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Travel: Experience the idyllic islands of The Bahamas

© Press Association ImagesCat Island in the Bahamas.
Cat Island in the Bahamas.

Lit by only the flame of the crackling bonfire, 80-year-old Christopher Stubbs regales us with humorous yarns passed down to him by his grandparents many years ago. All with the soundtrack of the waves gently lapping on Old Bight Beach.

The Cat Island local is a storyteller in his spare time, and is sharing his favourite tale, featuring a goat and a magistrate as unlikely main characters.

The details of this story are hazy in my mind, perhaps due to the delicious homemade rum-laced iced tea I’ve been sipping. But the evening itself will live long in my memory as an authentic experience far from the typical all-inclusive resort one might expect from a trip to The Bahamas.

July 10 will mark 50 years since this Caribbean archipelago of 16 major islands gained independence from Britain, and the country is keen to show the world how it has thrived since then.

The islands are mainly accessible by local flights, with some ferry options available. Beginning your trip in Nassau means you can sample city life before embarking on your adventure to find tranquil beaches on some of the other islands.

The welcome at Rollezz Villas on Cat Island – with its pastel-coloured wooden lodgings complete with porches and rocking chairs – is a warm one. Yvonne Rolle envelops me in a hug on arrival and later feeds me a home-cooked dinner of fried chicken, peas and rice, finished off with guava cheesecake.

The family-run resort can cater for up to 28 guests at a time, meaning the beach right on your doorstep is always going to have a private feel.

A daytime dip followed by a rest in the hammock can turn into a night-time beach bonfire with traditional Bahamian dancing, storytelling and the renowned rake-and-scrape music, which traditionally features a saw played with a screwdriver, alongside an accordion and drum.

Junkanoo, the popular Bahamian parades, which happen at Christmas, New Year and on the annual anniversary of independence, bring a carnival atmosphere as participants don elaborate, vibrant cardboard costumes to dance their way along to the sound of cowbells and goat skin drums.

© Press Association Images
Trumpeter plays during a Junkanoo parade.

On Grand Bahama island, we hear the history of Johnny cake – a dense bread with its origins in being packed for long journeys years ago. It is thought it was originally known as “journey” cake or bread due to how well it lasted.

Seafood is of course a common part of most meals on the islands, none more so than conch. “We do conch every which way, so you can conch yourself out,” our guide, David, tells us with a hearty laugh. The shellfish – pronounced conk – is available battered (known as cracked), stewed in a soup, in a tropical salad with pineapple… the list goes on.

Aside from the popular Bahama mama rum drink, the memorably-named Gullywash cocktail – also known as sky juice – is another must-try. Coconut water, sweetened condensed milk and gin combine with a cherry on top to make for a pina-colada style drink best enjoyed by the beach. It’s available at every decent bar.

© Press Association Images
Aine exploring on an ATV.Tr

Adrenaline junkies can see some of the island on a quad, as part of a two-hour nature ATV tour. Aim to time it with the sunset to get the most beautiful views as you negotiate at-times rocky terrain through vegetation, before ending up on a beach drive along the water.

Back on Cat Island, Dan King is a local guide offering curated paid-for tours, from the ruins of an old plantation house and touching the soft cotton which still grows on plants nearby, to a nature walk over a rocky path through the reeds to the beauty of Great Lake (also known as Mermaid Hole).


P.S.

Visitors can experience local living through the free People to People programme, which aims to match tourists to local ambassadors who can cook them traditional dinners in their homes, and show them hidden gems on the various islands. Apply at bahamas.com.

Factfile: 

British Airways flies from London to Nassau six times a week, prices starting from £713 return. Between Nassau and Grand Bahama there are four outbound and four inbound flights per week, with Bahamas Air.

A stay at Rollezz Villas (British Airways flies from London to Nassau six times a week, prices starting from £713 return. Between Nassau and Grand Bahama there are four outbound and four inbound flights per week, with Bahamas Air. A stay at Rollezz Villas (rollezz.com) is £187 per villa, per night, including breakfast.) is £187 per villa, per night, including breakfast.