A Great New Find And Some Familiar Faces: A Fab Visit To The Bahamas

This was originally posted https://jimbyerstravel.com/2018/10/23/a-great-new-find-and-some-familiar-faces-a-fab-visit-to-the-bahamas/ by Jim Byers

THE BAHAMAS – We’ve just landed on the quiet and beautiful Bahamian island of Eleuthera for a day trip. We walk outside the small terminal and find three men leaning up against a wall.

One of them is wearing a dark hat with the word “Police” in big yellow letter.

“Welcome to Eleuthera,” one of them says. “Welcome to Paradise.”
Our group, roughly eight or ten journalists covering the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) in Nassau, is split up into two large mini-vans driven by local guides. Mine, whose name is Cecil, is wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap.

I ask if I can take his picture and he agrees. Just before I snap the photo, however, I insist on him doing me a favour.

“You have to say, ‘Go Red Sox.’”
He lets out a howl and I snap my favourite picture of the trip, an enormous grin that could light up the island.

Go Red Sox! Cecil, our driver during our brief tour of Eleuthera. JIM BYERS PHOTO

We’re five minutes into the trip and I’m already in love with this dry, low-lying but striking island, one of the better-known destinations in the Bahamas but still a place that isn’t as familiar as Nassau or Freeport.

Over the course of perhaps six hours we explore a couple of tremendous natural areas, with raging Atlantic water, calm Caribbean seas, towering cliffs, colourful, pastel homes and resorts that range from bright and jazzy to old-style comfortable. We also dine on some fine Bahamian food, talk about the annual Pineapple Festival and pass a music studio owned by a talented American singer/songwriter.

We start things off with a casual breakfast at an old school, quiet resort on the Atlantic side called Unique Village. We dine on omelettes, Caribbean Johnny Cake and fresh fruit in an open-air room that sits on a small cliff that’s just a few meters from the water

The Unique VIllage hotel/villa complex on Eleuthera has a terrific beach. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The hotel-style units (they also have a couple villas) look fairly plain on the inside, but the beach goes on just shy of forever and there’s a viewing platform built on the cliff with Muskoka-style chairs. More pink, green, blue, yellow and red wooden chairs are scattered around the rectangular pool; a very charming effect.

There’s a large grassy area off to one side of the pool, which would be great for kids to play football, croquet or frisbee. As if the pool and the beach wouldn’t tire them out enough.

I can’t say what the rooms are like, but I loved the solitude and simplicity of the place. It looks the ideal spot for long walks on the beach or leisurely book reading.

I love these chairs at Unique Village. Not a bad view, either. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The website says superior hotel style rooms are just $120 USD per night, while the one-bed apartment goes for $180 and the two-bedroom, two-bath villa rents for just $215 USD a night. Nice.

From there we head back north Glass Window bridge, where the island narrows to just a few feet wide and where there’s a large gap under the road; an open outlet that connects the smashing, powerful, angry Atlantic on one side and the smooth, silky waters of the Caribbean (well, actually it’s called the Bight of Eleuthera since we’re north of the Caribbean) on the other. It’s quite astonishing to see the furious Atlantic water sweep through the gap and emerge all tame and mild, and the colours of the water are stunning to behold.

There’s no gap below your feet, but the water action is equally impressive at an area called The Cliffs, where you can stand and see the waves pound the rocks with an endless fury.

(WARNING: It’s tempting to get close to the edge of the rocks at both Glass Window Bridge and The Cliffs. But stay well back from the edge and be safe. Rogue waves can rise up out of nowhere.

Glass Window Bridge on Eleuthera is a great place to watch nature in action. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Our island tour also takes us past a music studio owned by Lenny Kravitz, who helped design a floor at The Bisha Hotel in Toronto by the way. We arrived on a short flight from Nassau, but there are direct flights from as far away as Atlanta, we were told. You also can take a ferry from Nassau, but it takes a couple hours, a tourism board spokesperson told me.
We didn’t get to meet her, but one of the island’s most famous residents is a woman who grows pineapples and is known as Lady Di. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of her in the fields. Next time I’d love to chat with her.
The island is about 110 miles long and has roughly 11,000 people. Which means 100 people for every mile of the island. And isn’t that terrific?
There are plenty of casual places such as Unique Village, but the island also has a solid share of celebrity visitors and fancy villas you can rent.

French Leave, a Marriott Autograph Collection property on Eleuthera. JIM BYERS PHOTO

We had lunch at a Marriott Autograph Collection property called French Leave, which has some waterfront units and others that are near the water with partial ocean views. The units are quite striking and very modern, with huge bathrooms, deck chairs out on the patio and other amenities. The restaurant, 1648, serves good fish tacos and a nice coconut cracked conch.
The resort is expanding and should be up to 20 villas by April of next year. The cheapest rate I found online for October was close to $400 USD, so it’s not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. There’s another $50 resort fee charge, but that includes a golf cart, snorkel equipment, sea kayaks, wi-fi and more.

One of our tour guides told us they have tons of festivals on the island, including a Pineapple Festival in early June, complete with culinary competitions, events for kids and, of course, the crowning of a Miss Pineapple Festival.

I spotted a local magazine called Eleutheran that featured an interview with snorkelling enthusiast Rea Bethel, who said her favourite snorkel spots are the south end reefs at Double Bay, as well as Kemp’s Creek.

Another feature in the magazine focussed on a couple named Pierre and Trish, who split their time between Montreal, Maine and Eleuthera, where they go for three weeks every February.

Rough surf at The Cliffs, Eleuthera. JIM BYERS PHOTO

“We love Tippy’s Restaurant with Elliot,” they said. “We spend our Saturday evenings there, singling along with him, and we rent our car from him.”
Pierre said they’ve been going to the island for five years and walk the beach every day. One of his recommendations for visitors is a trip to the Leon Levy Native Plate Preserve and Island Farm for fresh greens and cinnamon rolls.

“We get a lot of Canadians, especially in the shoulder seasons such as April and May or September and October,” a tourism board member told me.
I can see why.

I also had some time on Nassau, where the Caribbean Tourism Conference event was held. We were at the Coral Towers at Atlantis, Paradise Island. The décor was lovely and the rooms were fine. I was overlooking a waterpark section that was closed, but at least it was quiet

Atlantis Resort at Nassau, Paradise Island. JIM BYERS PHOTO

There’s a nice beach but the water was too rough for swimming. Naturally, I took advantage by spending time on some of the waterslides and on the raging river, which is like those lazy river innertube rides but with huge gushes of white water that come spilling out at regular intervals and send you rollicking along, Tons of fun, although I could do without the $17 USD charge for renting a locker.

I had an excellent breakfast each morning at Poseidon’s Table at Atlantis but didn’t eat any lunches or dinners at the resort. Instead, I watched my pennies a bit (okay, the company’s pennies) and ate my non-conference meals at the Marina Village shopping complex next door, a fine area with pastel-coloured shops and restaurants and some of the most amazing yachts I’ve ever set eyes on. I sampled some great conch salad at MacKenzie’s and had a fine burger at The Village Burger Shack. I also enjoyed a fine bowl of shrimp and grits on the patio at Frankie Gone Bananas, where a tremendous soft jazz group was playing.

Marina Village at Nassau, Paradise Island. JIM BYERS PHOTO

We also had a dinner at a private home of a couple who takes part in the People to People program that Bahamas tourism puts on. It’s a program where tourists who are coming to the Bahamas can mark down what sort of person they want to meet up with during their trip. A lawyer, for example, might request to stay with another attorney.

One couple I spoke with said they’ve made great friends over the years and host three or four such programs every year.

“We invite our friends over and everyone bring something they make really well. And then we take folks out to see our favourite places,” said Steve Bellot, a local landscaper. “My parents used to do this all the time, and one of the first visitors was a couple from Toronto. My brother ended up going to the University of Toronto and spent a lot of time at their home.”

Besides Eleuthera, I also enjoyed a half-day journey to The Blue Lagoon, a small island that’s roughly a 25-minute boat ride from Paradise Island. We past homes allegedly owned by Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, as well as a pair of homes said to be owned by Oprah Winfrey.

Blue Lagoon, The Bahamas. JIM BYERS PHOTO

The island is famous for its dolphin encounters. Personally, I’m not a big fan of swimming with animals in an enclosed place so I skipped it and instead found a very quiet beach not far from the dolphin encounter. The water was again too rough for swimming, especially alone, but I enjoyed the solitude immensely and then wandered over to the lagoon side, where I swam and paddled around in an inner tube for a half hour prior to our departure. They also have a nice bar and a fun, casual lunch place, as well as a jumping castle/play area in the lagoon, sea kayaks and comfortable, shady hammocks.

The highlight of the Nassau portion of our trip was a media dinner at Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant, an historic property in downtown Nassau with tremendous food and old-style charm like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a colonial building surrounded by lush tropical gardens. The lobby feels like a London townhouse owned by a Duke or a Princess, with overstuffed furniture, a quiet pianist at work and a quiet elegance you don’t find enough of these days. Rooms are unique and very individual, with a variety of styles and tons of solid, well-made furniture that speaks to an era of fine craftsmanship.

A stunning swimming pool at Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant in Nassau; a remarkable place to stay or dine. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Royalty has touched down here on many occasions, as (so they say) have the likes of Al Capone, Lord Beaverbrook, Aristotle Onassis and Winston Churchill.

We had tremendous food; lobster thermidor, fettucine Alfredo style with just the right amount of cream, a crisp salad and more; all served in a lovely dining room.

There are two pools, although we didn’t have time to use them. But they did take us on a tour of the wine cellar, said to be the third largest private collection in the world and stocked with a remarkable 275,000 bottles. It’s a ramshackle affair with tiny coves and crowded shelves of dusty bottles under the hotel and restaurant portion of the property. How anyone can keep track of what’s down there I don’t know. But they seem to manage just fine.

They make their own cigars on site (I watched a woman rolling some after dinner) and also make their own chocolates and make their own wine. They don’t use local grapes, but juice brought in from other locations. You can take a wine blending course if you like.