Virgin Gorda is the third largest island in the British Virgins and the second most populated. Lying northeast of Tortola , the island is a study in contrasts. The southwestern peninsula is a flat, dry landscape colored by vivid bougainvillea and bright century plants. Some of the best beaches in the region are found here, plus The Baths National Park , where pools of turquoise water invite exploration and a bevy of visiting boats gather by day.
The northern end of Virgin Gorda is mountainous and lush—the single paved road winds steeply through wild forest, along Gorda Peak National Park , and down to the villages of Gun Creek and North Sound , which cling to the hillside overlooking one of the best harbors in the Virgin Islands. Sir Francis Drake used North Sound as a staging area for a 1595 attack on Puerto Rico , but today it is noted most as a magnet for sailing and water sports enthusiasts.
Just about 3,000 people call Virgin Gorda home, and they are a particularly welcoming bunch. At Spanish Town , the main settlement in the south, life revolves around the marina, where some of the most popular restaurants and shops are found. The side streets are lined with neat West Indian–style homes, many fronted by colorful gardens. Others are built imaginatively around the giant granite boulders of the area. Goats and sheep wander through the village, causing occasional traffic jams. The settlement epitomizes small-town life: There are more than a dozen churches, a small Red Cross building, a handful of government offices, schools, small and large groceries, and uncrowded streets.
Virgin Gorda’s single biggest calling card, however, is its natural beauty. The Baths National Park  is a stunning white-sand beach littered with large, dramatic boulders; Savannah Bay  is a near-perfect crescent beach with an excellent off-shore reef for snorkeling; Gorda Peak  is a peaceful wild forest home to rare birds, lizards, and plants; and all around Virgin Gorda the island is bestowed with brilliant blue waters, the sights and sounds of wildlife, and exceptional views in every direction.
It is no surprise, then, that Virgin Gorda is home to some of the best resorts in the British Virgin Islands. Little Dix Bay, opened by Laurance Rockefeller in 1964, still wins awards for its five-star service and luxury; the Bitter End at North Sound  is an unrivaled choice for water sports lovers; Biras Creek offers its guests privacy and peacefulness, plus excellent dining. A handful of small hotels, many of them locally owned, cater to travelers with more moderate budgets, but all places on Virgin Gorda take good care of their guests. Shopping, dining, and nightlife can be found if you want them but are easy enough to avoid if you don’t. All in all, Virgin Gorda is as close to the good life as many of us will find.