Nassau: A natural and noble Caribbean jewel
For those harbouring some regret having succumbed to the ‘staycation’ trend rather than venturing further afield during these past winter months, then a trip to Nassau, on New Providence Island, will suffice.
Nassau, the capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, offers pristine, white soft sandy beaches with nothing disturbing the peace apart from palm tree fronds fluttering in the warm breeze and there’s the enticing prospect of absolute relaxation. Visitors instantly adapt to that intoxicating laid back Caribbean lifestyle and there is also the opportunity to explore the island and take an intriguing glimpse into the colourful and mesmerising kaleidoscope of Bahamian culture and history.
In the 17th century, British nobility introduced settlers to the island, a fortress was erected and the area was named Charles Town in honour of King Charles II. In 1684 the Spanish invaded and the town was utterly destroyed but a decade later it was swiftly rebuilt and renamed Nassau in honour of King William III, known as William of Orange, a descendant of Germany’s House of Nassau and Prince of Orange-Nassau.
In less than another decade the combined forces of the Spanish and French attacked and then briefly occupied the area. In 1703 Nassau was without a governor and hordes of marauding pirates including Captain Edward Teach; the infamous Blackbeard, were attracted to the area and the island was duly declared a lawless pirate republic. In 1718, the British regained control, and Woodes Rodgers, the first Royal Governor, expelled the pirates and the fort was rebuilt.
After the American War of Independence, American colonists, loyal to the crown, established several plantations. In 1807 the international slave trade was abolished and the Royal Navy liberated the African slaves who resettled on a number of the Caribbean islands including Nassau.
Today, Nassau is a major tourism destination and continues to attract celebrities and high profile visitors including our very own James Bond, during the filming of Thunderball in 1965, Never Say Never Again in 1983, Casino Royale in 2006 and For Your Eyes Only in 1981.
On my first day I embarked on an early morning stroll along the powder soft Bahamian white sands, pausing to dip my toes in the sparkling turquoise waters lapping the sun kissed shore and I contemplated on how to spend my afternoon, either relaxing on the gorgeous beach or exploring.
I decided to wander around the enchanting town, which features wonderful examples of Georgian architecture and the pastel hued wooden shops on Bay Street enticed me to browse through the trinkets. Preparing to utilise my bartering skills, I headed for the local straw market where I was easily persuaded to part with a few dollars for a treasure trove of goodies including a colourful basket intricately weaved with dried palm leaves and a rather fetching and jaunty hat.
For a deeper understanding of Bahamian culture and history I made my way to the Balcony House Museum. This delightful 18th century quaint wooden residential building features a rather grand free-standing balcony and the restored property, thought to be the oldest residence in Nassau, is enhanced with elegant period furnishings.
I also visited Fort Montague, which was built in 1741, and is the oldest fort on New Providence Island. Fort Fincastle, which was constructed in 1793 during the governorship of Viscount Fincastle, is another popular site, and the imposing Fort Charlotte, where the mighty cannons are sure to deter any remaining pirates, is also worth seeking out.
Another attraction, which has proved to be very popular, is the Pirates of Nassau Museum; a swashbuckling crowd pleaser, located on King and George Street. I noticed that the grown- ups are just as enthralled as the little ones with one father exclaiming loudly ‘Oooh Aaar Jim Lad’ and ‘Shiver Me Timbers’ at every opportunity and he was encouraged by his children’s infectious laughter.
A trip to Paradise Island’s Atlantis, home to more than 50,000 marine animals, offers adults and children the chance to get closer to marine life in shallow waters, watch and feed native green sea turtles, glide alongside amazing marine creatures with a hand-held water scooter, or snorkel in a gorgeous lagoon with giant manta rays. For more excitement visit Aqua Adventure featuring 141 acres of river rides and hair-raising water slides.
Waterfowl and wading birds are dominant throughout Nassau and Paradise Island. Egrets, herons, Bahamian pintails, ruddy duck, Caribbean coots, ospreys and belted kingfishers are just some of the colourful residents and the spectacular flamingo march at the Ardastra Gardens and Conservation Centre is not to be missed.
Nassau is also famous for the Junkanoo, a major culture festival, which takes place on December 26 and January 1. Local people adorned in beautiful and elaborate costumes, parade proudly through the streets dancing and singing in celebration of life in the Bahamas. Locals and visitors alike join in with abandon and the electric atmosphere is simply contagious.
Nassau offers a wide range of hotels to suit every budget and for those seeking the highest levels of comfort and service, The Four Seasons Ocean Club, located on a five mile stretch of natural, powder-white sandy beach on Paradise Island, is just the ticket.
The property is surrounded by lush manicured lawns and gardens and exudes a charming tranquillity. For water babes there is direct access to the beach and a choice of swimming pools, which includes a family pool with an impressive waterfall, the Ocean pool, which is the ideal spot for sun worshippers, or the adults-only Versailles pool.
Luxurious accommodations include beachfront rooms measuring 550 sq ft, spacious suites of 1,100 sq ft, garden cottages, measuring 860 sq ft with a living area, and two master bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, and wide French doors, which open onto a courtyard with a plunge pool. There is also a selection of villas with three or four bedrooms and private infinity pools.
On-site dining venues include Dune, where Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, recipient of a Michelin star, offers delicious dishes combining Asian and French cuisine, and Versailles, which serves French and Mediterranean dishes, and Ocean, which is just steps away from the beach and entices diners to sample a wide range of choices including succulent grilled fish.
A few afternoon tipples after lunch, followed by a snooze in the sunshine. Doesn’t that sound like heaven? Book a trip to Nassau, it’s a natural and noble Caribbean jewel.
Top tip – Accommodation
For more information on the featured accommodation visit fourseasons.com or call +1 (242) 363 2501.
Top tip – Things to do
The Changing of the Guard, a ceremony dating back to 1958, which features the Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Guards, is held at Government House on alternate Fridays from 11.00 to 11.30 hrs.
Images courtesy of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.