Cat sailing is a short-lived distraction from the pristine beaches


Another time, I'm given a lesson on how to sail a Hobiecat two-person catamaran. I'm rubbish, but it's a pleasant enough hour at sea. My only disappointment: when I snorkel, I'm the only person not to get a glimpse of the giant turtles.

You can see the sparkle of the water from almost everywhere in the BVIs, thanks to the fact that all the islands are so small and it's against the law to build higher than the tallest palm tree.

The sea is everything you'd expect: warm, gentle, deep blue. Forgive me if I sound like a child playing Top Trumps - but is there any sea in the world better than the Caribbean?

I snorkel most days and go for plenty of pre-breakfast swims. The beaches here all look like they've been Photoshopped – the water so blue, the perfectly placed palm trees.


Jumping from the rocks into the crystal-clear waters of 'The Baths'


There's no need to worry that the islands' most famous beach, a breathtaking bay called The Baths (named thus because slaves were brought here to be cleaned just before they went on sale), will be mobbed.

The morning we visit there are fewer than a dozen people on the sand. (Just make sure you avoid this beach on the day the cruise ship comes in.) I leave, after a week, a deep shade of brown, deeply relaxed and wondering where on earth I put my house keys…


First published in the Daily Mail - August 2016

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