Travels With Hannah: You Can Go Home Again - 27 East

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Travels With Hannah: You Can Go Home Again

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Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

A beach front cottage at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

A beach front cottage at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

Bougainvillea Point at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

Bougainvillea Point at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

The arrival dock at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

The arrival dock at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

The rum room at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

The rum room at Rosewood at Little Dix Bay. Courtesy photo

author on Apr 16, 2024

Legacy. It’s a word I keep hearing over and over again during my four-day stay at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, the 83-key resort on Virgin Gorda managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts that opened in 1964. I have flown down to the island to celebrate Little Dix’s 60th anniversary. Six decades earlier, American financier and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller set aside 500 pristine acres on this tiny and, yes, hard-to-get-to island in the British Virgin Islands, building a resort where the architecture blends in with the landscape.

There are no televisions in the rooms at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, and most find scant use for phones on-property. The midcentury design, part of a resort-wide renovation that was rebuilt in 2020 after the utter decimation of the back-to-back hurricanes of 2017 — Irma and Maria — keeps in mind Rockefeller's original intent: to allow natural beauty to be the star.

So yes, it’s a resort about legacy, but the word legacy keeps coming up because I, too, am a legacy, a legacy guest from another time and another place, from Little Dix’s sibling property, Caneel Bay, which opened in 1956 and was destroyed in those same hurricanes in 2017. That property, on the U.S.V.I. island of St. John, continues to sit in limbo due to a land dispute between private ownership and the national park — itself established by Rockefeller in the middle of the 20th century. Caneel was my familial vacation home for years, the place where we took my father’s ashes when he died in 2011, and the place where my family always imagined we would travel in perpetuity. Caneel legacy guest. Caneel Bay, of course, does not exist anymore. How do you explain your relationship to a place if that place has been razed, if the only thing left is debris from a storm?

The approach to Little Dix Bay by boat is not unlike the approach to Caneel. Rockefeller designed his twin resorts this way on purpose: low-profile, single-story buildings; sea grape; muted colors; the illusion of nothing. An arriving guest is meant to experience nothing but pristine beach as she sips rum punch on a short boat charter from Tortola. For me, four days on Little Dix felt as close as possible to coming home, to reclaiming that so-called legacy.

My room was one of the property’s treehouses, a one-bedroom home on stilts with a view of the water and walkable access to the pristine beach, where, in the mornings, I dragged a chaise out into the sea, snapped on my snorkel, and went searching for hawksbill turtles, which didn’t take long. Pretty soon, they emerged from the blue, neon remora sucker fish attached to their backs. Sometimes, I saw one, sometimes hawksbills in pairs, swimming down into the grasses to nibble their meals and back up to the top fanning their flippers as they broached the surface.

My life on the beaches of Caneel had always been suspended in time. I sat. I read. I ate. I snorkeled. It was a place I went when I wanted to do practically nothing, and Little Dix revived that urge in me, the urge to discard the shell of myself, to sink into the beauty of a place. I lived, for a while, suspended in the conditional.

Had my father lived, we would have continued down a path of a different legacy. We would have become guests of Little Dix instead, I imagined, dining al fresco in the morning, walking by Rockefeller’s now-plaque-anointed rock, looking for the little lemon shark in the afternoons, taking the resort up on its complimentary beach drops when the sea swell wasn’t too high. Maybe Little Dix would have become my father’s favorite place, too, a place just as meaningful and peace-inducing as Caneel had always been to him for all of those years.

Nearly everyone I met at Little Dix recognized in me the same spirit that defined their resort, the place where they had made their careers, or their memories. Twinned together by fate or a shared love for a simple resort that places a premium on the natural environment, we were — are, really — the rare kinds of travelers who recognize when we have found perfection. It’s rare to say, too, when you travel the world but can identify that you have stumbled upon a place that is actually home, a place that could be the place that you come back to again and again, your own personal Eden.

Can you go back to a place that no longer exists? Can we visit ghosts? At Little Dix, I saw the bones of Caneel, my favorite place, my family’s vacation legacy, laid out before me, still perfect, preserved, pristine. I felt, even, the spirit of my dad. (I like to imagine, when I swim in these waters, that he is somewhere nearby, even though I am no mystic, and he was, for the most part, a lawyerly cynic). Maybe a place that is beloved isn’t completely lost forever. Maybe a legacy can reinvent itself. Maybe someone who doesn’t really believe in anything can find a spiritual home even after her spot has been taken away for good.

It is nice to know, at least, that a permanent place for me exists — me, the roamer, the forever traveler, the person who is always off to find the next greatest thrill, the next big adventure. Tackling the world is forever my goal, but if I want to go home — to reclaim my legacy — I’ll always have Little Dix, a shining beacon on a white-crested beach, not too far from the one that remains now ever in my memory. It’s a legacy I’m proud to own, one I hope to pass along to my water-logged children, as they swim with their own hawksbills, forge their own tidy adventures across the globe. Find a place. Allow it in. Bury it deep in your soul. Let it take root. Nurture it. Never let it leave you. Find your way back someday. I know I will.

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