Get Wes Anderson on the coconut phone: Bahama House – a luxury hotel on petite Harbour Island – would make a charmingly sun-drenched setting for one of his quirky flicks. Set within white picket fence-ringed tropical gardens, the hotel’s main building is a coral-hued villa. Within, interiors hark back to Fifties Palm Beach, with retro cane furnishings, walls in the light pink of the island’s beaches or blue of the surf, and parrot and pineapple motifs. Add a cast of on-form staff, and you have a confection as sweet as the guava pastries served at breakfast.
Get this when you book through us:
A signature Bahamian cocktail each, the Goombay Smash (with pineapple, coconut and a generous helping of rum)
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £873.12 ($1,207), including tax at 12 per cent.
Rates usually include the hotel’s generous Continental breakfast, plus a daily choice of one hot dish. Rates also include hire of beach loungers and parasols, bicycles and watersports equipment (snorkels, kayaks, paddle boards); and all soft drinks.
Get acquainted with the island’s native artists while flicking through the tomes in the hotel’s living room. We love the collection of decorative cane mirrors (in floral and starburst patterns) covering one wall, and the statement pieces by tropical design maestro Paul Aronson. Take a close look at the 1800 Building, which dates back to the late 17th century: the kitchen has been partially built into what was once the hotel’s bread oven.
The hotel closes annually from 1 August to 15 November, when Harbour Island takes an end-of-season break.
At the hotel
Indoor-outdoor lounge with art-book-filled library, tropical gardens, a team of experience managers, laundry service and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, iPod dock, Crestron technology control system, Lutron lighting system, minibar, air-conditioning and Malin + Goetz bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Chapel Suite’s springlike look of conch pink and fresh palm-shoot green has made it one of our favourites. There’s a breathtaking aspect with a view of the colourful hotel complex, and the shared terrace begs to be used for idle fan-wafting or beach-read leafing.
The freshwater outdoor pool at the centre of the hotel is roomy enough for laps, and there’s a tub with relaxing massage jets to soak in. Submerged speakers add a pool-party atmosphere underwater (choose from the hotel playlist or stream music from your phone) and coolers on the deck are filled with beer, water and sodas for guests to raid as needed. American design company Janus et Cie provided the fleet of stylish sunloungers and the hotel’s helpful staff can whip up cocktails on request.
There’s no on-site spa, but your experience manager will contact you before arrival to enquire if you need the services of Bahama House’s coterie of resident masseurs. Beyond in-room pummeling, you can book sessions at the Dermalogica Spa, a five-minute walk away. Within its quaint powder-blue bungalow, the spa’s therapists carry out high-tech treatments such as face-mapping, BioActive skin peels and dermabrasion – but if you’re not in for the full MOT, lo-fi facials and beauty treatments are offered, too.
Bring a credit card with an expansive limit; the reserve of celebs and billionaires, humble Harbour isle can be eye-wateringly pricey.
Want to sound like a local? Refer to the island by its native name, Briland.
Pets can stay for $500 a booking (prices vary depending on the size of dog); the hotel can provide beds, bowls and towels. Fidos must be kept on a leash or caged throughout the stay, and they mustn’t swim in the pool or paw the furnishings. See more pet-friendly hotels in Harbour Island.
Families seeking seclusion and space should book one of the two-bedroom Cottages. The hotel’s best suited for older kids who can confidently make use of the watersports equipment.
If you’re staying in a Cottage, perch on your porch as a private chef fires up the grill.
There’s no formal restaurant beyond the open-air terrace where breakfast is served, but dinner is available some nights of the week and you can summon a private chef for feasts of French-Bahamian tasting menus, barbecues or fish banquets. If you’ve had a successful fishing haul, you can order sides and sauces to accompany your catch. Breakfasts are bountiful. The Continental option features tropical fruit and smoothies, pastries (rum-and-raisin scones, guava braids, bagels of all kinds) and eggs any-way. The à la carte has lobster omelettes, mahi-mahi eggs Benedict and a fruit-and-chocolate-laced gamut of pancakes, waffles and French toast.
Practice your three Rs at the hotel’s two bars: rum, rum and more rum. Both the old-school Rum Bar and open-air Tiki Bar stock lashings of the Bahamas’ celebrated spirit. Whether you want a tot of rich, caramelly rum poured over ice or a mojito generously topped up with white rum, you’ll be as happily sozzled as the island’s most famous inebriate, one Ernest Hemingway. Wine and beer are kept on ice too.
Breakfast runs from 7.30am to 10am. Dinner is available Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Rum-guzzling hours are from 11am to 8pm in the tiki bar, till late in the rum bar.
Breakfast can be delivered during serving hours; dinner can be delivered as and when you like it, if you’ve secured a chef.
The resort is centrally set in Dunmore Town, on the east coast of slender Harbour Isle, at the north west corner of Gaol and Dunmore Street. It’s not cuddling up to the coast, but you only need to take a 10-minute stroll to feel sand between your toes.
North Eleuthera Airport is the closest hub, a 20-minute land and sea transfer from Harbour Island; there are direct flights from Miami, Atlanta and Florida (a journey of one to two hours), and Bahamian capital Nassau. Arrivals from Europe stop over in the US. On landing, jump in a taxi to reach Three Island Dock where water taxis depart. For an extra charge, the Smith24 Team can arrange transportation from A to B, including private charters from Nassau if you want to arrive in luxurious style.
Car hire is possible on the island, but if you must move faster than ‘stroll along the beach’ speed, the de rigeur way to get around is to pootle about in a more eco-friendly golf cart; a daily rental fee applies. There’s parking at the hotel for carts and cars alike.
From the airport take a taxi to the boat dock; from there you can catch one of the frequent water taxis that ferry sunseekers to Harbour Island. The journey takes around 10 minutes and tickets are $5–$10 a guest. The Smith24 team can book these on request.
Worth getting out of bed for
Harbour Island’s picturesque beaches run the length of the east coast, on the opposite side of the island. Don’t throw in the beach towel, sunseekers – the island is supermodel-slender, and its east coast is a mere 10-minute walk from the hotel. On arrival, toss away your rose-tinted shades; the famously blusher-coloured sands add a natural romantic hue to lazy beach days, and the hotel’s stellar team will set you up with loungers, parasols, watersports gear (boogie boards, snorkels and fins,, skim boards), toys for little Smiths and coolers full of drinks. Clear, calm waters make for excellent fish spotting and catching; reel in a feisty silver bonefish for bragging rights or a neon-flecked mahi-mahi to ensure a substantial meal later that day. Outlying reefs offer superlative snorkelling and scuba diving; staff can pack a gourmet lunchbox for full days by the shore. Dunmore town’s white picket fences and pastel villas make it feel like a blast from an imaginary Americana past, and Hill Steps and Titus Hole (allegedly a former prison) are the island’s remaining heritage features, both of which are blessed with bay views. Couples seeking some alone time can be castaway on Man Island – an undeveloped spot with beaches and peaceful coves, or seek out submerged treasures on a caving expedition.
Harbour Island has an excellent reputation for fine Bahamian dining and a wave of restaurants to try; American and European influences are evident, but the local staples of coconut, conch and whatever’s been caught that day pop up everywhere. Ocean View Club serves simple fresh fare (tuna tartare, pasta, grilled fish) in an elegant, sea-surveying setting. The Dunmore drew in the great and glamorous jet-set crowd in the 1960s; it’s still a sophisticate these days, with a restaurant where lobsters, crabs and fish are prepared in European dishes. Runaway Hill is perched high above the Atlantic, so it has superior views; its dining follows suit: watermelon salad, conch chowder and coconut-banana cream pie showcase local delicacies. The Landing, a 19th-century spot, has a passionate chef with a penchant for Mediterranean flavourings and pineapple-decorated tables. For refreshingly crisp salads and expertly crafted sandwiches, pop into Dunmore Deli.
A dinky, turquoise- and coral-painted establishment, Queen Conch lives up to its name, serving the moreish mollusc various ways. Grits, johnnycakes, warm bowls of conch chilli, chocolate-and-banana bread pudding: lime green-painted joint Sip Sip has made a name for itself with a menu of American-Bahamian comfort food. Bahamas Coffee Roasters serves up a cup of organic Joe with a kick. Sweet Spot Café is indeed a darling diner with a lengthy list of cold-pressed juices and smoothies (and cocktails if you want something stronger); food is healthful and hearty, with a wide range of superfood-packed salad bowls.
Kick off your night with music, cocktails and a plate of conch fritters at Romora Bay’s happy hour; patrons have been known to kick off their flip-flops and dance after a few coconut-ty libations. The bar at Pink Sands Resort serves up rum-laced concoctions more colourful than the rosy shoreline in their decked bar.
Mr Smith and I were Bahamas bound; Bahama House to be exact. This idyllic spot is situated on Harbour Island – one of over 700 islands making up the ‘out islands’ archipelago (or ‘the real Bahamas’ as the locals like to call it) scattered over the seemingly endless miles of opal ocean.
Getting to Harbour Island is a treat in itself. A quick and incredibly scenic flight from Nassau to North Eleuthera looking down onto paradise from a tiny plane. Then a zippy speedboat ride to the island. Once on land we were met by our hosts and a golf buggy (the standard mode of transport on the island).
Two minutes later we reached a charming pale pink colonial building with bright white shutters. Stepping into Bahama House is like arriving at a friend’s home – which just so happens to be in paradise. You feel your shoulders drop and you audibly exhale.
Set over multiple levels, overlooking a freshwater pool, its gardens are filled with tropical touches: bougainvillea frames balconies and banana leaves offer shade. The interiors are classic Bahamian style, an eclectic mix of raffia-framed mirrors and wicker furniture. Yet despite the desert island hideaway aesthetic the rooms are fully kitted out with console controlled temperature, lighting and music.
We dropped our bags (and our London attire) and swiftly switched into sunshine mode. The only question (after what bikini to wear) was pool or beach? The pool won but when the time comes to peel yourself away, Bahama House make beach trips effortless. Despite not being directly on the beach, a nippy drive in your golf buggy and you arrive at the famous pink sands. Truth be told, navigating around this tiny island is a breeze and getting ‘lost’ is near impossible. Despite a few slightly heated discussions about my driving (thank you Mr Smith for pointing out the potholes) we had no problems.
We arrived to rolled towels on our sun loungers and a selection of refreshments waiting on ice. You don’t need to take anything other than your book. I laid back to enjoy the endless turquoise vistas and the pale pink sand and promptly fell asleep.
If lying horizontally for longer than 30 minutes makes you somewhat twitchy (Mr Smith falls into this category while I am, at my heart, a beach bum) there is plenty to explore on this picture-perfect island filled with homes painted like Hockney paintings.
An afternoon spent moving from pool and beach was followed by cocktail hour, a perfect kick start to our first evening. The garden is home to the house tiki bar where the mixologist will happily whip up whatever your heart desires as evening snacks are served (a personal favourite was the conch salad: a traditional dish in these parts that must be tried).
For Mr Smith the pièce de résistance was the rum bar, which houses a collection of over 50 rums. Every time he disappeared I found him ‘sampling’. We eventually ventured out for our first evening’s dinner which revolved around sunset and exquisite seafood. Walking home, savouring the warmth of the balmy evening, we were in total agreement that day one was the right mix of exploring our surroundings and blissful inactivity.
The next day we woke early to blue skies and breakfast on the terrace. A fuss-free affair with a cooked offering that changes daily (try the Bahamian pancakes) along with a selection of fresh fruits and pastries.
Prior to arriving, the preparation for our trip had begun with a Bahamas House experience manager helping Mr Smith create our unique itinerary. With our very own boat, and a personal guide, we headed off armed with a pre-packed cooler bag filled with refreshments ready to explore the ever-changing turquoise hues of the Bahamian waters. No photoshopping required here. We spent the day snorkeling with starfish and sea turtles over the shipwreck of an old steamship. We even visited the famous swimming pigs.
We returned sandy and ready for the pool and cocktail hour. For me, holidays like these are to be divided up between inactivity and mini adventuring. And I felt we had got the balance just right thanks to our carefully considered itinerary.
Harbour Island has far more to offer than oversized all-inclusive resorts and Bahama House is proudly standing proof of that. If you want personality and authenticity served with relaxed and friendly service then this is the place. In fact, it’s probably time to get onto that experience manager and plan our return…