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March 30, 2010

The Caribbean: Bahamas

Pink sand and private islands

Hot Property: Home Away From Home
ONE TO WATCH The best thing about the nine-room Rock House, Harbour Island's newest boutique hotel, is the wonderfully idiosyncratic decor. Owners Wallace Tutt and partner Don Purdy raided their own private collections to give Rock House the feeling of, well, a house: Modigliani drawings, a white-porcelain English chandelier from 1910, art books piled on tables, rolled-arm sofas, and deep club chairs (designed by Tutt). No two rooms are alike; the Parrot room has drawings of birds, Citrus has original Picasso lithographs. The level of service helps the hominess, too, with Tutt and Purdy themselves tending to everything from mixing drinks to beachside service. Rock House isn't exactly a secret; the fashion and Hollywood crowds—including Elle McPherson, Jack Nicholson, Barry Diller, and Diane von Furstenberg—have been lounging around the pool for months (albeit hidden away in the private cabanas, of course). For those who value seclusion over scene, Tutt and Purdy also have Caribe Cay, a private home on its own island a short boat ride from Harbour Island. The main house and two cottages have the same warm, eclectic style as Rock House, and there are two private beaches and a pool, all watched over by a complete and attentive staff. "Whatever people want," says Tutt, "we do it." Rock House: Rooms, $245-$525. At Bay and Hill streets; 242-333-2053; www.rockhousebahamas.com. Caribe Cay: Rates, $15,000 a week; 242-333-2053; www.myownprivateisland.com.

—Donna Paul

Quick Bite: Chili Lobster in Paradise
It's worth a trip to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Dune at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island just for the chili lobster sandwich. Served with roast-beet-and-ginger salad, this is gourmet comfort food at its best. The ocean views aren't bad either. Lunch, $52. At Casino Drive; 242-363-2501; www.oneandonlyresorts.com.

—Sophy Roberts

Smart Advice
Book a veranda table for Sunday brunch at THE LANDING on Harbour Island, where beautiful locals gab over the best espresso and ricotta hotcakes on the island. 242-333-2707.

—S.R.

En Route: Hopping in the Bahamas
Flying between the islands is harder than it should be, unless you know Paul Harding, a seasoned pilot who has operated Safari Seaplanes for more than 25 years. Based in Nassau, Harding knows everyone and everything in the Bahamas. Charter a plane with him for invaluable tips on where to eat, dive, and play on the islands. His half-day excursion to the northern Exuma keys for snorkeling and beachcombing is worth the $550. Rates for regular routes, $375 per hour; 242-393-2522; www.safariseaplanes.com.

—D.P.

With Reservations: Please, Pink Sands
You know you're our favorite hotel on Harbour Island (even with the new openings), but it's time to fine-tune a few details. For all your barefoot-Boho chic, the paint is looking a little ragged, the finish tired. And breakfast could do with an overhaul, starting with the coffee. Villas, $655-$2,100; 242-333-2030; 1-800-688-7678; www.islandoutpost.com.

—S.R.

Private Island: A Cay of One's Own
ONE TO WATCH Unlike other Island Outpost resorts in more trampled parts of the Bahamas, Kamalame Cay is in its own world. A private island off the coast of Andros, Kamalame was designed by Bryan and Jennifer Hew, a Jamaican couple, in an Indonesian style, with dark wood, antiques, and lots of lushly draped white curtains and bedding. There are eight octagonal ocean-front villas (plus four more rooms located near the dock) with French doors that open on three sides and deep-tub bathrooms with ocean views. At the end of the beach is the spectacular Silver Top villa suite, a thatched-roof compound where a new spa offers massage, facials, and yoga. Besides lounging around, Kamalame offers excellent bonefishing headed up by Bruce Seger, and scuba diving under the tutelage of Margaret Abraham, who is also the resort's general manager (and has been known to recharge guests' complimentary golf carts). This is an intimate and relaxed place, where most staff members wear more than one hat. Chef Artie Johnson, who serves up terrific grilled fish and lobster, is both the tennis pro and the lead singer in the Saturday night band. Rooms, $370-$2,700; includes meals and most activities. 800-688-7678, 242-368-6281; www.kamalame.com.

—D.P.

Big Adventure: Bonefishing in Style
We would normally avoid Grand Bahama altogether. But the island's eastern section, 20 miles from the tacky all-inclusive resorts of Freeport, offers some of the best beach and bonefishing in the Bahamas. North Riding Point Club, a rustic seven-room lodge, sits at the edge of miles of mangrove-covered coves, sugar-soft sand, and shallow crystalline water on the island's south shore. The club is run by Ben and Judy Rose (he was a fishing and scuba pro who taught diving for decades), who are both supremely skilled as hosts: The shingle-style cottages, which have private screened porches, are simply but comfortably decorated (and have air conditioning), and any activity—be it kayaking, hiking, biking, yoga, or massage—is just a request away. Most guests, of course, come only to fish. The truly cool thing about North Riding Point is the seven bonefishing guides, who have a profound instinctual knowledge of the waters and a near-psychic ability to locate fish. Going out with them on one of the 16-foot skiffs (lunch and equipment are provided) is like no other fishing trip: If you have never had much luck at bonefishing, a few days with these guys will make you feel like an old hand. $ Rates for fishermen, $1,625 for three nights, $3,620 for seven nights; $300 per night for nonfishermen accompanying fishermen. Includes meals, drinks, fishing, guides, and transfers. 912-756-4890.

—D.P.

Lunch Spot: Overnight Sensation
"Sip sip means 'the buzz, the gossip,' " says Julie Lightbourn, the owner of Harbour Island's Sip Sip. And this hot spot on North Beach has plenty of buzz. You'll have to wait for a table but it's worth it (especially if you pass the time on the back porch). Lightbourn uses fresh local food, much of it organic, and avoids many traditional island cooking techniques: Nothing sees a deep fryer. The menu changes daily; recent dishes included conch chili, grilled shrimp with black-bean cakes, and superb Caribbean carrot cake. $ Lunch, $64. 242-333-3316. Lunch only; closed Tuesday.

"Sip sip means 'the buzz, the gossip,' " says Julie Lightbourn, the owner of Harbour Island's Sip Sip. And this hot spot on North Beach has plenty of buzz. You'll have to wait for a table but it's worth it (especially if you pass the time on the back porch). Lightbourn uses fresh local food, much of it organic, and avoids many traditional island cooking techniques: Nothing sees a deep fryer. The menu changes daily; recent dishes included conch chili, grilled shrimp with black-bean cakes, and superb Caribbean carrot cake. $ Lunch, $64. 242-333-3316. Lunch only; closed Tuesday.

—D.P.

Worth a Stop: Twinkle Toes
Don't be fooled by the fluorescent lights in Bayview Concepts, Christine Johnson's nail salon in the center of Dunmore Town on Harbor Island. This clean, no-frills salon offers one of the best, most thorough pedicures anywhere. Ask for her specialty: a polish using pink sand from the beach that gives nails a shimmery finish. $45. At Johnson's Plaza; 242-333-2846.

—D.P.

Private Island: The Exumas Excel
ONE TO WATCH The Exuma islands are still some of the sleepiest specks in the Bahamian chain (although that may change when a Four Seasons opens in November). Which makes them the perfect spot for one of the best private islands in the Caribbean. Musha Cay is 150 densely landscaped acres of transplanted coconut palms, hibiscus, and oleander, with seven white-sand beaches and hardly a neighbor in sight. The 12 bedrooms in five widely scattered Bahamian-style houses are beautifully furnished with a mix of Caribbean and Asian furniture, Mexican stone floor tiles, and colorful fabrics. Most first-time guests choose Highview, the formal, 10,000-square-foot hilltop house; return visitors generally move down to either the two-bedroom Pierhouse or the Beach House, a romantic one-bedroom cottage on a wide arc of private sand. Chris Cossens has created an excellent menu that includes local lobster with pineapple rice, lemon grouper, and a coconut cake with rum-caramel sauce. And overseeing it all is a warmhearted staff of 30 led by managers Tom and Susan Lawson, who fill all requests effortlessly and immediately. (If you're an animal lover, ask to be introduced to their menagerie: golden retrievers, cats, goats, ducks, roosters, and one hefty pig.) $ Rates, $24,750 per day for up to eight; the island can accommodate up to 24 guests at additional cost. All meals and drinks are included. 877-889-1100, 203-602-0300; www.mushacay.com.

—Laurie Werner

Eco Traveler: Going Green
Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas, is also the least visited. So it was an audacious spot for Mike and Petagay Hartman to open their eco-resort, Tiamo. But its commitment to preservation and proximity to the world's third-largest barrier reef make it worth the full day of travel to come here. The Hartmans designed the 11-bungalow compound themselves, using stainless-steel fine-mesh screens that cover nearly 60 percent of the structure (breezes come in, sand flies don't). There is no air conditioning, and you'll need a flashlight to get to dinner, but the Hartmans haven't overlooked every comfort: The beds are kings, the showers hot (heated by solar panels), and the rustic bungalows are lovely, with colorful fabrics and wood furniture. Meals at Tiamo are served communally, include dishes like truffled mashed potatoes with fresh snapper, seared tuna, and superb jerk chicken. There's kayaking, sailing, deep-sea and bone fishing. And for divers and snorkelers, the blue holes are truly spectacular. Rooms, $275; includes meals and most activities; 800-504-1794, 242-357-2489; www.tiamoresorts.com.

—D.P.

Be Sure To Pack
• The Olympus Stylus 400 digital camera and Underwater Housing Kit to document diving excursions. Camera, $499. Kit, $200. 800-553-4448.

Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.