VIRGIN GORDA, British Virgin Islands — One look at the primitive beauty of this place and you begin to give thanks that Christopher Columbus, Sebastian Cabot, Sir Francis Drake and other adventurous types gave Virgin Gorda little more than a glance before setting sail to other shores.
Indeed, electricity and the telephone made their first appearances here in the 1960s. Which somehow indicates why the bright lights and hullabaloo of many other resorts have been slow in coming.
Not that things are so primitive that you'll have to bring along a compass, string hammock and Man Friday to show you around. The usual amenities are here, although not in great profusion, while the yacht harbor and boat yard have moorings for 300 craft.
You won't find native-song-and-dance programs at a variety of hotels every evening, but one or more nights at Telma's Hideout in Spanish Town listening and dancing to what seems a combination of the River City and U.S. Marine Bands blasting out calypso should take care of your night life.
Here to there: Getting here isn't all that much fun: American flying LAX-San Juan via Dallas, Delta via Atlanta, then change to Crownair or Air BVI on to Virgin Gorda. TWA and Eastern get you to San Juan with changes, the same two regionals onward. It's also possible to sail in from ports in the British or U.S. Virgin Islands, a very pleasant and venturesome way to arrive.
How long/how much? Once you're here, anything less than a week seems to make little sense, as some hotels make costs for such a stay more attractive. Lodging prices generally are big-city hotel rates during summer, climbing for mid-December to mid-April.
A few fast facts: The U.S. dollar is currency here, a valid passport or proof of citizenship (birth certificate, etc.) definitely required for entry. Weather in the comfortable 70s and 80s all year. Virgin Gorda is about 10 miles long, hotels and sights spread out all the way, taxis moderate in cost. But two firms will rent you Jeeps for the hilly terrain and reaching remote beaches.
Getting settled in: Guavaberry Spring Bay (P.O. Box 20; $88 winter, $62 summer for a one-bedroom house with kitchenette) is made up of separate units and cottages in contemporary wooden style, very handsome, near but not on beach at southern end of island. Also has two-bedroom units, its own commissary.
Fischers Cove Beach Hotel (Box 60; $120 daily for one-bedroom house in winter, $95 summer) is a more traditional place set in beautiful grounds with lots of flowers. You may also choose a modified American plan (MAP) on a daily or weekly basis summer or winter, the latter $180 daily double, $1,050 weekly for room, breakfasts and dinners.
Olde Yard Inn (Box 26; $150-$175 MAP double in winter, $115 summer) is also near beach and yacht harbor, restaurant and bar, rates without meals $70 double in summer, winter on request.
Regional food and drink: Kallaloo is one of the most popular native dishes in the West Indies, a stew or soup based on greens, salt pork, okra, peppers and whatever else the cook feels inclined to toss in. Fungi, deep-fried dollops of cornmeal, are also a staple along with plenty of fresh seafood. Try the North Sound grouper, yellowtail snapper, wahoo and other fish grilled, in chowders or curried.
You won't find choice cuts of fresh beef too often around here, but kitchens have a Creole way with chicken. All in all, Virgin Gorda fare seemed less zippy than in other parts of the Caribbean. Cruzan rum is the drink of record, stirred up with two other rums, guava, pineapple and orange juice, plus a splash of Scotch and bourbon into something called the Big Bamboo. Tasty but lethal.
Moderate-cost dining: The Salty Whale on North Sound's Leverick Bay is a very pleasant place right on the water, typical island menu heavy on fish but with a few grilled meats. Leverick Bay Villas here has two- and three-bedroom units that start at $490 weekly in summer, $700 winter, in a marina setting.
The Olde Yard Inn is a bit smaller, excellent food, and we heard marvelous reports on Teacher Ilma's in Spanish Town for typical native dishes, a rather simple place, dinner only.
Going first-class: Little Dix Bay (Box 70; $265 double daily summer, all meals included, $300 winter) is a sister Rockresort to Caneel Bay on St. John's in the U.S. Virgin Islands, both places ready to haul you into the lap of tropical luxury. Private beaches, sailing and diving gear, tennis, several superb restaurants and gorgeous room furnishings at either resort. You may split a week between them for a taste of both islands, the cruise from one to the other tossed in with the tab, which you may get by calling (800) 223-7637.