The Bahamas has no shortage of busy resorts and gaudy hotels. The capital Nassau’s Atlantis Paradise Island offers perhaps the most globally recognised example. What is harder to find is a quieter corner of these paradise Caribbean islands, where the pace is a couple of steps slower and the slot machines and water flumes have been replaced by more serene pleasures: waves lapping against a deserted white beach and secluded luxury villas.
The answer may well lie in the Berry Islands, a chain of 30 isles and about a hundred smaller atolls which total less than 80 km2 in area. The charming isolation is enhanced by the lack of an airport and limited cruise ship traffic, with only Great Stirrup Cay and Little Stirrup Cay is use by three cruise lines for private excursions and activities. Great Stirrup Cay has the added highlights of a 150 year old lighthouse and an unidentified shipwreck just offshore.
Of several world class tropical bolthole for the most discerning guests, Peacock Island is a particularly sumptuous and historic example of a Bahamian retreat, founded by Wallace Groves in the 1930s. In addition to the presence of the wonderful birds its name suggests, there are manatees, green turtles, flamingos and pelicans to be admired in the waters fringing its 93 acres. There are also plenty of boats, and fishing and sailing are where the Berry Islands really punch above their weight.
The most populated island, Great Harbour Cay, hosts a very well-attended annual fishing tournament, with visitors lured and baited by the promise of reeling in prize catch including giant bluefin tuna, king mackerel, blue marlin, yellowtail snapper, grouper and the locally-ubiquitous billfish. The Tongue of the Ocean, a deep trench off Chub Cay, has long been assured in its reputation as the very best place to catch billfish.
Great Harbour Cay has many more attractions that simply acting as a sailing springboard: not only the lovely protected harbour itself but many world class beaches, including the Robinson Crusoe-esque Sugar Beach, with its mysterious and evocative coves and rockpools.
Fabulous diving opportunities are prevalent throughout the Bahamas, but one spot within the Berry Islands, Hoffman Cay, offers the unusual experience of a blue hole, hundreds of metres wide, inhabited solely by oysters. Mamma Rhoda Reef is another cult classic dive spot, famed for the moray eels, stingrays and crawfish who call its shallow coral reef home. Lucky scuba enthusiasts have the chance of sighting dolphins, whales and Florida lobsters in the teeming waters off the Berry Islands, too. The increasingly popular adrenalin rush of a swim with bull sharks is a possibility too.
The Berry Islanders are known to get into seasonal good spirits too, and host a major Christmas festival on December 12 which includes a visit from Santa, the lighting of the Christ Tree, cooking, carols and a parade.
The Berry Islands are a sheltered throwback to the way the Caribbean used to be, and offer the chance to step into a timeless world of natural wonders and low key good living.
Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd.