HARBOUR ISLAND, The Bahamas - It's always fun when I can begin an article absolutely sure it's going to get me hate mail.
From my friends.
So here I go.
This is about the time I went to Harbour Island, the beloved tiny island in the Bahamas, just off the coast of Eleuthera and a world away from the crowded Bahamian islands.
Contributing editor Christina Ohly Evans first wrote about Harbour Island for us in spring 2011 — the essentials, her favorite restaurant. And I found it pretty much the same when I visited before the pandemic. Things don't change very often around here, and that's a primary reason why people love it so much and feel so protective of "their" island. Visitors, who quickly become repeat visitors, know what they're in for when they come to this tiny spit of land three miles long a a half-mile wide for a spell of rest and relaxation: pastel, New England-style homes, rocky bluffs, wide-open pink-sand beaches, coral reefs, and a small population of about 2,000 "Brilanders," to use the local patois.
Of the dozen-plus hotel options, The Dunmore and Pink Sands Resort are the best-known beach hotels along the east coast. But I stayed at — and absolutely loved — Bahama House in Dunmore Town, the island's primary metropolis (that's a little island humor there).
The 11-room inn began life in the late 1700s as a three-room mercantile shop (Muriel's Department Store, the first on the island), eventually becoming a bed and breakfast when tourism started to hit in the 1920s. Eleven Experience, the company known for its impressive collection of experience-driven villas and lodges in gorgeous locations around the world, developed it into a compound for modern times. Eleven bedrooms named for Harbour Island streets are located in four buildings (three in 1800 Building, four in Annex, and two in each the cottages Up Yonder and Down Yonder) arranged around a courtyard that's home to a freshwater pool with underwater speakers, a tiki bar, a dining terrace, several outdoor seating and lounging areas, and enough palm trees and tumbling bougainvillea to fill all your tropical reveries.
I stayed on the second floor of Annex in Chapel, a comfortable corner bedroom with views of the nearby harbor. The room had lots of lovely touches: textiles and tiles in poppy, tropical tones and patterns; a cooling ceiling fan; glass bottles by the bed filled with water purified by the hotel (I hate the waste of plastic and commercial waters). 1800 Building is where the common spaces are: a cozy living room with sofas to sink into, a dining room piled high with books, an outdoor dining area where they serve fantastic breakfasts, and a honor rum bar where you can decide if you prefer rum from Haiti or Antigua or Honduras or St. Martin or ... well, that's between you and your hangover and none of my business.
The decor throughout is the Bahamian chic you'd expect in a hotel this nice — four-poster beds draped in patterned textiles; striped pillows piled high on beds and sofas; glass cloth wallpaper; wicker, rattan, and bamboo furniture. Nothing is fussy or overly designed. While taking over the entire compound would make for a fabulous buyout for a group — an intimate wedding, a special 40th birthday party — Bahama House is also a boutique hotel for those who just want a single room.
Just down the road the pink sand beach awaits so calmly in all her pinkness. Yes, Bahama House is in town and not on the beach — and for some that will be the biggest drawback to staying here. But the hotel can set up a beach day for you, with loungers and umbrellas and snacks, and drive you there. Talk to Giorgia Ravilli, the hotel's Experience Manager, about what you want to do. She and her team can help make the island come alive through guided tours on land or by sea on a bonefishing excursion.
As for me, I enjoyed the 15-minute stroll to the beach. It was a chance to see the area up close — the colorful homes, the odd cannon from colonial times, the mangroves with their gangly branches, the gorgeous roosters and chickens roaming freely, a one-clawed crab protecting his turf with total and adorable arrogance.
Come sunset, Christina was right about The Landing Hotel and Restaurant in Dunmore Town: I had my best meal here, and I'm glad to see that stone crab stack and coconut chicken curry are still on the menu. The restaurant was established by Barbara Barry, who was crowned the first Miss Bahamas in 1963, and is now oversee by her daughter Tracy. You can read its glamorous history through the gallery of black and white photos lining the red painted walls.
Across the street is Rock House, where I liked to go after dinner for a nightcap in the living room or by the pool. The hotel has recently been renovated, and is better than ever. When you don't want the night to end, dance your heart out at Daddy D's, which opens at 9 p.m.
I'm sad to learn that since I was there, the great beachside Sip Sip restaurant has closed, which means I'll have to go to their outpost at The Cove on Nassau if I want more of their rum-laced mango smoothies and lobster quesadillas. And I'm nervous about what the forthcoming deep-water dock at Fort Valentine's Marina will bring to the sleepy island. But it will take a lot to fundamentally change Harbour Island in any profound way. Which is good news for everyone who makes their way here.