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A royal retreat
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A royal retreat

Windermere Island, Eleuthera, has long been favoured secluded spot for rich, famous, privileged

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

For decades, Windermere Island, Eleuthera, has been one of The Bahamas’ best kept secrets. Its pristine shores have attracted royalty, the rich and famous, and those simply in search of a little privacy.

The island possesses a history as rich as its glitzier counterparts on New Providence and Paradise Island, such as Lyford Cay and Ocean Club Estates. Homes here, however, are not the showpieces one might find in the capital’s luxury gated communities. Like the late Princess Diana, who vacationed here, Windermere is a quiet beauty.

An idyllic isle of lush vegetation and come-hither beaches, the six-mile-long island is flanked on one side by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other by Eleuthera’s Savannah Sound. Only a tiny bridge, manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, connects Windermere to the mainland.

Rich history
This seclusion is part of the reason why Windermere flies beneath the radar as a tropical getaway and second-home destination. That is just the way homeowners here prefer it. “Most of the families that come here, stay for generations,” says Trevor Trefgarne, a resident of the island. “That is quite a commendation of both Eleuthera and Windermere. My grandchildren are now the fourth generation of Trefgarnes who come to Eleuthera.”

Trefgarne’s father, George, First Baron Trefgarne, came to The Bahamas on official business in the late 1940s. As chairman of the Colonial (Commonwealth) Development Corp (CDC), Lord Trefgarne spent several months travelling around The Bahamas, scouting out areas for potential investment. The UK-based company was tasked with helping to develop Britain’s colonies.

The Trefgarnes accumulated some 200 acres of land in Savannah Sound and were among the first set of winter residents to Eleuthera. In 1960, Baron Trefgarne built the original bridge connecting Windermere to the mainland. It was the first bridge over the sea to be constructed in The Bahamas. The Trefgarne Bridge encouraged the development of Windermere.

In 1968, the Windermere Island Club opened for business, founded by real estate mogul Sir Harold G Christie. Christie’s partner in the club was businessman Harold Ley Jr. Originally, the club maintained 12 private villas, 10 apartments and 10 suites, which were rented out. Christie could often be spotted buzzing over Eleuthera in a helicopter, seeking out the best plots. “I just love looking at land,” he would say.

Noble ties
The year before the club was founded, interior decorator and designer David Hicks and his wife, Lady Pamela Hicks, built a home, which they named Savannah House, on Windermere Island. Lady Pamela’s father, Lord Louis Mountbatten was Admiral of the Fleet, the first Earl of Mountbatten of Burma and the last Viceroy of India. Lady Pamela was a bridesmaid in Queen Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who is Lady Pamela’s first cousin.

In building their home on Windermere Island, Hicks was inspired by the Egyptian temple of King Zoser, created in the third century BC by architect, engineer and polymath Imhotep. Hicks’s cubist, mausoleum-type homage to the temple is made in rough cement, layered with the pink sand from the nearby beach and scored with nails for a textured look.

The home is perched on a small hill, with views of the Atlantic on one side and the still turquoise sound on the other. “I now also understand why my godfather, Prince Charles, would stay with us,” wrote India Hicks, David and Lady Pamela’s daughter, in an article for Coastal Living magazine. A former model, India now divides her time between her Harbour Island home and her father’s Savannah House retreat. 

“Windermere Island had the magical qualities of freedom and privacy–a gentle pace of life, where the days of the week no longer mattered, children entertained themselves in the shallow, warm waters of the sheltered lagoon, and adults could play long games of canasta.”

Whenever Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the island, they would purchase fresh baked bread from Savannah Sound’s Henry Sands. Now in his late 80s, Sands must have made an impression on the young couple, as he was invited to their 1981 wedding.

A year after their wedding, the royal couple visited Windermere Island once again, when Princess Diana was pregnant with Prince William. During the trip, photographers with telephoto lenses snapped shots of the young princess in a bikini on Windermere’s West Beach. The photos made news around the world.

Living the dream
There are about 80 homes on the island, including cottages and condos. Less than half are free standing houses. For the most part, homes here are minimalistic and understated. The older homes, in particular, are designed to retreat from prying eyes and, with the exception of the royal intrusion, have been successful at keeping the world at arm’s length. 

“We have been going to Windermere for 30 years,” says one second-home resident, who preferred not to be named. “My husband and I discovered Windermere together, enjoyed the beauty of it and continued to return. The residents of Windermere are from around the world and I think what draws them to Windermere is the natural beauty. Here, people respect each other’s privacy.”

Only a few homes are visible from the road. Many more are obscured from view such as Sea Lily–Grammy Award winning recording artist Mariah Carey’s Bahamas property–and Provender, which is owned by the British Brabournes. Lord Brabourne, also known as Norton Knatchbull, is godfather to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and the godson of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Provender is reportedly the hideaway where the Prince and Princess of Wales honeymooned.

“When people build a home on an island such as Windermere they tend to dream about it a long time before they actually build. Quite often they build something that’s pretty amazing,” says Trefgarne, who is chairman of the Ghana-based insurance group Enterprise Group Ltd.

Trefgarne, who splits his time between The Bahamas and Africa, built his Windermere home, Takoradi, in 2012. His property lies on either side of the main road, with beach access to the front and Savannah Sound and its wetlands to the back.

When the original Windermere Island Club closed its doors in the late 1990s, Windermere homeowners constructed their own Club at Windermere, managed by Philip and Kara Smith. The club’s facilities include restaurant dining and bar, a games room, lending library, pool, showers and tennis courts. “What has been a huge success for Windermere is its very active group of homeowners,” says Trefgarne. “A lot of them are active in keeping everything working well.”

Buying tranquillity
“People buy in Windermere for the lifestyle. They like the privacy. They like the unspoiled beauty, the beach,” says Jonathan Morris, estate agent at Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty. “They are nature lovers, boaters, or just lead busy lives and this is somewhere they can go to completely decompress.”

The buyer demographic is changing from early 50s to mid-40s. A solid investment, real estate on the island has held its value throughout the decades.

A beachside two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo apartment sells for $395,000. Beachfront lots start around $975,000 (about 150 ft of beachfront on a 1.5 acre lot); waterfront lots on the sound side (between the mainland and Windermere) are priced around $299,000. Inland lots start at $175,000 (about half an acre).

A three-bedroom home with a view of the sea and beach access was selling for just under $1 million up to press time.

However, some properties for sale never get to the open market. Property ownership changes hands on what Morris calls the “cocktail circuit,” social functions where residents confide in neighbours that they are considering selling. Some plots get snapped up right away.

“Certainly a lot of vacant land has gone that way,” says Morris. Still, some great investment properties do come to market, such as Sandcastle House–a home situated on two lots, which Morris sold to a South African buyer in 2013 for $3 million.

As word slowly spreads about Windermere, buyers are looking for their piece of paradise. “Buyers’ interest is rising throughout Eleuthera,” says Morris. “You’re seeing an increase in every area, from vacant land to multi-million-dollar homes. People like what Eleuthera has to offer.”

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