The Berry Islands, Bahamas
The Berry Islands, which owe their name to the abundance of thatch berry trees found here, is a 55 nm chain of small cays in the form of a crescent on the eastern side of the Great Bahama Bank. The biggest one is Great Harbour Cay and this is the first island after Bimini we explore on our Bahamian journey.
We drop the hook on the eastern side of the island so close to shore we can jump in the water and swim to the beach. And that is exactly what we do. It’s a beautiful seven-mile-long creamy -colored beach, no big hotels and not a single person in view. The only sign of civilization are the luxurious waterfront properties spread evenly along the ocean side. But they are all closed down, with boarded windows, vacant.
In the evening we see lights coming from one of the houses, the one closest to our boat. It is a charming one-story home, freshly painted, not as big as the others around it but with a nice swimming pool surrounded by yellow flowers and palm trees. The next morning we decide to pay it a visit and meet its inhabitants.
As we approach, we start wondering: is it a hotel or a house? There are way too many beach chairs around the pool, a bar loaded with all sorts of bottles and glasses, as well as lots of tables on a terrace prepared for guests, like in a restaurant, so maybe it is a hotel?
On the other hand, the place is small; there is a cozy living room, a sofa and a Christmas tree in the corner, with paintings and family photographs decorating the walls, souvenirs, little toys, and other memorabilia you only find in private homes.
Is this a house or a hotel?, I ask the man and the woman we meet in the sunny terrace. They say with a smile and a British accent: it is both.
Angie and Marty came from England eight years ago and bought the house which they turned into a small hotel with a big personality not too long ago, with only three guestrooms. Hotel CarriEarl, a Bahamian Paradise with a British Twist. And even the rooms are not exactly what you would expect from hotel rooms, each one has its own hue and domestic ambiance.
I imagine staying at CarriEarl would be like visiting friends or family, an experience much more intimate and secluded than staying in a big hotel. And it is not only the size of CarriEarl (cutest little thing) or its location (waterfront in paradise), or the way it is decorated (homey perfection, makes you want to move in and stay forever), or the food served in the restaurant (homemade freshly baked goodies with vegetables, herbs, and coconuts from the garden in the back), or the bar overlooking the beach (name your poison) which make this place so precious and unique. It is the hosts, Angie and Marty: the most generous, hardworking, open-minded people capable of enlightening a gloomy day, who have endowed CarriEarl with a soul.
Meeting Angie and Marty that day changed our entire experience on the island. We were welcomed to use their internet and bikes, and we even get invited to a free dinner in exchange for a few pictures I take of their place.
We get treated to delicious pizzas Marty makes just for us, juice for the kids, rum punch for me, and Guinness for Ivo. And for desert: vanilla ice cream and a homemade coconut-lime cake Angie has baked with the coconuts from her garden! Maya and Viktor are thrilled; they don’t want to leave CarriEarl. Ever.
Our Island Adventures
For the next couple of days we borrow the bikes in the morning, peddle around the island from one end to the other, and return in the afternoon. The island is flat, a car passes on the road every half an hour or so, and there are quite a few things to explore. Biking here is a sheer pleasure. We love it!
We discover the shores, the settlement on the west side, a perfect marina entirely protected from storms, a small cave dug by the sea, and the abandoned derelict once famous Golf Clubhouse. We get to know the island with its big old cedars and tall palm trees tired of the constant winds coming from the Atlantic; its remoteness and tranquility in the tropical Bahamian winter.
It is “off season” now in the Bahamas, they explain, and so there are not many visitors in Great Harbour Cay. The luxurious vacation homes are all empty. The entire east side of the island with its beautiful sand beaches is deserted. But it is not just the season’s fault.
Once in the 1960’s, after a $38 million investment, Great Harbor Cay became a private tropical haven for the rich and the famous, a hideaway for a very privileged few. Golf course designer Joe Lee fashioned an 18-hole championship golf course on rises of land overlooking the sea. A magnificent multi-story clubhouse offered sweeping panoramic views of the island from its wooded hillside. Today, the clubhouse’s carcass is slowly decaying, nature reclaiming what’s hers.
Here Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Nicolson, Ingrid Bergman, and Hugh O’Brian, along with the Rockafeller clan and others from the social elite enjoyed the beaches, the golf course, waterfront mansions, and the unspoiled beauty of the island paradise. But the glory days are over now and with the global economy gone sour, there is not much going on in Great Harbour. Yet, we love it here the way it is, remote and quiet, a seven-mile beach reserved just for us.
But after a few days, the east winds pick up and it becomes impossible to stay anchored on this side of the island, so we move to the more protected west side and there we discover the other ‘face’ of Great Harbour Cay: the local settlement with its unique tropical vibe.
* If you are planning a vacation in the Bahamas; if you are looking for a secluded perfect paradise experience, and if you still don’t know which island or which hotel to choose, go with CarriEarl, you will not regret it. You can visit Hotel CarriEarl’s website here for more information and to make reservations.