TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands — From the breakfast table at the Fort Burt Hotel here you have one of the best views of Road Town Harbour and the sailboats as they set out for a day of plying the breezes on Sir Francis Drake Channel.
In the evening you can watch the lights twinkle on at Peter Island south across that channel from the Fort Burt's alfresco dining room built in the remains of a 17th-Century Dutch fort, while enjoying house specialties such as Plymouth beefsteak and porter pie, lobster in garlic butter sauce or a yeoman's repast of grilled meats.
Fort Burt is one of two dozen or so small inns that offer visitors a chance to sample all the wonders of the British Virgin Islands--renowned for their beautiful beaches and incomparable waters--at attractive rates.
For example, a double at Fort Burt is $90 a day in season (mid-December through mid-April), $55 the rest of the year.
Rates at the islands' more famous resorts are three to four times as much. While the accommodations at the smaller inns are far more modest than at the more expensive resorts, there is still no shortage of sun, sand and sea.
Sugar Mill's Jinx
The Sugar Mill Hotel at Apple Bay on Tortola is run by Jinx and Jeff Morgan, two writers from the San Francisco area who contribute regular food and beverage columns to media in the United States.
The Morgans had traveled to the islands, visited a hotel they heard was for sale, then began pursuing their dream of running a hotel on a tropical island.
Built in the remains of a colonial sugar mill, the hotel features a menu that reflects the Morgans' culinary expertise with a range that runs from exotic soups (iced cucumber or West Indian pumpkin) through delectable entrees (veal in creamy mushroom sauce with fresh spinach fettuccine or Her Majesty's West Indian regimental seafood curry) to tasty desserts (frozen pina colada cake or cappuccino mousse with kahlua cream).
The property includes 18 deluxe accommodations and two poolside bungalows. Rates are $100 to $120 for a double in season; $70 to $80 in the off-season.
Frenchman's Cay, one of the newest properties in the islands, features one- and two-bedroom villas starting at $110 a day in season (about 30% less off-season). The property is on an immaculate white-sand beach near Tortola's West End, and includes tennis courts, a freshwater pool and all water sports.
The West End of Tortola is about a 20-minute ride by car or taxi from the island's capital at Road Town and away from most of the other activities, but the seclusion is a relief. Water taxis leave for St. Thomas from both Road Town and the West End.
The Cane Garden Bay Beach Hotel enjoys one of the finest locations on Tortola. Built at one end of the island's most popular bays, the hotel offers all water sports for the active, plus floaters and lounge chairs for the sedentary.
Accommodations are modest but the view is not--particularly the dazzling sunsets. The tone is definitely West Indian, as is the menu of seafood, creole and curried dishes. Rates are $50 in season, $30 off-season.
While Virgin Gorda is renowned for top-end resorts such as Little Dix Bay, the Bitter End Yacht Club, Biras Creek and Tradewinds, visitors also can take advantage of this beautiful island at any of several economically priced small inns.
Guavaberry Spring Bay, just a short distance from Virgin Gorda's most dramatic beaches, is one of the most unusual properties in the Caribbean.
Built literally among and on top of the giant boulders that nature has strewn along the southwest coast of the island, Guavaberry is walking distance from the Baths, the grotto that has become a must-see attraction for visitors to the islands.
The Guavaberry concept is vacation homes--i.e., no restaurants, bars, etc. You do the cooking in kitchenettes.
By contrast, Spanish Town is just up the road and there are restaurants and larger hotels along the way. Prices start at $95 a day for a one-bedroom house in season, $62 off-season.
Just up the road from Guavaberry is Fischer's Cove Beach Hotel, a lovely 20-room property on the beach. The tone is West Indian and the cuisine features conch and grouper, unusual soups and local fruits.
The property is entertainment-oriented, somewhat unusual for the islands, which generally are marketed as quiet, relaxed and slow-paced.
Disco or a Rare Book
Owned and operated by Andy Flax, one of Virgin Gorda's most astute entrepreneurs, Fischer's Cove is the center of night life on the island, with a disco and a bar that features cable-TV sportscasts from the United States. Prices begin at $120 a day for a double in season, $95 off-season.
In marked contrast to Fischer's Cove is the Olde Yard Inn, a dozen rooms of style and grace where hammocks hang between palms and the entertainment is a rare book chosen from shelves that line a breeze-swept library. Many of the books are collector's items.
Not that you can't get a bit more active here, too.
Sixteen of Virgin Gorda's best beaches are a short walk or a bicycle ride away. The hotel provides the snorkeling equipment and they'll fix a lobster and champagne picnic lunch. Rates begin at $160 to $185 a day for a double in season; $125 off-season.
For more information about small inns of the British Virgin Islands, contact the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, 370 Lexington Ave., New York 10017, or call (800) 835-8530 or (212) 696-0400.