By Karen Feld
According to legend, Scrub Island, was a destination for pirates seeking some down time from pillaging and scraping barnacles from the bottom of their sailing ships. Today, the island, aptly named, was transformed to a tranquil private oasis five years ago. One of the 60 British Virgin Islands and cays (pronounce that “keys”) in the Caribbean-only ten inhabited-it’s an enchanting retreat from New York winter temperatures and the rat race.
“A baby turtle recently hatched and scurried through a wedding party. It was symbolic of the couple starting a new life together,” said Event/Catering Manager, Rosalie Jennings, “and it wasn’t staged.” Guests ran to grab it and return it to the ocean.
That’s the way it is at Scrub Island, the high end resort with the turtle logo.
Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, is not easy to reach. That’s part of the allure of this private island for the beach and diving obsessed. It provides an exclusive experience. Flying commercial requires a change of aircraft in San Juan to a small commuter plane running on “island time,” such as Cape Air, a short hop to Tortola, Beef Island; followed by a taxi to the Trellis Bay ferry and finally the one mile ferry ride to Scrub Island. Warning, allow for a two hour layover in San Juan and a full day of travel. An alternate route is through St. Thomas with a longer ferry ride to Tortola. Governor’s Point, on the north side of Scrub Island has a private helicopter pad often used for the many destination weddings since it has 270 degree water views.
But it didn’t take us long to relax. We were greeted at the dock with a tall chilled rum punch and shown to The Governors Suite in Marina Village, luxury accommodations most certainly fit for any “governor.” The large, one bedroom, two bath suite-with both soaking tub and large shower-was designed with an open feel in soft beige tones with a green accent and high quality natural materials. A large, comfy living room, included a full open kitchen with top of the line appliances, including a Wolf cooktop, just in case we wanted to cook or arrange for one of the resorts private chefs to prepare a meal for us. The private terrace with full ocean views and a gentle breeze was perfect for a nightcap or to just sit quietly and listen to the lapping waves and smell the salt air. The trade winds keep away mosquitoes.
The Scrub Island Hotel, owned by Mainsail, based in Tampa, Florida, is part of the Marriott Autograph Collection of unique high end boutique properties. There’s only one house on the island not affiliated with the resort. That belongs to an Italian chef who will prepare private dinners for guests. The villas have off-island owners who rent them. A stylishly furnished, four bedroom private villa with its own infinity pool that goes straight to the sea level, rents for $2,000 per night.
There’s no need to leave the island. Everything you could imagine in terms of water activities, including tandem sea kayaks, stand up paddleboards, water trampoline, fishing, diving and snorkeling is available. Private boat charters and even a sailing school are readily available. There are also three beaches, each with a distinct personality, as well as several multi-tiered freshwater pools. The island is virtually vehicle free to protect the natural ecosystem. If you’re not a hiker or up for a pleasant, but hilly walk with views of the water from all directions, the friendly and accommodating staff will drive you in a golf cart (about the only motorized transportation on the island) to one of the 52 spacious rooms and suites or one of the nine private villas.
Depending on your whims, you can be active or not. You feel like you’ve escaped to a remote island, yet connected via WiFi and satellite TV if you choose to be. Should island fever set in, you can charter a private boat for an excursion on the water to Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke or cruise along the North side of Tortola and check out the secluded cays.
Dive BVI offers day long adventures ($100-$125/person but they don’t go unless they have eight). Their Billionaire’s Cruise begins with a stop for snorkeling in the clear water on the way to the North Sound with a stop on the private island, Saba Rock. You’ll see the estates of the rich and famous: Sir Richard Branson founder of Virgin Airlines, owns Necker Island, and Google co-founder Larry Page. Although the land on the islands is entirely privately owned, under British law, all beaches up to the high water mark are Crown Land and open to the public.
We kayaked one afternoon to Honeymoon Beach, a small secluded beach on one side of the island. Another option was to kayak to Diamond Reef for snorkeling. There was no shortage of lobster, conch, hermit crab, turtles, barracuda and other fish. Even if you aren’t a diver or snorkeler, in the evening you can watch the four foot long tarpon swim in the underwater lighted marina.
The two restaurants at the resort specialize in modern Caribbean cuisine with a Latin flair. Executive Chef Juan Morrison oversees both the casual open air Tierra Tierra as well as fine dining at Caravela. Both have breathtaking views of the water and other islands. The rum glazed guava BBQ baby back ribs, cooked to perfection at Tierra Tierra, had a delicious sweet flavor with a spicy bite. Conch fritters as well as conch chowder are popular starters followed by jerk chicken or coconut rum poached grouper or snapper with sweet fried plantains. The fresh pumpkin soup was superb-light and flavorful.
Caravela has a selection of steaks. Portions are huge-my tender and juicy rib eye was 16 ounces. Needless to say I didn’t dare finish it since I planned to fit into my swimsuit the next morning. Key lime pie provided a tangy finish to dinner. Even if you’re not a big breakfast person, try the almond and corn flake crunchy French toast with real Maple syrup. The resort has its own desalination plant on island for water.
Some guests ventured off island to check out not only incredible views and sunsets but popular hot spots like Foxy’s Taboo on Diamond Cay and Soggy Dollar Beach Bar, home of the original Painkiller, on White Bay in Jost Van Dyke. The complimentary ferry runs from Scrub to Tortola every half hour. But this is not a spot for late night partying. The last ferry departs the island at 11:30 pm. North Beach, at the far side of Scrub island, (it’s a hilly hike to get there and easier to access via golf cart) offers a walk down Sea Grape Avenue with its secluded beach cabanas along the exposed, rustic shoreline. It has a natural, unspoiled look, more desert than tropical, cactus and a variety of coral and shells. If you prefer fresh water to the warm salt water and surf, there’s a small pool there as well by the One Shoe Bar, named for the abandoned flip flops which are now attached to the wall. Be sure to try a rum concoction. My favorite was the “Dark and Stormier.” The dark rum Painkiller and Carib Lager, were also popular. Even when the resort is filled, there are many romantic nooks offering privacy. Safety has long been a concern in the Caribbean, but not here. My companion left his wallet on the beach and the staff tracked him down to return it.
Scrub Island, a 230-acre haven with its protected coves, eye-catching scenery, luxurious accommodations-request building 17 for best views-and gracious service, is not to be missed. January rates start at $659 to $1439/night. For reservations, please call: (284)394-3440. For information, please visit: scrubisland.com