The islands are home to about 2,000 charter yachts, the Caribbean's largest fleet, and for most visitors sailing is the draw. Casual waterfront restaurants provide small docks for yachties to pull up to, and every size of boat, from tiny tenders to ocean-going superyachts, bob gently on moorings in truly turquoise waters.
You don't have to be a billionaire to live there but several do, including Larry Page, co-founder of Google, who has a home on Eustatia
Island an easy windsurf from Necker, one of two private islands owned by Richard Branson.
The pirate Blackbeard was the most notorious BVI resident 300 years ago, but a million tourists a year visit this nation today, one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, and celebrities from Princess Diana to the Beckhams and Daniel Craig have relished the understated yet classy lifestyle. Less American than the Bahamas and less British than Barbados, it is one of 14 British Overseas Territories. The Queen is Head of State, the legal system is based on English Law and it's a major offshore financial centre with the US dollar as currency. Crime is low and living standards are high.
An island home
David Johnson is chairman of Victor International. The US company has completed 43 developments including America's largest reclamation project at Bay Harbor in Michigan, an upmarket resort that won major international awards. Johnson sailed the Caribbean over eight years, seeking the perfect location for a beachfront resort before settling on the British Virgin Islands.
"They combine great physical beauty with a strong infrastructure," he explains. "They have a 10-month season, a stable government, no corruption, clear property title and safe water. The government has built a new hospital and plans to extend the runway to improve direct access from Europe and the US." His search resulted in Oil Nut Bay, a 300-acre resort on the quiet eastern tip of Virgin Gorda, the third largest island, where Victor International has invested £59 million in completed infrastructure. As well as cabling, LED lighting, desalination plants and utility generators, all internal roads are finished. There are two tennis courts, a gym, kids club and a beach club with three pools, a bar and waterfront restaurant. A marina with 91 berths, a helipad and a small village centre with shops and another restaurant will open within six months.
Large plots, some beachfront and some high above the sea, with permission to build substantial detached homes cost from £1,125,000 through Knight Frank. There will be a maximum of 88 homes and to date 28 have been sold to buyers from Greece, the US, Italy, Sweden and one London couple.
Seven homes are complete at Oil Nut Bay with rentals running at 35 per cent occupancy in the first year of operation says resort general manager Jonathan Oakes. Prices start from £440 a night for a wonderful one-bedroom cliff suite perched above the beach where you can spot whales from the private pool.
"From my own daughter I know that on holiday families need things to do and a good community," says Johnson who lives at Oil Nut Bay for six months of the year. "I want owners to use the islands but have somewhere special to return to." His commitment to the islands includes creating the Yacht Club Costa Smerelda, a world-class marina adjacent to Oil Nut Bay with links to the 40-year old marina in Sardinia. There are slips for 42 yachts up to 300ft on modern floating docks, and a beautiful new public clubhouse. Berths cost from £8,880 a linear foot.
The BVI has few big developments, and most homes are stand-alone properties. A two-bedroom townhouse at Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola is £503,670 while large, detached villas start from £888,860. Knight Frank has a two-bedroom house with beach access on Jost Van Dyke island for £352,500 and a three-bedroom beachfront house with mature gardens on Tortola for £977,700.
Contacts and Fact file
Oil Nut Bay: www.oilnutbay.com
Property is freehold. Annual maintenance and fees total £1,060
Knight Frank: www.knightfrank.com (020 7629 8171)
Non-resident buyers require a land holding licence costing £470. Stamp duty is 12 per cent for non-residents and four per cent for locals.
BA flies to Antigua and Liat flies from Antigua to Beef Island.