As you whiz through brilliant turquoise waters to the Caribbean hideaway of Necker Island by speedboat, with the ocean spray blasting your face and the engine roar only punctuated by the pop of a champagne-bottle cork, it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment. Only if you keep your eyes peeled as you approach the British Virgin Island will you spot the rebuilding of the Great House atop Devil’s Hill.
It’s been just over a year since the Balinese-style home of Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson was struck by lightning and razed by fire during a tropical storm. Guests staying at the time included actress Kate Winslet, who helped carry Branson’s 90-year-old mother, Eve, to safety. Thanks to the Branson family’s indomitable spirit (“We’ll create something even more special out of the ruins,” said Branson), only six weeks after the fire in August 2011, the island was back on its feet.
Today, the paradise retreat (which Branson purchased for $320,000 U.S. in 1978), is very much open for business. Apart from a glimpse of the construction as you arrive at the 74-acre isle (either by boat or helicopter), you could easily vacation for a week amidst year-round sunshine and lush flora and fauna and be oblivious to any work taking place. “Some new guests don’t even realize that there was a Great House,” says general manager Kenton Jones.
Until the new nine-bedroom Great House is completed in summer 2013 (when Necker will accommodate a maximum of 30 guests), the private retreat can host up to 16 people. This number is split between six newly refurbished Bali houses, as well as Temple House and Love Temple. There is also the option of hiring Branson’s 105-foot luxury catamaran, Necker Belle, taking the current-capacity total to 30.
You can rent Necker exclusively, or book an individual room during a Celebration Week and share the island with others. These weeks are no exception to attracting notable names, and you may end up hanging out with an A-lister poolside, while sipping a Painkiller, the BVI’s signature rum cocktail. All your food (prepared by Michelin-trained chefs such as Gareth Zachary), drink, and activities, along with 60 full-time staff, are part of the deal.
Unwind at the Bali Leha Spa with a pampering Balinese massage, or channel Branson’s daredevil streak with kitesurfing, his preferred island sport. Tennis fans can hit the revamped tennis courts, and professional coach Mike Richards is on hand for private lessons.
At night on Necker, you never know who you’ll be rubbing shoulders with at parties such as a tribal evening, where guests dress up in fitting attire, and the beach is transformed with cushions on the sand and a barbecue dinner under the stars. The island offers total privacy, making it popular over the years with the likes of Oprah, Robert De Niro, Nelson Mandela, Kate Moss, and recently Prince Harry. No doubt when the Great House is completed, there will be one hell of a party.