But only part of Nevis' story is coastal. Up the forested slopes of Mt. Nevis, formerly prosperous sugar plantations are preserved as gracious hotels like the Hermitage, a collection of sweetly trimmed, brightly painted cottages around a manor house where trade winds provide air-conditioning 800 feet above sea level.

Attractions, or lack of them, make Nevis the ideal escape. You can, and should, drive around the island in under an hour. Horseback ride on shell-strewn beaches. Or spend a sweaty, exhilarating day with a local naturalist like Jim Johnson scaling 3,200-foot Mt. Nevis. At night, toast paradise with a rum punch beside a beach fire on a stargazing tour.

DETAILS: Nevis Tourism Authority, (866) 556-3847, www.nevisisland.com. Four Seasons Resort Nevis, from $745, (800) 332-3442, www.fourseasons.com. Hermitage Plantation Inn, from $325, (869) 469-3477, www.hermitagenevis.com. Jim Johnson, Top to Bottom tours, (869) 469-9080.


ST. JOHN

Largely protected as a national park, St. John remains the wild sibling among the U.S. Virgins. Yet only a 15-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas, it's easy to reach. Lush hiking trails, vivid reefs, and outpost enclaves like Coral Bay make St. John feel as far from mainland USA as possible.

Everyone who stays here, stays for beauty. How they stay ranges vastly, from rough-it tents to luxury villas - low-key at either end of the price spectrum. Cream of the crop Caneel Bay keeps telephones, TVs, and radios out of the rooms. The tent cabins of Maho Bay supply communal bathhouses and candlelit quarters among the trees.