This little patch of paradise quietly packs a punch. In my estimation, there are probably more dollars, pounds, euros, and yen here per square mile than most places. I am going to dub Harbour Island, if it hasn’t already been dubbed this, barefoot billionaires beach. I wanted to say island but the three b’s rolled right out. Come here and you’re automatically at ease. Immigration and customs are housed in a quaint little building just beside the runway. We had a semi-dramatic landing on the short airstrip and for about five minutes I didn’t question why. I was just ready to get to Coral Sands Resort. Since we came in on a smaller regional jet for the short half hour flight, the pilot and flight attendant struck up a little chit-chat while waiting or the door to be unlatched from the outside. I was well within earshot when she asked the pilot, “Have you ever been here before?” The which he replied, “No. Could you tell by the landing?” I didn’t know whether to chuckle or thank my lucky stars. As I was second in line to deplane, I just smirked and shrugged my shoulders, all to myself. What are you going to do, complain? We just touched down in paradise. I think not.
Minutes after getting off the plane, I was through the delightful immigration and customs process. I’m telling you, it’s so cute and so small that you’re closer to your flight-mates than you were on the plane. This isn’t a bad thing. As I said, this place is lousy with the rich and famous so if you’re into rubbing elbows, trust me, there’s no escaping an elbow scape here-and-there. My close encounter with the fabulousness came when I realized I had been seated next to a Victoria’s Secret model the entire way from Miami to Eleuthera. See what I mean? She sat one row away from me and hadn’t noticed until we were both picked up by the same driver and took the short five-minute ride to the water taxi. I must admit that even then, I had no idea who she was. I was taking a lengthy video off the back of the boat on our way and through my peripheral vision, I noticed here looking to see if I were filming her. I wasn’t and we were grand, but then after I was picked up, so graciously by the General Manager of the hotel, in a golf cart, at the dock, I noticed she went another way although we had briefly exchanged niceties in the taxi and knew we were going to the same hotel. I divulged all to Pam, the GM and she filled me in that they were on property for about 10 days shooting a catalogue.
That made sense. The location was perfect for that sort of thing. Pink sand beaches, zero chance of paparazzi, and water that can only be described as Bahamian blue, to do it justice. Who wouldn’t want to buy a bra or bikini with that sort of a backdrop? I’m already planning on shopping from the upcoming catalogue but in the meantime, I am in love with this intimate Harbour Island with its shops, restaurants, friendly folks and plethora of golf carts. The island is only 3 miles by 1 mile and the 1 mile width is only at a very specific point on the island, but I am jumping ahead in my tale. This is still the Bahamas as it once was; brightly colored houses, a dock that doubles, no triples, as a base of operation for the comings and goings of island life and local bars that are so local you’d pass them if you weren’t a from here. The Harbour Island of old is still here and I came to see if Coral Sands is just as fabulous as ever. Last year there were some additions and changes to this staple Bahamian Out Island staple from the gym and gift shop to a new pool. There are now three new ocean front cottages and six new bungalows. The dark wood-planked floors set off the stark white walls and red billiards table in the main gathering area. On this three-mile long pink sand beach, the 38 rooms and villa with 4 rooms are unobtrusive and melt into the background, allowing the island’s natural beauty to take center stage.
Lunch is best taken at the Beach Bar where you’ll find the Bahamian staples such as coleslaw, conch fritters and fresh fish. Yes, I said coleslaw. This is a staple in the Bahamas so get ready for it on mostly every menu, the more local, the more slaw. The daily mixed plate is a collection of dishes turned tapas. The chef conceptualized it to be a tasting of what’s fresh and current, very much an of-the-moment plate. Coral Sands isn’t confined to the predictable. Everything about the hotel is a little better than expected and the only thing one can predict is that planning ahead is sometimes (oftentimes) not going to work. Take for example the idea of a fresh catch daily. Great in concept but when storms arise, there’s very little chance—it at all— that any local fisherman will go out to catch, and we all know how “predictable” the weather can be. Besides that, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’ll run into people, local or guest, who will want to share a meal with you at one of the island’s sublimely decadent restaurants. Don’t feel like you are betraying the hotel, the staff at Coral Sands love to share their patch of paradise with guests as well. You’ll probably not want to leave the hotel much, but when you do, you’ll still be in great hands.
One evening, I accepted a dinner invitation from a fellow island visitor to dine at Runaway Hill, whose owner happens to be a famous Canadian hockey player whom I’ll let you figure out on your own. Pre-dinner drinks area warmup for the main event. Co-owner Jennifer (Hah, I almost gave away her last name) is often floating around the dining room, and is an excellent conversationalist. Grab a drink with her and she may just share her brother’s names with you. If she asks why you’re asking…tell her I sent you, then settle in for some island fine dining. There’s conch chowder, lobster spring rolls, fresh catch of the day and other expected items on the menu, but you can also get delectable rack of lamb. The startling thing is that the filet mignon is just as readily available as any of the traditional dishes. For an island that is only three miles by one mile, it packs a gastronomic punch. Headed back to my cottage, I stopped off at the lobby bar back at Coral Sands before calling it a night. At least I thought I was. That thought came and went when Lois, a key staff member and friend of Pam, the general manager, popped up behind the bar. She was down from Ft. Lauderdale on the island orchestrating the Christmas decorations at the hotel and preparing for a wedding the upcoming Saturday. She’s one of those memorable people, as so many of the players on this island are. She’s practically a local at this point and with her cropped blonde haircut you could tell she was a pragmatic person who wasted no time on getting things accomplished. She has a certain way about her that somehow conveyed that she meant business but business done with a smile and a laugh. Pam had the same demeanor about her. A UK native, she has been on the island for what seems like forever and as she zips around town in her golf cart, everyone knows her and she knows them all as well. This community is something to experience and the hotel is a cornerstone of it so encourages guests to explore and become, if even for a short while, a part of it. Come as you are attitude is touted around islands all the time. Here, the Gucci loafers Pam wears around the resort say it all. Her blonde tresses neatly pulled back to top of her stylish pair of shorts and top that get her through the warm breezy days here; easily managing to carry on conversations with guests while running the hotel like a finely tuned machine, set the tone that she is fully in step with her well-heeled guests. It’s a gift that she has because you can tell that none of it is forced. She knows how to treat guests who come through Coral Sands because she is of the same well-dressed and affluent ilk, seeking to blend in and happy to let the Bahamian blue waters and pink sand speak for themselves.
The juxtaposition of affluence and invisibility is something our social media age is lacking. Seems like everyone wants to be “known” these days. Here folks seem to have a strong sense of self and that’s all that really matters. Nowhere else was this more evident than on that late-night golf cart ride I took with Lois. She set out to find some Night Blooming Jasmine and have me experience a little more of the Island. We went from one very local bar to another. The first on our “road trip” was so local that I think she may have fixed her own drink and I’m not sure if I saw a cash register anywhere in the establishment. Three gentlemen sat around the bar chatting about who knows what and enjoying themselves immensely. We popped back onto the golf cart, drink in hand, and made our way to another local spot. The proprietors name is Hitler and and he and his bar are a fixture. Famous beyond famous have all come here and continue to do so. You know this by all their pictures hung on the walls plus the names scrawled along even the highest reaches of the building that opens to a courtyard and basketball court (with one net) surrounded by tables tucked behind Roman-looking arches. This joint is the place to be. Our night wasn’t young but we certainly weren’t finished yet. We had one more hot spot to hit. Daddy D’s did not disappoint. It was a Wednesday night and karaoke was in full effect. Danny D the DJ, was himself in the house and spinning tunes for the pumped crowd. Overheard during a breather being taken on the wraparound balcony, “If they’re not in bed by ten o’clock they’ll wind up here.” There’s a very cool nightlife here and the night culture is something to behold. I, for one, am happy that I did not turn in for the night, as planned. Local, tourist, young, older, fashionista to flip flop wearing hipsters are all doing the same thing at the same place at this time of night…having the time of their lives. What a feeling!
Coral Sands has its own night vibe as well and bartenders like Peter can hook you up and make you anything from their signature Goombay Smash to a Manhattan, but get on out there and dance the night away while you’re on Harbour island. This should be kept a secret but I can’t help myself, I must share this place with you.
Luckily enough, Coral Sands also loves to share their patch of paradise with guests. You’ll probably not want to leave the hotel much, but if and when you do, you’ll still be in great hands. Everyone is prepared to wow in classic island style. That’s style with a smile, warmth and a good cocktail or ice-cold Sands beer. I have a feeling that this style has everything to do with the island feeling confident. Having once been the capital of the Bahamas, being over 300 years old, and having nothing to prove because its natural beauty wins that argument with zero effort, probably has a lot to do with the Harbour Island vibe and Coral Sands’ place in the sun on the rock.