The British Virgin Islands are made up of 50 smaller islands and islets, which are mostly small and many are uninhabited. The area is largely unspoiled by tourism and enjoys some of the best weather in the Caribbean. Development is limited the tallest things around are swaying coconut trees.
Necker Island, a small rocky landmass at the north-eastern extremity of the island chain, first received publicity in the 1960s when a war photographer and his friend chose to be marooned there, without food or water, as a survival test. They lasted 14 days, during which time they chopped down most of the island's few palms.
Eleven years later, Richard Branson saw Necker and fell in love with it, but not the asking price. Two years later, the vendors negotiated and the successful British entrepreneur added a Caribbean island to his portfolio.
Necker is almost completely encircled by coral reefs, is relatively isolated and rarely visited, even by the numerous charter boats cruising the area. It was probably always that way, as there's no evidence of the pre-Columbian artefacts which have been found on neighbouring islands.
Its scenery ranges from beautiful sandy beaches punctuated by jutting headlands and cactus-studded ridges on beautiful hillsides. The clear Caribbean waters are crammed with superbly varied colours and shapes.
Sir Richard's dream of building a house for family and friends to enjoy began in 1982 on Devil's Hill. Everything had to be taken in by boat to build the airy Balinese-style construction manpower, water, diggers, trucks, the lot. The house appears to be growing out of a rock. Much thought was put into maintaining the natural ecosystem. Where possible, natural materials from the island were used and the main walls are built from stone removed from the top of the hill. Brazil, Bali and Yorkshire were sources of various components.
The island accommodates just 26 people, with 10 rooms in the Great House, including the Master Suite, supplemented by three authentic one-bedroom Balinese houses. They are within easy reach of the main house and offer privacy for those who wish to escape from time to time.
At breakfast each morning, staff ask guests what they would like to do for the day.
The Beach Pavilion has an absolutely stunning pool, accessible from land or beach. The infinity pool has a swim-up bar, water exercise machine and waterfall. The Crocodile Pavilion has a solid teak crocodile table where guests are served delicious fare from the gourmet kitchen.
All meals are informal, either taken in the dining room, around the pool or on the beach. Fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood are creatively prepared. Beach barbecues are popular, as is the sushi bar at the pool. Themed nights are lots of fun and chefs cater for special requirements.
The island has two tennis courts, air-conditioned gymnasium, loads of board games and a huge range of DVDs and CDs. Hammocks can sway you into oblivion as you soak in the sun and views.
Excursions off the island are easily arranged deep sea fishing, scuba diving, island hopping, shopping, helicopter flights and yacht charters are there for the asking.