The Lure of SurfSong

This boutique villa resort offers garden dining and a relaxed and warm environment.

cate-and-markSometimes it takes the Greek mythological “siren song” to call you to a place that is irresistible. Hidden away on the southeast shore of Beef Island, just a brief distance yet insulated from the Tortola airport, is one such hideaway. The very name sets the stage for the ambiance you will feel when entering the property. Surfsong Villa Resort beckons with a lyre and song floating just ahead of the gracefully opening electronic gate blended in natural vegetation. As your car meanders along the quiet winding road lined with sea grapes and palms, you turn a corner to a surprise pop-up-postcard view of the sparkling waters of the Caribbean.

Who knew what was hidden here? Your ears definitely had to be attuned to the “surfsong” to hear. For many seeking an atmospheric getaway, it is really all about the setting and this boutique villa-resort offers high-end design, appointments and amenities in a relaxed and warm environment. Founders and managers, Mark and Cate Stephenson have been lovingly adding their casual yet elegant flair to this quiet retreat for over 10 years now.

The adventure-seeking Canadians with a love for sailing, flying (Mark is a licensed single-engine plane pilot) and gourmet food, stumbled across Tortola in 2005 after cruising the Caribbean in their own small sailboat. Drawn to both the island of Tortola and the community, the idea of opening a Balinese-style retreat, with gardens, hidden grottos and teak furniture appealed to these young entrepreneurs. Desirous to add all of their favorite elements from their travels into one space, the couple created Surfsong on the shores of Well Bay in 2005.

I was fortunate, along with a “Who’s Who” list of government officials, business owners and media personnel in the BVI – to be at that opening, greeted by a golf cart and glass of champagne. I, like other guests, were whisked away on a tour of a property with villas that exuded refined excellence in a natural setting. No building was erected without the thought of blending into the boulders and trees, which were nature’s original garments in this seaside property. And this was just the start of their dream.

Starting with an original house that existed on the property, which they fashioned into a welcome center, office and upstairs living quarters – they remodeled four other villas and added a two-story beach lounge. Each had a special name: Seascape, Surfside, and Driftwood (ranging in size from two and one bedroom villas) to a studio perched between giant boulders with a huge picture window, named Tree House.

“We designed it around romance and our nuptials,” Cate explained.  “We were married on a beach in St Vincent with a total of 12 guests including the pastor.”

Originally the villas held just a dozen guests and the tranquil bay setting was an ideal spot as a wedding venue, which Surfsong has been from the very beginning.

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Over the years, with the acquisition of another adjacent villa and lease on two others, including a pool, Surfsong is now able to accommodate up to 30 guests. But the theme of intimate quietness, exclusive care by staff and highlighting natural elements in the surroundings, is still key to their success. For the last five years they have received the coveted “Certificate of Excellence” award from Trip Advisor and are listed number 11 out of the Best 25 Small Hotels in the Caribbean. The BVI’s own Hotel and Commerce Association (BVICCHA) awarded them the “Hospitality Business of the Year” in 2015.

The buzz around the island now centers on Surfsong’s recently “open to the public” outdoor gourmet dining venue called The Courtyard at Surfsong.  Headed up by former New York-based chef David Cioppa, the idea of letting others enjoy this garden dining experience which guests were accustomed to, came about by popular demand last December.

“We struggled for awhile with the concept of how we could maintain the ambiance and tranquility for our guests and still remain open to the public,”  Cate explained. They were able to accomplish this by limiting seating to 20 to 30 guests in intimate table settings in a garden gazebo setting.

Having enjoyed a dining experience at The Courtyard myself, I can attest to the ambiance (and the food!) as being “magical.”  The under lighting makes the surrounding turpentine trees (locally called “tourist trees” for their red and peeling bark) look like majestic sculptures. The boulder features also come alive in the light with an artful waterfall and a contrasting glowing fire pit nestled right in the chiseled-out top of a boulder. Low soft jazz music plays in the background and Chef David comes out to personally greet each guest and go over the set menu options – generally a choice of two to three entrees, two appetizers and two desserts.

Chef David embraces the “farm to table” concept and takes pride in locally sourcing everything from fresh lobster and fish to organic produce and eggs – even the salt comes from neighboring Salt Island. Pairing wine with your meal is another of his specialties and the extensive wine list offers many choices.  Chicken in a Caribbean style chocolate mole sauce was my choice but I also got to taste fresh caught Grouper subtly seasoned in tomato and herb sauce and a butter–knife-tender steak from Wisconsin grass-fed beef, one of the few food items that were not locally sourced.

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“We take reservations for Monday night and Thursday through Saturday evenings and Sunday brunch, but seating is limited and fills up fast,” Cate noted. It is important to book in advance, because there is only one seating. This means you have your table for the whole evening, making for an amazing full dining experience savored over several hours.

Listening as Cate spoke about the total Surfsong experience, I realized she used two words over and again that best summed it up – “passion and caring.” “All our staff really care about the guests’ experience and the answer is never “no,” but how can we create some fabulous options for you if we can not give you exactly what you want.”  Even The Courtyard is an extension of this caring experience. Romantic and refined, Surfsong’s savvy Caribbean-style concept will be enjoyed by both dining and overnight guests.

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Official webpage of The BVI Welcome Guide. Source of information for everything in the British Virgin Islands since 1971.

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