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Virgin Limited Edition

I Stayed on Richard Branson's Private Island in the British Virgin Islands—Here's What It's Really Like

From water sports and "jungle tennis" to luxe guest rooms and wildlife-spotting, there's no shortage of fun on Necker Island.
is, pure and simple, a love story. Sure, its jaw-dropping, turquoise-water-enveloped beauty will make your heart go pitter-patter. And yes, Necker’s seemingly infinite array of infinity and private plunge pools are nothing if not romantic, but the love I’m talking about goes deeper, and starts deeper, stretching back to when Richard Branson first spotted the 73-acre island just off Virgin Gorda via helicopter in 1976.

“I managed to persuade my new girlfriend, Joan, to come away with me for a weekend, and pretended I wanted to buy an island to try to impress her,” Branson says. On a helicopter flyover, they spotted Necker and fell in love, both with it and, in time, with each other. “We were married on Necker, and now 48 years later, we love spending time with our children and grandchildren here. It’s worked out quite well,” he says, in a bit of cheeky British understatement. Necker may be Branson’s home base, but it’s best known as an exclusive, private island getaway. “It was just too special not to share,” he says, explaining how Necker evolved over the years from his personal retreat into a luxury resort accommodating up to 48 guests. A place where the red-carpet crowd or jet-setting CEOs are known to come let their hair down, trade their blazers and Blahniks for flip-flops, and not worry about a thing.
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And this is accurate: There is absolutely nothing to worry about on Necker, except perhaps, fretting about how to fit in all the available activities—a valid concern. I began each day with yoga overlooking the intoxicating horizon of endless blue, and didn’t stop till the after-dinner deejay or karaoke or swaying to steel drums on the beach finally wore me out. Fortunately, resting comfortably in the lush and supremely private guest rooms and suites is not a problem. Balinese-inspired details—teak and mahogany wood furnishings and beams, stone floors and soaring ceilings, many of woven rush in the Great House or with carved medallions—all infuse authentic island flavor without succumbing to tropical kitsch.
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Open-air living in the common areas delights the senses, with lovely light and delightful Caribbean breezes flooding in, while the interiors boast Indonesian-inspired flare and easy elegance, with white couches, natural materials, and comfy seating areas. Dining and gathering tables at Necker are sturdy and welcoming, including the custom-carved “crocodile” table that’s some 50 feet long. The overall design motif at Necker veers toward elevated, but relaxed fun. Case in point: “Every table at Necker was built for dancing on,” Branson affirms.
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Delicious family-style meals and every need and most every desire—from reef-safe sunblock and juicy bathrobes to fully stocked mini fridges and cocktail bars at every turn—is provided. As is a full menu of water sports, from paddleboarding to kite-boarding to sailing or SEABOB snorkeling (a blast!!), plus yoga, tennis, pickleball and paddle, to a beachside gym and cold-plunge (Branson, a fitness fiend, is in dynamite shape at age 73). Here in the Necker world of action-packed amusement, each of the above comes with pristine equipment (even tennis shoes if needed) and enthusiastic instructors ready to teach/coach/cheer you on. I recommend the Necker version of “Jungle Tennis,” and got a kick out of watching Branson himself, a billionaire a few times over, hunting through thick undergrowth to rescue lost balls hit over the fence, yet another hint of the serious conservation and sustainability ethic that drives his operation.
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Necker runs on 70% renewables and has abolished single-use plastic as part of their , with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030—a target they’re well on the way to hitting thanks to the island’s solar and wind energy microgrid. Even the famous “Red Dock” where guests are first welcomed with Champagne is fashioned of recycled plastic, while island pathways are surfaced with finely crushed glass.Necker’s wildlife residents, from the tortoises to chummy lemurs to dazzling scarlet ibis and Necker’s photogenic flamingos—a species that Branson is reintroducing to the BVIs—all have a place in this vibrant, sustainable ecosystem.
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So yes, Necker is undeniably lush and luxurious, but there’s zero pretense on this laid-back island. It’s more fun-and-games and “hey is that a lemur hopping up on your shoulder?” than it is fancy and high-falutin. Giant tortoises loiter about like an ancient PSA reminding us to slow down and soak it all in. A flock of 350-some wild flamingos add tropical wow, as if Necker needed it.And here’s the good news: an exclusive buy-out of all 24 bedrooms is no longer required to stay on Necker. Smaller groups of eight to fifteen can book stays, as can individuals, couples or families during designated “celebration weeks” from April through November. “We want everyone to be able to experience the incredible magic of Necker Island,” says general manager James Basson, who came to Necker from a Virgin Limited Edition sister property in South Africa. A worthy goal.As one who would never have dreamed of experiencing it via a personal buy-out, I can attest that the Necker love story is genuine and swoon-worthy. Branson’s love of people, of place, of the ocean and wildlife and the broader environment, of sport and mostly of sheer playful fun, is fully realized on this BVI gem. Pack your game-on spirit, and let Necker do the rest.
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