10 things to do on Jost Van Dyke, the “New York of the Virgin Islands”

Only five miles from Tortola, the main commercial center of the British Virgin Islands, minuscule Jost (rhymes with “toast”) Van Dyke is a little island with a big reputation. The scant 8-square-mile island — dubbed the “New York of the Virgin Islands” because it offers so much nightlife — probably packs more fun per square inch than any other island in the BVIs.

Most of the action occurs on the south side of the M-shaped island, in either White Bay (to the west) or Great Harbour (in the south-central area), though rugged Little Harbour, way to the east, is making a play for adventure- and fun-seekers, as well. Moving roughly west to east, what follows are some of Jost Van Dyke‘s brightest, shiniest hot spots.

One Love Bar and Grill
This ramshackle restaurant (left) seems like it must’ve been cobbled together from junk that floated up on the beach, but the fact is: this place serves painfully cold Carib beers and heaping, open-faced lobster rolls ($20).

The dining area — if you can call it that — is the part of the beach under a sprawling sea grape shading scattered plastic chairs and tables. If you plan to visit, don’t worry about your outfit: you really can’t be dressed too casually for this dive.

Soggy Dollar Bar
If you’ve been to this place (large image, above), you know how fanfreakingtastic it is. If you’ve only heard tales about it, let me break it to you gently: it’s seriously more fun than your friends told you. If you’ve never heard of it, well … you lead a sad, sad life.

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Named for a patron who reportedly anchored his boat, swam to shore for a drink, and paid for it with wet cash, the Soggy Dollar is probably most famous as being the birthplace of the potent yet refreshing cocktail known as the Painkiller.

If you’ve only heard tales about the Soggy Dollar, let me break it to you gently: it’s seriously more fun than your friends told you.

Shaded by massive sea grapes and cardamom trees, this nautically-themed open-aired bar boasts one of the finest, whitest beaches in the Virgin Islands. It offers ample space to relax — both actual chairs (if you can manage to hit the seat) and hammocks (if you just need to collapse). The bar has several ring-toss games set up, and the competition gets fierce as the rum flows. Alternatively, the property’s scattered tiki huts offer plenty of space for private chats, and there’s food grilling in back if you’re feeling peckish. Mercifully, if you’re just too tired (read: too drunk) to make it back to your boat, the adjacent Sandcastle Hotel offers delightful cottages ($190-$295/double, depending on the room and the season).

Don’t think the Soggy Dollar could really be this wonderful? Check their beach cam and get back to me.

Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar
Owned by Ivan Chinnery, the Stress-Free Bar (left) ranks several notches lower on the “Wild Scale” than the Soggy Dollar (most of the time). From the water’s edge, Ivan’s is nearly obscured by clumps of puffy sea grape bushes. However, as you approach the building, you quickly realize it’s really a giant piece of folk art. Decorated with hundreds of thousands of shells, Ivan’s is a sprawling, cozy, covered bar that offers a BBQ (on Thursdays, in season) and both campsites ($20-40, depending on season and amenities) and very basic cabins ($45-75).

What makes this place stress-free? Chinnery keeps the vibe mellow, but Ivan’s also boasts an “honor bar.” Feelin’ thirsty? Head behind the bar, mix your cocktail, and leave some money in a jar. No lines, no dealing with snotty bartenders, no watered-down drinks. If you time it right, Chinnery may even play some tunes. He’s no slouch, either — he’s played with Kenny Chesney, who filmed his video for No Shirts, No Shoes, No Problem here.

Foxy’s Tamarind Bar
Over in Great Harbour, situated at the base of the tallest hill on Jost Van Dyke and hidden by a thick mask of coconut palms, sits this shanty institution. Foxy (Philiciano) Callwood is the unofficial mayor of Jost Van Dyke (population 180), largely because of the interstellar success of this bar.

Decorated with dangling t-shirts, bandanas, hats, and underwear, Foxy’s (right) has an on-site brewery; mixes wickedly strong cocktails (a single $6 “Wrecked on the Rocks” will send you reeling); boasts live music on the weekends; and offers the islands’ best “all you can eat” ribs, chicken and fish on Saturday nights ($28/person). Be on the lookout for Taboo, Foxy’s adorable black lab, who doesn’t have time for head-scratches … though he’s always got time for a rib bone.

Not everything on Jost Van Dyke revolves around drinking and eating, however. Other things to do on the island include:

  • Jost Van Dyke Scuba offers both scuba diving trips and eco-excursions around the island.
  • Stroll barefoot through Jost Van Dyke’s “city center” (though this’ll probably only take you 20 minutes, even with a strong headwind).
  • Head to the far east end of the island to slip into the “Bubbly Pool,” a naturally-formed tidal pool.
  • Just east of the Bubbly Pool is a small, uninhabited island, Sandy Spit, perfect for picnics and snorkeling — the shallow waters surrounding the island literally boil with small bait-fish.
  • Tame the winds and the waves on a windsurfing kit.
  • Explore the island on ATV.
  • Why do anything at all? Just Sit and soak up all the beauty from the room of your villa.

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Detour Worth Making: Predjama Castle

PredjamaPredjama Castle, known locally as Predjama Grad, sits an hour southwest of Slovenia’s capital, (the impossible-to-pronounce) Ljubljana. Originally built in the 12th Century on top of a cave, the Castle was expanded and added onto during the 16th Century, and the efforts of those labors are largely what we see today.

Appearing to hang in the middle of a 403-foot-tall limestone cliff, Predjama Castle was carved into the side of the rock and has no man-made rear walls: the vertical face of the cliff serves as those walls. Today, visitors to the Castle can tour the grounds and the inside of the building — as well as explore the caves and underground river below the architectural marvel. To get a sense of the unique “fit” the castle has with the cliff, check out Slovenia Landmarks, which has an excellent VR tour of the Castle and in its interior.

If you go to Predjama, aim for August, when locals stage the Erasmus Knights’ Tournament. During the event, men and women in period constume engage in medieval games played during the 16th Century — complete with archery, swordplay, jousting, and eating and drinking contests.

Detour Worth Making: Houston’s The Orange Show

Orange ShowCreated by visionary mailman Jefferson Davis McKissack, Houston’s The Orange Show is a folk-art environment; a monumental work of handmade architecture; and a sanctuary for the eccentric, all rolled into one.

The maze-like, 3000-square-foot behemoth includes an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, and a museum. Having taken several decades to construct, the sprawling art-opolis is made almost entirely from objects McKissack found while delivering mail: bits of concrete, brick, steel, gears, tiles, wagon wheels, mannequins, tractor seats, and statuettes. In addition to an outdoor museum, The Orange Show also promotes community-wide muraling and art therapy initiatives, and promotes other free-thinking area artists and their work (think: the Beer Can House and the Flower Man).

McKissack created The Orange Show in honor of his favorite fruit — um, the orange — and today, his organization focuses on making art tangible and accessible. One of its early makin’-it-accessible endeavors was the Fruitmobile, an art car that led to the annual Art Car Parade, which is scheduled for the weekend of May 11-13. If you’re in the area, check out the parade. If not, then check out the excellent documentary about The Orange Show (warning: link launches Windows Media Player).

Detour Worth Making: The Underground Church of Saint-Jean at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

AubeterreIn south-central France, close to the Perigord — one of Europe’s wildest spots — lies the village of Aubeterre. Though the village itself is beautiful — featuring winding cobbled alleys and verdant landscapes, just how you’d imagine a rural French village would look — the most impressive feature in the community lies semi-hidden underground. Hand-hewn from the surrounding rock, a subterranean cavern rests beneath the Church of Saint-Jean.

Centuries old, the glorious cathedral-like structure — 88 feet long and 52 feet wide — features arched ceilings more than 60 feet high. Interestingly, in 1958, locals discovered a necropolis containing more than 80 sarcophagi, hollowed out of the floor.

You can visit the underground church 7 days a week, from 9.30 to 6.00 pm (the church closes at midday). If you can’t make it to France, you can still check out some awesome images of the place. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work that went into hollowing out such a large space.

Detour Worth Making: Get High in Meteora, Greece

MeteoraThe Greek word meteora means “suspended in the air,” and one look at the images of the monasteries here, and you’ll know why the Greeks named it that. Pretty much in the middle of — but high above! — the country, the rock here has eroded into fantastic, weathered peaks struggling for the heavens.

The monasteries of Meteora were originally settled by monks who lived in caves lower down the rocks during the 11th Century. Over time, however, to avoid conflicts in the rest of the region, the monks retreated up the rock face until they were living on virtually inaccessable peaks that they built on by bringing material and people up via ladders and baskets.

Today, six monasteries remain, and all of them are open to visitors. Many people who visit Meteora stay overnight either in nearby towns, though there is limited accommodation in Meteora. Buses to Kalampaka are available from Ioannina, Trikala, Thessaloniki and Athens, and trains run there, too.

For a little information about each monastery, check out Greece Travel. For some stunning images, check out Tom Dempsey’s photo gallery or, of course, Flickr.