ELLE Escapes: Nassau

Culture

All too often a mere stopover for cruise ships floating between the Caribbean isles, Nassau—the Bahamas capital residing on the island of New Providence—is a wonder of white sand beaches and mouthwatering delicacies, deserving of its own slot in week-long vacation infamy. A less-than-3-hour flight from New York City, the oasis is a hub bursting with culture, from its annual Junkanoo celebration on Bay Street to its colonial architecture infused with pirate artifacts and its numerous shops and restaurants, where locals provide a closer look at traditional dishes and artisan skills passed down between generations.

But perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of vacationing in Nassau is the city’s adaptability: Parents will find child-friendly (and budget-friendly) activities amongst the resorts and water parks; newlyweds will discover exclusive getaways in rooms along the shore; and those with a few extra bucks to burn will meet ample opportunities for world-class luxury. Dropping by for a few hours isn’t enough. To get the most out of Nassau’s hidden gems, you’ll want to stick around long after the day trippers disappear into the horizon.

We got a sneak peek of Nassau’s summer offerings during a recent whirlwind visit, which included encounters with live sea turtles, spoonfuls overflowing with conch, lobster, and spaghetti, and indulgent spa treatments under the sun’s gentle glow. Ahead, everything we discovered along the way—including the best hotels, restaurants, and experiences to make Nassau your new favorite destination.

elle escapes new york

Leah Romero

Nassau Straw Market

the straw market in nassau

Walter Bibikow

A Bahamas tradition for generations, straw-weaving is a skill ingrained in many Nassau locals, and you’ll find some of their best handmade creations at the Nassau Straw Market, housed in an enormous air-conditioned warehouse on Bay Street. Though not everything at the shopping center is technically made by hand—you’ll find plenty of imported knick-knacks adorned with Caribbean iconography—that’s part of what makes the hunt so fun. Once you stumble upon a vendor selling authentic delights—including fruit baskets, totes, wallets, and even beach slides—the ensuing haggle is a thrill. Bring plenty of cash (U.S. dollars are fine) and be prepared to negotiate, but stick around long enough to hear the vendors’s stories: Many of them learned the practice from their parents and grandparents, and their tales of tradition are as touching as they are impressive.

The Current Gallery & Art Center

the current art gallery at baha mar

Jerry Balderas

Since its opening in 2018, The Current has been the home of local artwork and community arts investment at the Baha Mar resort. Although attached to and associated with the hotel, The Current operates as its own gallery and studio space, highlighting works from local creators in a variety of styles, mediums, and levels of experience. (Remaining works from the institution’s 2500-piece collection are displayed throughout Baha Mar’s casino, restaurants, lobbies, spa, and guest rooms.) Curated by acclaimed Bahamian mixed-media artist John Cox, who formally worked at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, the gallery offers ample opportunities for browsing in a relaxed, open-space interior, and an attached gift shop sells artwork, prints, and genuinely stunning souvenirs including shirts and jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, The Current allows resort guests and visitors to do more than just ogle: Classes in acrylic pouring, leaf printing, landscape painting, and more are available for artists of all levels throughout the week.

Junkanoo Beach

a couple walking along junkanoo beach in the bahamas

Courtesy of Nassau Paradise Island Tourism

The Bahamas is known for its beaches, so pick just about any stretch of coast and you’ll have a guaranteed good time. But Junkanoo is one of the more unique offerings on the menu: Just a brisk walk away from the local cruise port, Junkanoo is a go-to spot for rowdier crowds, in part thanks to its loud music and numerous cocktails within arm’s reach. One of a handful of public beaches in Nassau, Junkanoo offers chairs and snorkel equipment for rent and almost always has a volleyball game or two going. If you’re hungry, the pastel-colored shacks lining its boardwalk offer conch fritters, jerk chicken, and margaritas aplenty. (On weekends, locals host cookouts you won’t want to miss.) While not the most secluded spot—you’ll want access to a beach resort for that—Junkanoo is unquestionably one of the most worthy quick trips on the island if you’re looking for a Bahama Mama and an ocean view.

elle escapes las vegas

Leah Romero

Dune

the interior of dune restaurant at the ocean club in the bahamas

CHRISTIAN HORAN PHOTOGRAPHY

A swanky French-Asian eatery attached to the equally polished Ocean Club on Paradise Island, just across the bridge from Nassau, Dune is a soirée for the senses. Embedded along the coast and featuring unobscured views of the tranquil turquoise waters, Dune is the crème de la crème of Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, designed with coastal-chic interiors by Jeffrey Beers. Simply reading the menu is enough to make your stomach rumble. Start with the shareable Black Plate, featuring traditional Bahamian conch salad, crab spring rolls, chicken samosas, rice paper-wrapped tuna and avocado, and shrimp satay. Next, opt for pizza or fish: The Bahamian lobster pizza adorned with three gooey cheeses is heavenly, and the spice-crusted snapper and Nassau grouper are equally flaky, delicate, and delicious. Pair with prosecco or a vodka thyme lemonade, but don’t forget dessert. A banana cake with praline crunch will send you back to your room already dreaming of Dune’s breakfast offerings the next morning.

Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chophouse

plates from marcus fish and chophouse

Courtesy of Marcus

Housed in a suave contemporary outpost along the shore, Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chophouse is the brainchild of chef Marcus Samuelsson, who designed a menu highlighting local ingredients and fresh seafood remixed with innovative methods. Try, for instance, the acclaimed Spaghetti Piccadilly, a crab and lobster-stuffed pasta smothered in shellfish butter and topped with Calabrian chilis. Or order the Downtown Jerk Chicken, a half bird served with traditional rice and peas, topped with pineapple chutney. Don’t forget cornbread for the table, complete with buttered rum for optimal spreading. Dessert is awash in traditional Caribbean flavors: coconut tarts, mango sorbet, a chocolate dacquoise sponge cake, and a caramelized apple cobbler are enough to boggle the mind.

Café Martinique

plates from cafe martinique in the bahamas

Courtesy of Nassau Paradise Island Tourism

To ignore what Paradise Island’s renowned mega-resort Atlantis has to offer would be to insult what hundreds of thousands of visitors have loved most about their vacations. The iconic locale not only features its infamous gravity-defying water slides, but also a smattering of world-class restaurants. The French fine dining establishment Café Martinique tops the list as one of Atlantis’ best, featuring classic caviar and escargot alongside coq au vin, duck breast, and a whole dover sole meunière served with arugula pesto and crispy kale. For dessert, chocolate creameux and baba limoncello fall in line alongside profiteroles and multi-hundred-dollar scotch and cognac. A spot for special occasions, indeed.

elle escapes new york

Leah Romero

Graycliff Restaurant

graycliff restaurant at graycliff hotel in the bahamas

Courtesy of Graycliff Hotel

Although a celebrated restaurant in its own right—Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been known to fly in just for a meal—Graycliff Restaurant in the storied Graycliff Hotel is perhaps most intriguing for its award-winning wine cellar. Featuring 275,000 bottles from 20 different countries, the cellar is an aromatic feast for connoisseurs and sommeliers, of which Graycliff features only the best of the best. Start in the lounge for cocktail hour, hand-rolled cigars, and live music—a rendition of “New York State of Mind” by local singer Tanya Hanna charmed this guest—then move to the garden patio to keep the booze flowing, this time with wine so multi-layered it practically counts as a meal. Order a steak and chocolate soufflé if you get hungry, but try not to let the booze obscure your judgment. After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally purchase the cellar’s oldest bottle of wine available: a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein priced at $200,000.

Martini Bar and Lounge

the martini bar at the ocean club in paradise island

RUPERT PEACE

When in Nassau, drink as James Bond would do. You might recognize The Ocean Club’s Martini Bar and Lounge from the 007 film Casino Royale, in which Daniel Craig’s Bond sipped his shaken-not-stirred martinis in one of the bar’s luxurious leather chairs. This summer, the venue is launching a new Bond-themed experience for guests: a seven-course secret tasting menu. To indulge in 007’s delights, you’ll want to book the experience first; only then will you receive an in-room message with information on how to participate in the evening’s events. Hint: Expect numerous martinis, paired with caviar and perhaps a gold flake-adorned tart or two—Aston Martin not included.

Skybar

the exterior of the sls rosewood baha mar in the bahamas

Courtesy of SLS Rosewood Baha Mar

No vacation is complete without a trip to at least one rooftop bar, especially when the sunsets in the Bahamas are this sublime. Skybar, perched atop the SLS Baha Mar building on Baha Mar campus, takes a page from Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard with its aux-pumping atmosphere and suave pavilion. Already featuring one of the best views on the island, Skybar also nails its beverage menu: mojitos and margaritas are available in a range of flavors, while the gin-mixed Skybar Lemonade and vodka- and prosecco-infused Pear Feté stand out amongst beers, ciders, and a curated wine list. Push your dinner reservations back an hour and ride the elevator up top around golden hour, when the Instagrams will undoubtedly come out best.

elle escapes las vegas

Leah Romero

Baha Mar

the exterior of baha mar resort

Courtesy of Baha Mar

“For many years, Atlantis was like the heart of the body,” says Philip Bethell, owner of the transfers and tours company Bahama Exquisite, as he shuttles me from one hotel to the next. He points to the massive Baha Mar resort complex on the horizon, a multi-hotel campus featuring a private beach; a newly opened water park; a casino; numerous restaurants, bars and pools; an art gallery; and even wildlife sanctuaries for flamingos and marine creatures. “They’re really giving Atlantis competition.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Baha Mar was an enormous, multi-billion-dollar construction investment on the island, and when its three hotels—the Grand Hyatt, the SLS, and the Rosewood—opened in April 2017, November 2017, and June 2018, respectively, the race to overtake Atlantis’s long-running resort dominance began. Such extravagance could have made Baha Mar seem overstuffed, but the opposite is true: Perfectly balanced between family-friendly and opulent, the 1,000-acre property is a well-oiled machine. The Grand Hyatt is the most budget-friendly of its structures, with the SLS the most contemporary and the Rosewood most swanky, but each have their share of exclusivity, which makes even turning a corner at Baha Mar feel like stepping into a new, intriguing realm. A walk along the beach will reveal multiple shopping stalls and food trucks, and myriad pools offer party vibes, relaxation, or childlike adventure, depending on your needs for the day. Don’t check out without a trip to the ESPA, a 30,000-square-foot luxury spa ideal for unplugging.

Graycliff Hotel

the pool at graycliff hotel

Courtesy of Graycliff Hotel

A complete 180-degree turn from Baha Mar’s seemingly endless activities, Graycliff Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Nassau, is a quaint inland gem, insulated from the crowds by its position atop a hill. You’ll find a very different type of luxury in this refurbished manor, first built in the early 1700s by the retired pirate John Howard Graysmith and purchased, many years later, by the Garzaroli family, who still operate the property to this day. Rooms and cottages, which have hosted the likes of guests including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, and Sean Connery, are outfitted in traditional colonial decor, including lace curtains, four-poster beds, and floral linens. But you’ll want to spend most of your time either by the hand-painted tile pool or at one of Graycliff’s ancillary businesses, including a five-star restaurant, a winery, a chocolatier, a cigar company, and a museum. Take time to study the well-preserved architectural details of the building, and sign up for afternoon tea or a wine luncheon before you embark on a stroll to the water, mere minutes away.

The Ocean Club

the pool at the ocean club in the bahamas

CHRISTIAN HORAN PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the ritziest options available on Paradise Island, the Ocean Club, operated by the Four Seasons, is a splurge, but its legendary accommodations are worth it. Suites, bungalows, and villas feature vaulted ceilings, pressed linens, and remarkable ocean views, and the pristinely manicured lawns are a sight to behold—especially at the Versailles Gardens, where the romantic 12th-century Augustinian cloisters invite guests to sneak a kiss. The peacefulness amongst the resort’s pools and dining locales is profound, making it the ideal locale for a much-needed retreat from reality. With its own fitness center, golf course, and tennis courts, exercise is easy to squeeze in, and any tired muscles will surely get kneaded away in an open-air spa villa with its own tub and courtyard. Grab a hammock on the lawn or a chair near the Beach Deck, or climb down to the Ocean Club’s own stretch of beach for a truly relaxing afternoon of sunbathing.

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Courtesy

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