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Living large in The Bahamas

Living large in The Bahamas

Fly to an island all yours for the day. Let the country's top bartender mix you a Rum Dum. Hook into a big wahoo off Grand Bahama. It's not just the good life...it's even better

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2006
January 1, 2006
Tina Novotny

Bahamians are expert in more than offshore financial services. They also know a thing or two about indulging refined tastes. Busy billionaires, relaxing royalty and rock stars at play all know where to find the most sophisticated service providers who call paradise home. Whether you come to the islands to play golf with your banker, ride out the winter in a second home, or just sail in for a holiday weekend, we introduce you to a few of the people and places in service to put the “good” in the good life.

Arriving in style
Would an aerial overview help you decide which of The Bahamas’ 700 islands to explore? Then check out the three-day, fly-in excursions organized every month by the Ministry of Tourism. Anywhere from eight to 50 private aircraft fly into a selected destination resort, where pilots are treated to a VIP reception. Itineraries are created to introduce pilots to the beauty of the islands and reach places most tourists never see. Pilots can navigate with ease, given custom flight plans to several of The Bahamas’ 60 airports and facilitated passage through customs. “If your aircraft is worth a few million dollars, you’re interested in getting an escort,” says Greg Rolle, a pilot who coordinates the fly-ins for the Ministry. “It’s a great chance for participants to bond with other members of owner groups, like the Lawyer Pilots Bar Association recently did,” he says of a group that met in Freeport, Grand Bahama in January 2005.

If you’d rather ply these turquoise waters at sea level, join the company of movie icons, sports celebrities and heads of state who like to charter “gigayachts” in The Bahamas. It can cost as much as $50,000 to $250,000 a week and more, plus costs, but it’s a luxurious treat that attracts loyal regulars who return year after year. “Charter yachts are like floating hotels, but they offer privacy that people can’t get anywhere else,” says chef Kathie Crawford, who pampers her passengers with silver service on day trips or week-long cruises. “They’re in Wonderland: Whatever they want they get,” she says. Guests enjoy Crawford’s unrivalled island cuisine highlighting indigenous dishes like Abaco chicken with mango, lobster tail fra diablo, Eleutheran tomatoes with vodka, or grouper meunière with thyme and lemon butter. She’s had lots of repeat customers, since groups like members of the New York Yacht Club and NASCAR drivers rendezvous in The Bahamas every year. Just don’t ask for names: “Our clients can and do demand complete discretion, so they can truly get away, although with satellite communications they’re never too far. Some of the yachts have their own helicopters too,” says Crawford.

Elite retreats
When it comes to accommodations, classic is the order of the day. There’s Graycliff Hotel in old Nassau, the first five-star establishment in The Bahamas and the Caribbean. This stately building has a colourful 250-year history that includes hosting privateers and courtesans as well as monarchs and shipping magnates. “Our clients are accustomed to quality,” says owner Enrico Garzaroli. “They’re used to the best of the best.” Proprietor since 1973, Garzaroli now entertains the heirs of some of his original guests, a discerning generation joined by recording artists like LL Cool J and movie stars such as Sharon Stone. Some are drawn by Garzaroli’s renowned wine cellar, said to house a quarter of a million bottles. Others have heard about his adjoining Cuban cigar factory, which imports exquisitely cured tobacco. For a taste of everything, Garzaroli has put together the ultimate seven-day vacation package for a mere $500,000: It includes airfare by private jet from anywhere in the US, the best suite in the house and “dinner of a lifetime,” paired with your chosen vintage. At the end of the trip you’ll fly home carrying 1,000 cigars wrapped with your own private label.

For an elegant room with a spectacular view, you won’t find a ritzier one than 17-storeys up in the Bridge Suite at Atlantis, which spans the two Royal Towers of the epic destination resort built by developer Sol Kerzner on Paradise Island. Its past guest list is a roster of celebrity heavyweights from Hollywood to Wall Street. The suite also served as a location for the 2004 Pierce Brosnan-Salma Hayek heist movie After the Sunset. Just make sure you’ve got $25,000 per night in your own production budget.
Or if seclusion is more your thing, then stay on a private Out Island retreat. For example, you can lease Musha Cay, a 150-acre isle in the Exumas, 85 miles southeast of Nassau. Musha boasts eight pristine beaches and a 10,000-sq-ft colonial plantation manor. It’s all yours for $25,000 a day to entertain up to eight people. Rates include food, wine and water sports.

Competitive edge
Whether you prefer to handle a fishing rod or a golf club, you’ll find some of the most competitive places to play in The Bahamas. Dare to join the 50 or so boats that compete annually in The Bahamas Wahoo Tournament, for instance. “Wahoo fishermen are a special breed,” says tournament organizer Raul Miranda. “They run hard, fish hard and enjoy themselves.” This staged game-fishing competition started in Bimini in the ’60s and is now hosted by various islands over the winter months. Big-game fishing in The Bahamas was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway, although the wahoo crowd says he was more of a blue marlin man. The dedicated wahoo anglers come together on boats with names like Scatterbrain, Salt Shaker and Moustache. It’s a recreational event securing The Bahamas’ reputation as one of the world’s best gamefishing grounds. “It takes special skills and knowledge to be able to catch wahoo,” says Miranda. “They’re the fastest game fish in the ocean with speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour. There’s a lot of rivalry.”

Rivalry is not unknown on the golf course either. Competitive players won’t want to miss out on what’s being dubbed the world’s first tropical links at Peter de Savary’s Abaco Club on Winding Bay, designed by architect Donald Steel. If the temperature were several degrees lower you’d almost believe you’re on a Scottish fairway, with deep bunkers, sprawling greens and the booming Atlantic playing as the soundtrack for that perfect shot. “Players rave about numerous holes here,” says golf pro Kenny Gargiolo. “Steel is renowned for creating challenging layouts with large green complexes that demand creativity and precise shot placement. Holes 15 through 18 are perched atop a 65-ft bluff overlooking Winding Bay and the ocean. A working quarry dominates the landscape on 15 and 16, providing an intimidating hazard that can make a good round go south in a hurry. Hole 17 is a stunning par three with an elevated tee and a green that seems to be floating on the turquoise ocean,” says Gargiolo. As noted local golfer Sir Sean Connery summed it up: “a perfect jewel of a design.”

Pure, indulgent R&R
If you can get yourself invited for drinks at the members-only Lyford Cay Club on New Providence near Nassau, you might be even luckier to be mixed a little something by Wilfred Sands, the award-winning bartender on The Bahamas Culinary team. What’s the favourite beverage of his well-cleated clientele? “That would be my own Rum Dum,” says Sands, an invigorating mix of light and dark Bacardi with sugar syrup, lemon juice and frothy egg white on top. Sands’ vodka-based Bahamian Sunset runs a close second, and the non-alcoholic mango and banana Frozen Yellow Elder is another popular choice. Club members at Sands’ bar, located in the men’s locker room, have gotten so attached to his Rum Dum that he’ll have a frosted glass ready when regulars return from a round of golf. “We’d even run one over to their home in a hurricane if we were asked,” smiles Sands. “That’s just the kind of service we provide.”

If all this recreation sounds a bit overwhelming, you can always soothe yourself at a spa. The Bahamas has a number of spas in exclusive resorts such as The One&Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island, recent getaway for Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher. The resort’s spa offers a spate of Elemis treatments, with names such as “Bahamian Pathway to Radiance.” Spa director Missy Dowell says a popular favourite is Cleopatra’s Tropical Tryst, a coconut body rub and drizzled warm-milk wrap. “Clients can choose the type of massage they want, because not everyone is ready for the four arms/four elbows deep tissue massage,” she says, even when you meet your dual masseuses under a special beach pavilion. Each luscious teak-adorned treatment villa is equipped for two, keeping couples in mind, with massage tables, jacuzzi and daybed. One enterprising suitor recently asked for his beloved’s hand during a treatment. “She said yes, of course,” says Dowell.

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