The billionaire's playground: Virgin Limited Edition

From a private island in the Caribbean to a magical Moroccan kasbah and a stylish Swiss ski chalet, Sir Richard Branson has an impressive eye for luxury. Take a grand tour of his Virgin Limited Edition properties with Siobhan Plowman.

Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

The most famous retreat in the Virgin portfolio, Necker Island is an integral part of the Branson legend. He bought the island in the late 1970s to impress a girl – it worked, and they married there 11 years later. This Caribbean paradise is generally only available for exclusive use, though individual rooms can be booked during dedicated ‘Celebration Weeks’ throughout the year. It sleeps 34 guests across the nine-bedroom Great House as well as a series of one-bedroom Balinese villas dotted around the island. There’s plenty of fun to be had on Necker, with themed parties, a booze cruise around the islands, and a beach Olympics tournament comprising ‘sports’ such as sumo wrestling, kayak races while blindfolded and champagne diving (where bottles of bubbly are hidden in the main pool). More than 100 staff are on hand to cater to guests’ every whim and the US$80,000 (about A$103,352) per night tariff includes all meals, alcohol, transfers and watersports. 

 

Necker Belle, British Virgin Islands

The 32-metre catamaran Necker Belle acts as the mobile version of Necker Island. Comfortably accommodating 12 people, the luxury yacht follows tailored itineraries across the Caribbean, dropping anchor at locations such as Peter Island and Anegada. The light, airy interiors are reminiscent of a private beach house and all living areas are above the waterline for uninterrupted views. Guests spend their days sunbathing on secluded beaches, diving shipwrecks and hiking through coconut plantations, before heading to St Barts to party into the early hours of the morning. Spend seven days at sea for US$80,000 (about A$103,173) or take a day trip for US$12,500 (about A$16,127). 

Necker Belle

 

The Roof Gardens, UK

Tucked away high above the prestigious London suburb of Kensington, the Roof Gardens first opened to the public in 1938. Covering 6,000-square-metres, the garden is divided into three separate areas: a Spanish garden modelled on those at Spain’s Alhambra; an English Woodland garden; and a Tudor walkway with red-brick walls and archways. Resident flamingos wander freely amongst the bridges and ponds. Branson has run private parties up here since the 1980s (including the annual star-studded pre-Wimbledon bash) and there’s now a modern British restaurant, Babylon, and a glamorous nightclub simply called The Club.

 

The Lodge, Switzerland

A classic luxury ski chalet, The Lodge is perched at an altitude of 1,500 metres in the Swiss Alps, just five minutes from the resort of Verbier. During winter, it’s only available for exclusive use and can sleep 18 adults across nine suites with exposed reclaimed wooden beams, plush cream carpets and sleek contemporary furniture. Kids can crash in the six-bed bunkroom, complete with plasma screen TV, games console and beanbags. After a day on the slopes, guests can relax in the indoor heated pool, indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, steam room and spa. Meals come courtesy of Michelin-star trained chefs. In summer, rooms can be rented individually and the mountains offer great hiking, biking and rock climbing. An all-inclusive, one-week stay for 18 guests during peak ski season is priced from CHF86,625 (about A$115,446). 

 

Son Bunyola, Mallorca

This picturesque 680-acre estate on the Spanish island of Mallorca is the newest member of the Virgin portfolio. It launched in 2016 with just three traditional villas, each set in their own secluded area of the estate. The property is part of a World Heritage Site and sits on the island’s mountainous northwestern coast with stunning terraces rolling down to the Mediterranean, olive and almond trees, and quiet pebbly beaches. At the heart of Son Bunyola is an impressive historic manor house, or finca, which dates back to the 13th century and is left unused as a dramatic centrepiece to the property. Villas are priced from €18,765-€31,275 (about A$27,608-A$46,014) per week in high season. 

Son Bunyola

 

Ulusaba, South Africa

Branson’s original safari lodge, Ulusaba, is set within the borders of South Africa’s Sabi Sand Reserve on the edge of Kruger National Park. e retreat is comprised of two separate lodges with a total of 21 rooms and suites. e hilltop Rock Lodge is made up of a network of tribal huts and viewing decks overlooking the surrounding plains. Down on the savannah, Safari Lodge sits on the edge of a dry riverbed with treehouse-style rooms connected by swinging wooden bridges. With around 33,000 acres of private land to explore, guests can head out in a jeep, on foot or in a helicopter for a one-of-a-kind aerial safari. Rooms are priced from ZAR10,800 (about A$1,054) per night. 

 

Kasbah Tamadot, Morocco

Meaning ‘soft breeze’, Kasbah Tamadot is a magical oasis in the foothills of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, overlooking the Asni Valley. There are 18 brightly coloured bedrooms, stuffed with furniture and art collected by the previous owner, interior designer and antiques dealer Luciano Tempo. Ten spacious Berber tents are set around the grounds, each with a king-sized bed, rolltop bath and sprawling mountain-view terrace – some also come with private sunken jacuzzis. There’s a real focus on community development with charitable programs and free English classes on offer, and the majority of the staff are local residents. Stay in the main house from MAD6,350 (about A$848) per night or in one of the tents from MAD10,700 (about A$1,430) per night. 

Kasbah Tamadot

 

Mahali Mzuri, Kenya

This luxury safari camp opened in 2013 with 12 breezy tented suites in the private Olare Motorogi Conservancy, part of the legendary Masaai Mara. The striking, contemporary tents are luxuriously appointed; expect wooden floors, ensuite bathrooms, separate living areas and an open front deck with magnificent views of the surrounding plains. The Main Tent is the hub of the camp, with a spa, lounge, library and 12-metre infinity pool. Mahali Mzuri has a front row seat for the great migration from July to September, when two million wildebeest make their way through the park in search of fresh grasslands in Tanzania. Rates start from US$830 (about A$1,070) per person per night. 

 

Mont Rochelle, South Africa

This 96-acre vineyard estate is in the heart of the Western Cape wine region, close to the town of Franschhoek and just under an hour from Cape Town. It joined the Virgin group in 2014 after an extensive refurbishment, and now offers a 26-room hotel, private four-bedroom villa, two restaurants, Mediterranean-style heated outdoor pool and a Turkish hammam. Guests can have a private picnic among the vines, taste their way through the extensive wine cellar, tee off at the nation’s best golf courses (many of which are less than half an hour away), or cycle between the region’s picturesque cellar doors. Rooms start from ZAR6,600 (about A$645) per night.

Ten spacious Berber tents are set around the grounds, each with a king-sized bed, rolltop bath and sprawling mountain-view terrace – some also come with private sunken jacuzzis.

For more information visit virginlimitededition.com.

 

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Weather to go

South African summer (Nov-Mar) is characterised by hot sunny, days and average high temperatures of 28°CThe Cape Peninsula and surrounding areas have a Mediterranean climate and the heat is offset by frequent tropical rains and hailstorms as summer is also the wet season. Winter (May-Aug) is the dry season; days are sunny and crisp with cold nights and heavy frosts. While the weather is cooler, wildlife are easier to spot as they gather around rivers and water holes because of lessened vegetation.

 

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