SO FAR, YET SO CLOSE: The journey from Florida prepares you for the sun-drenched glory you’re about to encounter. Skip Miami International and connect through Fort Lauderdale. From there it’s only a 50-minute flight to the airport in Marsh Harbour. Within minutes of leaving the airport, you will be surrounded by the aquamarine waters and glimmering pink sand beaches of the Abaco Islands, a 120-mile string of islands surrounding “the mainland,” made up of Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco. There are more than 80 cays and bays to discover, and it’s easy to catch a ferry from Marsh Harbour to most of the outlying cays. Just northwest of Marsh Harbour lie the spectacular beaches of Treasure Cay. Even though this is the most visited area of Abaco, you can still find the heart of an old Bahamian village and one of the finest marinas in the Bahamas. Unlike some of the outer cays, Treasure Cay has restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores. Directly across from Marsh Harbour is Elbow Cay, where you’ll find the bustling (by Bahamian standards), picturesque village of Hope Town. Here it’s easy to spend a day, or a couple of hours, wandering through the gift shops filled with local artwork and handicrafts. Foodies will want to sample some Bahamian fare at Coco Beach Bar & Grill on the water’s edge or experience the fine dining room at Spinnaker Restaurant at the Treasure Cay Hotel Resort. If boat building is your hobby, you’ll find nirvana on Man-O-War Cay. Like the other cays, there are no cars on the island, but it’s easy to grab a golf cart and get a look at the ancient art of handmade boat building, a Bahamian industry for more than 200 years. Just up the chain is Great Guana Cay, famous for Sunday barbecues at Nippers Bar, which sits atop the island’s tallest sand dune overlooking a stunning 7-mile-long beach.
STAY AND PLAY: Although many visitors prefer to stay within the confines of Treasure or Elbow cays, guests looking for a secluded luxury location head to The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, a 534-acre members-only property managed by the Ritz-Carlton that offers estate home lots or cottage and cabana rentals. Stay in one of the cozy cabanas with bamboo flooring, a king-sized bed covered in Italian linens, wi-fi, and a 42-inch plasma TV, and chances are good that by breakfast you’ll be asking one of the agents on site for a tour of available locations. (In the two days we visited, we witnessed two $1 million lot purchases, as well as one offer to pay 50 percent above an offer already under contract.) The appeal is not just the 2.3 miles of pristine private beaches or the lovely cliff-top restaurant and bar. The heart of The Abaco Club is the 18-hole, Scottish-style links golf course, the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Almost every tee and green overlooks the ocean; every fairway is nestled in a valley to protect you—and your score—from the trade winds. The 7,183-yard par-72 course was designed by Abaco Club founder Peter de Savary and links course architects Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie. A stay at Abaco Club enables you to play 18 holes of golf in the morning, rent a boat and deep-sea fish for a couple of hours after lunch, and fly-fish before dinner. Talk about the life of Riley.
BONE HOME: We discovered Bonefish Heaven in the Abacos, which is not only a state of mind, it is a charter company run by Donnie Lowe (242-366-2275). He picked us up at The Abaco Club and drove south to the flats of Cherokee Sound, where we took off in a 17-foot flat-bottom skiff and began our virgin voyage in search of the elusive bonefish. “These fish are smart,” Lowe says. “They can see you coming a mile away.” The water is shallow and clear as vodka. When we weren’t hyperextending our elbows attempting to cast (thankfully Lowe stepped in to help), we gazed at the starfish, crabs, conch, and tropical fish that appeared beside the boat. Lowe says that experienced fishermen come from all over the world to catch bonefish because the unique ecological formations in the Abacos house them in large numbers. Beyond the shore, a labyrinth of small islands, mangroves, and creeks forms flats, or large shallow pockets of water, where bonefish thrive. The Abacos is home to a 200-mile expanse of flats called “The Marls” that run along the western shore. Lowe knows where to find them, so whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll be satisfied. We managed to catch three, and all we had to do was reel them in.
WHERE TO STAY
The Abaco Club on Winding Bay
HOW TO GET THERE
Continental Airlines () offers direct flights to Marsh Harbour from Miami, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale.
WHAT IT COSTS
Nightly cabana rates start at $499 per night; estate lots range from $1 million to $3 million depending on location; turnkey cottages start at $1.7 million. Resident and non-resident golf memberships start at $85,000. Fractional ownership opportunities will be available in the future.