Gilligan and his merry band of misfits would have loved to wash ashore at Valley Trunk Estate. Nestled within the British Virgin Islands on Virgin Gorda, an 8-mile-long spit of glorious, lush tropical topography, Valley Trunk offers a serene setting, spectacular views and an ever-present yet unobtrusive staff dedicated to fulfilling a guest’s every whim.
In our parallel Gilligan universe, Ginger would adore the perfectly chilled Veuve Clicquot on the veranda as the setting sun sparkles on her sequined gown. The Professor’s days would be spent analyzing the titanic forces that scattered giant granite boulders all over the tropical landscape like a child’s marbles. The Skipper would happily tuck into the superb cuisine from morning to evening while Mary Ann would never leave the private, secluded beach. And Lovey and Thurston could hang with island neighbor gazillionaires such as Google’s Larry Page and Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson (who recently took a nasty bike spill that made headlines worldwide while training on Virgin Gorda).
Just keep Gilligan away from the impressively huge 17th-century Dutch West Indies Company cannon. Recovered from a nearby shipwreck and perched on the tile terrace next to the estate’s serpentine (and chlorine-free) eternity pool, the ancient weapon overlooks Valley Trunk Bay, a silent reminder of the island chain’s colonial history.
Valley Trunk Origin
Named for the native trunkback (or leatherback) turtle, the 19-acre estate came into being in the early 1980s as a private retreat for the fabulously wealthy Wildenstein family of art and horse racing renown. About three years ago, the family decided to open up the property as an exclusive-use villa, with profits supporting black rhino conservation efforts at its expansive Ol Jogi ranch in Kenya.
THE TRUNKBACK TURTLE (ALSO KNOWN AS THE LEATHERBACK TURTLE) IS THE LARGEST LIVING TURTLE AND FOURTH-HEAVIEST REPTILE.
Imbued with a charming, 1980s retro vibe, Valley Trunk’s architecture feels at once expansively grand yet homey — if your home happened to be built by billionaires during the Reagan era. Yet it looks like it was constructed yesterday. The craftsmanship is superb, with no signs of aging whatsoever, which is a real feat in the tropics. One wonders if magic elves come out after guests have retired and scurry about keeping the place pristine.
Within the main house, there’s a bar, pool table and an upstairs master suite, as well as a cinema room with a giant white couch for comfy viewing (although we can’t imagine anyone opting for TV when there’s so much native beauty mere steps away). The only hard and fast rule of Trunk Valley applies to the couch: no red wine, please. It’s still the Wildenstein family’s house, after all.
The main house is surrounded by eight stone-and-stucco villas topped with sturdy handmade Japanese tiles, each accommodating two suites with private, eye-popping ocean views. (A few smaller garden-facing rooms are available for nannies and other staff.) The suites have been updated but not redecorated, as befits the ’80s billionaire-homey vibe.
Complimentary Hermès products in the necessary rooms assure that guests waft around in an elegant, scented cloud.
Stone walkways meander throughout the lush foliage — apparently, Madam Wildenstein desired myriad views while walking her dogs — all impeccably manicured by a full-time staff of six gardeners.
NATIVE ART IS DISPLAYED THROUGHOUT THE ESTATE GROUNDS, INCLUDING STATUETTES FROM POLYNESIA AND HAND-CARVED WOODEN DRUMS.
All paths lead down to the white sand beach where sun worshipers can while away the day watching yachts, sailboats and the occasional monster cruise ship crisscross the St. Francis Drake Channel’s turquoise water.
Bali House: Worth the Trip Alone
Situated just above the beach, the resplendent Bali House dominates the Gauguin-like scenery. Discovered by the family while visiting the Indonesian island, the intricate thatched native wood-and-bamboo structure was painstakingly disassembled by Balinese craftsmen, shipped to Virgin Gorda (along with the craftsmen) and then just as painstakingly reassembled. The open-air design lets the soft tropical breeze waft throughout, carrying with it the buzzy call of the bananaquit birds and the coqui frogs, turning lunches and dinners on the cozy second floor into dreamlike experiences.
The expertly prepared cuisine can be tailored to each guest’s exacting requirements. Only the freshest ingredients, many shipped by FedEx from the U.S., go into each dish, along with local lobster and vegetables like the ever-present (and delicious) beet-root, all washed down with superb French wines. Breads and French pastries, all baked on-site, are as exquisite as the views.
Fitting for an island retreat, buffet-style servings rule, but individual platings can be provided instantly. Every possible culinary craving — from poolside burgers and pizza to sit-down dinners with filet, salmon, lobster, crabmeat, sushi, whatever — can be accommodated with a bit of a heads-up to the staff. It’s all about what you want, when you want it. Even if you don’t know what that is yet, they’ve got you covered.
Hosts With the Mosts
This highly personalized service goes to the heart of what the Valley Trunk experience is all about. General manager Chris Tilling, a tall, bronzed Brit with a James Bond grin and 35 years of experience hosting guests in the Caribbean, leads the most delightfully cheerful team in the Caribbean — even if, as he says, he still hates sand in his shoes.
There’s no ostentation among this genuinely lovely and endlessly accommodating crew. Effervescent deputy manager Catherine Samoza, who is married to executive chef Miguel Samoza, head waitress Roslyn Bob (most brilliant smile ever) and dignified yet warm bartender Godwin Curasco are ever-present, accommodating and, best of all, real.
They’re Valley Trunk’s most public presences for guests. But a host of other staffers, many of them longtime Wildenstein employees, keep the magic sparkling from predawn to well after sunset. Midnight snorkeling? Sure! Beach bonfire at night under the stars? In-room massages? Poolside yoga lessons? Private island tours? Whatever you want.
Xanadu: A Most Sociable Float
Oh, did we mention there’s a yacht? Xanadu, Valley Trunk’s 68-foot Bertram motor yacht, is a mighty fine way to explore the islands and coves of Virgin Gorda and the surrounding islands. Cruise around and gawk at the scenery. Or toss out the anchor, swim in the silky water and snorkel about to spot a trunkback turtle or two. Or watch frigates, huge native birds that soar like pterodactyls on the island’s endless thermals. Or just lie around, swill cocktails, enjoy a gourmet repast and snoop on the rich folk.
Captain Dale “Blondie” Wheatley effortlessly threads Xanadu through tight harbors with ease. If you’re really, really good, he might even let you pilot Xanadu across the waves.
Blondie also owns Hog Heaven, a cool, funky bar/restaurant at Virgin Gorda’s crest where the views are breathtaking and the Painkiller, a pineapple/coconut/nutmeg concoction with rum, rum and more rum, will cure what ails ya or at least make you forget about it for a while. Tip: Try the ribs. Yum.
The must-see Baths National Park, while not part of Valley Trunk, sits practically next door on the beach’s edge. A geological wonder of giant tumbled granite boulders jammed impossibly on top of one another, the Baths’ hidden rock pools and confined, twisty-turny pathways bring out the pirate (and aspiring photographer) in everyone.
The Price of Paradise
As one might imagine, reveling in your own personal paradise doesn’t come cheap, nor will you find it on Airbnb. Four guests (the minimum) run $6,000 per day; additional guests (up to 12) are $1,200 per day. High season starts around Thanksgiving to Easter. That covers use of the yacht (but not the gas), tennis court, gym and sauna, plus laundry service, mountain biking, paddle boarding, sea kayaking, and all the food and drink you can possibly consume, plus all the cheerful service.
There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Virgin Gorda — most guests arrive at St. Thomas, Tortola, Puerto Rico or Antigua and then hire a shuttle over from one of the many charter flight operators available. Captain Mike at Capital Air will happily fly you to Virgin Gorda’s sand-swept runway in a twin-engine prop — an exciting approach as you bank low over the island’s southern tip, turn hard-a-port and rapidly descend to a smooth landing, then taxi to the quaint customs office to get your passport stamped. Voila! Off you go to 1-percenter heaven. For a while, at least.
Unless you wash ashore in the SS Minnow, of course. But Chris Tilling and his crew can do the impossible, so they can surely fix a 2-foot hole in that leaky old tub, and with a smile, too.
Brian Melton will go just about anywhere, anytime, for a great travel story. Except for places with lots of snakes. Apologies to ophiologists.