I first went to Harbour Island 14 years ago to write the story that was featured on the cover of the first issue of Town & Country Travel magazine. On my most recent trip last week, I was pleased to see that, though some of the island's beachfront hotels have since been polished, Harbour Island's distinct personality—a mix of laid-back Caribbean attitude and small town charm—has remained intact. A longtime favorite of travelers seeking a delightfully authentic island escape, the island is garnering attention and a new wave of visitors thanks to the recent openings of two uber-stylish hotels.
Granted, the Bahamian gem is still not right for super spoiled travelers. The pace of Harbour Island means not only that everyone takes their own sweet time doing things, but also that the island will not be adapting to visitors; visitors adapt to it. The kind of bumps that luxury brands have smoothed out of many travel experiences have not been removed here: the water taxis that bring you over to the island are aged motor boats whose drivers don’t care whether coiffed city slickers have their hair sprayed by water and blown out in the breeze, and roosters run riotously around the island and begin their rousing alarms well before sunrise (so wherever you stay, you may want to bring ear plugs).
Read Indagare's Q&A with Harbour Island expert India Hicks (Town & Country Travel's cover star, below)
However, those who do surrender to Briland ways are rewarded with one of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean, a handful of truly individual restaurants with good food, a friendly community where everyone waves from golf carts and says hello on beach walks and a jovial embrace of the laid-back life.
This year, we went for spring break, which meant that my 17-year-old son had an instant gang of friends on island. But even though it is one of the busiest weeks, the beach was virtually empty on morning walks. And while many favorite traditions like riding horses on the beach remain, there have been some changes to the island in recent years. Eleven Experience, the visionary brand behind numerous luxury outdoor adventure lodges, has opened Bahama House right in town (Read our First Look). With just 11 rooms and a maximum occupancy of 22 guests, the Bahama House feels more akin to a stylish friend’s beach house than a proper hotel, as the architects and designers worked closely with the Bahamas National Trust to emulate the historic architecture of the classic, A-frame white cottages.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"] The Other Side[/caption]
Related: Top Tables Harbour Island
Also new on the island is the Other Side, a stunning retreat from the owners of Ocean View, who have been instrumental in Harbour Island’s various evolutions. Many of the fashion photographers and models who made Harbour Island famous through photo shoots in 1980s and ‘90s would only stay at Pip Simmons' Ocean View property; and its house party atmosphere became legend. When her son Ben started hosting weddings almost a decade ago, Harbour Island suddenly emerged as one of the most popular destination wedding spots for glamorous brides who loved his barefoot chic style.
In recent years, he and his wife, Charlotte, have opened Ocean View Club as a more traditional hotel and restaurant but have managed to keep the funky, personal-home vibe. Their latest venture, called The Other Side, sits a five-minute boat ride away on a gorgeous stretch of Caribbean beach on North Eleuthera. Scattered behind the white sand beach are a series of tents that are hung with chandeliers and kitted out with comfy couches, quirky antiques and vibrant island art. All the tents have a magical quality that makes the most of the kick-off-your-shoes setting but retains a dramatic flair for design. It could be the perfect spot for a wedding as long as the guests are the type who appreciate being barefoot and lounging under the stars (but then again, what other kind of guests would you want at your party?).
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"] Right: Courtesy Eleven Experience[/caption]
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