Caneel Bay

The true-blue classic

Serenity Now!     Photo: Corbis

WITHOUT A DOUBT, ST. JOHN'S alluring natural charms get star billing at Caneel Bay. Frigate birds, as angular as pterodactyls, soar over no fewer than seven stunningly pristine on-site strands, from vest-pocket hideaways like Paradise Beach, which you can have all to yourself, to Caneel Beach, shaded by coconut palms and sea grapes and sprawled out in front of the resort's main lobby. Some 170 manicured acres are cordoned off from the rest of the island—and the rest of the world, it seems—by a trio of 800-foot-high forested ridges. Philanthropist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller founded Caneel Bay in the fifties, and the place still feels like a summer camp for blue bloods. There's no shortage of diversions—day trips to the British Virgins, guided shoreline hikes, couples yoga at the resort's Self Centre. But most of the clientele seem to be seeking stillness and seclusion rather than pampering. Rooms contain no phones, TVs, radios, or even alarm clocks. Management, for its part, tries mightily to preserve an old-money sense of decorum: Collars for gents, please, even on the tennis courts, and evening resort wear for ladies. Expect to see plenty of newlyweds, espadrille-shod martini sippers, and the occasional jackass: Wild donkeys sometimes roam past just in time for cocktails.

The Good Life // Architecture keeps a low profile here. Low-slung rows of 166 guest rooms—done up in dark wood, Indonesian wicker, and botanical prints—are scattered around the property in clusters of a dozen or so and linked by winding footpaths. As a rule, the food in the four dining rooms is tasty if not particularly innovative; standouts include the steaks, aged and tender, the breakfast buffet served on an open-air terrace overlooking Caneel Beach, and the 265-bottle wine list at the Turtle Bay Estate House.

Jaw Dropper // Request one of 20 rooms along Scott Beach. After you've spent hours snorkeling with hubcap-size hawksbill turtles, your private deck offers a front-row seat for virtuoso sunsets that give way to the lights of St. Thomas, four miles across the sound.

Sports on-Site // Aside from the 11 tennis courts, built into a terraced hillside, a compact fitness center, and a small pool near the courts, most action takes place on the coral formations a hundred yards from the waterline. Use of snorkel gear—plus a generous selection of sailboards, kayaks, and small sailboats—is complimentary.

Beyond the Sand // Two-thirds of St. John's 20 square miles fall within Virgin Islands National Park. Sample them by renting a jeep (from $65 a day at Sun-n-Sand Car Rentals, available at Caneel Bay from 9 to 10 a.m. daily) and heading for the Reef Bay Trail, at 2.4 miles the longest of the park's 20 hikes. Other options include half- and full-day sails to some of St. John's excellent anchorages, and sea-kayak excursions to offshore cays ($60 to $70 per person through Caneel Bay).

The Fine Print // Most major U.S. airlines fly direct to St. Thomas from various East Coast cities (about $550 round-trip from New York); Caneel Bay guests go by ferry to the resort. From December 17 to March 15, rates at Caneel Bay (340-776-6111, www.caneelbay.com) start at $450, double occupancy ($300 in low season).

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