Going Local In The Bahamas

15th April 2011

Spread over an area of 5,000 square miles, the islands that make up the Bahamas are said to derive their collective name from the Spanish baja mar or ‘shallow seas’. There are 29 islands, 661 cays and 2,387 islets, all in beautiful turquoise water…

Rowena Carr-Allinson concludes that marketing the Bahamas must be a very easy job indeed.

The history of the Bahamas is intimately entwined with that of Europe. Following Columbus’s landing in 1492, the Spanish soon shipped the local Arawak Tainos to slavery in Hispaniola. In 1718 the islands became a British colony, and although now independent, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas still counts the Queen as its monarch.

Natural beauty, and close proximity to Florida, have made the Bahamas a popular filming location for years. Several Bond movies and even Pirates of The Caribbean were filmed here, but it’s the lesser known islands that hold the key to ultimate relaxation and ‘getting away from it all’…

Forget busy Nassau, and the chaos of Paradise Island’s famous Atlantis (unless you have kids who really, really want to swim with dolphins) and head out to the gem that is Eleuthera.

This 110 mile long island, so skinny that in some places it’s barely a mile wide, sits wedged between Nassau, Cat Island and Great Abaco. It’s probably best known as a landing point for the rich and famous who head straight to Harbour Island, a millionaire’s playground with renowned Pink Sands, and its eponymous resort where you might bump into the likes of Naomi Campbell or Laura Bailey – but to do the Bahamas like a local, rent your own place on the decidedly low key Eleuthera. A dream come true, Amori House is a beautiful one bedroom cottage right on the stunning quiet Ten Bay Beach.

This is a real Bahamian experience: things go slow and days are spent in the hammock, at the beach or exploring the island’s bays…

Petite but perfect, this brand new home comes fully equipped and has the most beautiful sunset views over the Caribbean sea to boot.

The attention to detail and pretty blue and white décor make the place feel like a home from home, while the big flat screen TV came in handy for the long quiet nights… The best part is the wooden deck, the perfect place to enjoy a sunset drink, and the beach beyond – your own private slice of paradise.

First things first: groceries! Welcomed by the lovely Anne, who looks after Amori, we were whisked off to the local gas station to pick up a few essentials. Eleuthera is very quiet. Very, very quiet. The closest supermarket is in Governor’s Harbour, the main ‘settlement’ in central Eleuthera a few bumpy kilometres away. Don’t expect a US style mall –
or even an English-style supermarket. It’s basic and it’s
expensive. Indeed, everything on the island is imported, and therefore pricey. The trick is to stick to local goods.

We soon become fans of Eleuthera Island Farm, home to Anne and her family. Tuesday is fresh bread day and there’s a real rush. Early birds are rewarded with a fiesta of freshly baked goodies – from olive bread to French bread, muffins and scones and all sorts of other delights. You can also pick up fresh veg, and herbs here, and a mean homemade pesto sauce, which is worth writing home about.

The farm is also a social spot, and before long, as we’re standing between the tomatoes and the runner beans we’ve met a few locals and been told all the island’s secrets. For a low key pizza or fried chicken stop at Mate and Jenny’s in Palmetto Point, conveniently located ‘around the corner’. It’s a real mom ‘n’ pop’s little restaurant which we sample on the first night chatting with the owners, mingling with locals and sipping a Kalik beer…

To go upmarket there’s Coco Di Mama, near Governor’s Harbour, a pretty all white and turquoise restaurant, where the chef makes a lovely grilled grouper fish, and fabulously fresh, crunchy calamari fritti. Sitting out on the deck overlooking the beach, the food, the mellow music and friendly ambiance makes it an island favourite. Never mind the Monsoon-like downpour, or the dramatic lightning…

For a chilled night out, we head off to the superbly shabby chic Beach House on the Atlantic side of the island, near Governor’s Harbour. Without a doubt it is the best place to prop up a driftwood bar, munching on tapas such as grilled cheese, conch fritters and prosciutto ham, with a Kalik under the alfresco disco-ball. Another new beach side eating option is Tippy’s, known for its conch fritters and perfect seaside spot.

For live music and local mingling, Elvina’s Bar & Restaurant has a reputation for Tuesdays and Fridays jam sessions. And who knows who you might bump into? Lenny Kravitz owns a property on the island, with his own recording studio. Just saying…

It might seem that nothing is going on in Eleuthera but you’d be much mistaken. Nature is being observed – closely. Those interested in the local flora should pop by the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve near Tippy’s from March onwards, or if you prefer marine research, head south to the Cape Eleuthera Institute down at Powell Point where all manner of initiatives are taking place – from coastal conservation with bonefish tagging to the Shark Research and Conservation Program, investigating the diversity and abundance of deep ocean sharks living in Bahamian waters.

It’s definitely worth taking a day trip to Harbour Island too. The drive up to the northern end of Eleuthera takes an hour, passing through various settlements like Gregory Town and Hatchet Bay, and over the Glass Window Bridge, a narrow car-width strip that serves as a bridge separating Atlantic and Caribbean. Hop on a water taxi for $6 and within minutes you’ll be transported to a different world.

Harbour Island has long been a hideout for the wealthy and you can tell. It’s tiny, so hire a golf cart ($50/day), very much the transport of choice here, and zoom from one end of the island to the other. Don’t miss a dish of conch salad from Queen Conch on Bay Street, the grouper sandwich at the Acquapazza marina restaurant, or the stunning pink sandy beach, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

There’s more to do, or not to do, than one imagines…
Relax in the sun with a book (remember to pack one!), take a walk along the shore in search of the oversized conch shells that lie strewn on the sand or go kayaking, snorkeling, diving or fishing – bone-fishing, fly fishing or deep sea fishing for wahoo, mahi mahi, tuna, barracuda or even shark…

A week is the perfect stay. Though two would have been better. Or maybe forever?

Where else to stay in the Bahamas?

Harbour Island Chic

If you want to live it up in a luxury hotel, try the Pink Sands on Harbour Island, a favourite with the celebs. Luxurious sea view villa rooms in a Caribbean chic décor are set along the most incredible pink sandy beach, which gave the resort its name. Spread over 20 lush acres, there are kayaks and boogie boards on tap at the beach, horse riding, a cool pool, a smart Blue Bar overlooking the ocean (where the warm brownies are simply delicious), and a swish fine dining restaurant – as well as a lovely resident cat, named Tiger, who hangs out by the beautiful main bar with its pool table and lethal Goombay Smash cocktails.

Find out more: www.pinksandsresort.com

A Dream Private Island

For an exclusive yet understated experience without compromising on style, hotfoot it to Kamalame Cay. This chic 96-acre private island hide-out just off Andros island is the epitome of Caribbean cool.
Pastel-coloured Bahamian cottages nestle amongst the coconut palms, hibiscus and bougainvillea. Inside the rooms, rustic meets colonial chic – and the fridge is always stocked with cookies and a cold beer! It’s all about comfort and indulgence with a casual attitude.
It’s a simple and sophisticated paradise where privacy is paramount, with a three mile palm-fringed beach, fabulous pool, gloriously clear turquoise waters and extraordinarily friendly staff who might even shed a tear when you leave…

Find out more: www.kamalame.com

Miami Stopover

If you’re flying in via Miami, take a night out before flying direct to Eleuthera. Discover South Beach’s Art Deco hotels and check into the very cool Raleigh hotel. An authentic 50’s style establishment, it has everything you could possibly need and bags of cool attitude.
Exuding Miami Beach chic, it’s brilliantly located between the beach and Collins Avenue, just a stone’s throw away from the shopping area of Lincoln. You’ll love the retro chic décor in the rooms, from the pretty linen duvet to the palm print graphic curtains to the vintage lamps and authentic tiled bathroom. The rooms also come with a big flat screen tv, boom box, and iPod docking station, and, making a nice change, the doors open with a real key, rather than a card. The best thing about it? The fabulous Martini bar and chic pool area with its unique scallopped pool and its own romantic al fresco bar and restaurant.

Find out more at www.raleighhotel.com

Check the Bahamas Tourist Office at www.bahamas.co.uk or 020 7355 0800

Fly to Eleuthera via Nassau or Miami. BA has return flights from London Heathrow to Nassau from £688.50 per person (includes all UK taxes).
See ba.com or call 0844 493 0787.

Transfer with BahamasAir.

Amori House sleeps two; available to rent on HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, £1,227 per week. See: www.HomeAway.co.uk/p288539

Find Your Local