The Duke of Windsor wasn’t much taken by the Bahamas. ‘I’ve tried to make the best of a bad situation,’ he said, in a sulky sort of way.
Perhaps he was insulted that just across from where he was billeted on New Providence there was a spit of undeveloped land known as ‘Hog Island’, in reference to its pig population.
More likely, he was smarting over his appointment as governor-general, the post he was given in 1940, four years after his abdication as king.
Business as usual: The white sand of Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island in the Bahamas
Mind you, I would have thought his wife, the duchess, might have enjoyed the five years they were there, mixing with rich, racy Americans, walking on pristine white beaches and having the odd flutter in tax-free casinos away from photographers.
Much has changed since they left in 1945. Not least that spit of undeveloped land, which is now known as Paradise Island and was first linked to the capital, Nassau, by two bridges in 1966 and later became home to the giant Atlantis Paradise Island resort, with its coral high-rises providing more than 4,000 rooms.
Fortunately, Hurricane Dorian, which caused such devastation in August, steered a course some 80 miles north of Paradise Island and locals will tell you they ‘didn’t even lose a coconut’.
It was an American supermarket heir, Huntington Hartford, who gave Paradise Island its less than subtle moniker.
But it was entirely in his gift to do so given that he bought the island in 1959 and set about building the Ocean Club, complete with cloisters brought from a 14th monastery in France. It’s now a swanky 102-room Four Seasons hotel, possibly one of the swankiest of the whole fleet.
A cursory look at the framed photos on the grand piano in the lobby sets the tone. There’s Sidney Poitier, Liz Taylor (of course), Marilyn Monroe, Sean Connery, Paul McCartney, Cindy Crawford (who was married there) and, a more recent visitor, Daniel Craig, who famously emerged from the surf here in those tight trunks while filming Casino Royale.
Sean Connery and Claudine Auger filming James Bond film Thunderball in the Bahamas in 1965
Atlantis and the Ocean Club both sit on Cabbage Beach (another misnomer — or perhaps an attempt at irony), a glorious stretch of sand that’s relatively inaccessible unless you’re staying on it.
Even if the wind plays up, the sapphire sea behaves impeccably. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more beautiful beach. And I can’t think of a more sharp contrast than the one between Atlantis and the Ocean Club.
Both are worth inspection. We had a delicious dinner at Fish restaurant in the Coves block at Atlantis, which gave us an excuse to wander around the more than 140 acres and lament that we never had the inclination to bring our children here when they were young. They would have loved it.
This is a theme park pumped up to the max, with 18 slides, a mile-long river ride, private cabanas, dozens of restaurants and kiosks, dolphin shows and something called the Leap of Faith, an almost vertical drop that takes thrill-seekers — or lunatics — through a clear tunnel submerged in a pool inhabited by sharks with big teeth.
The Ocean Club, pictured, is now a swanky 102-room Four Seasons hotel, possibly one of the swankiest of the whole fleet
The Ocean Club, conversely, is all low-lying colonial style buildings, a spa and restaurant, and four tennis courts, one of which we booked for 5pm each day as an antidote to long lazy lunches and, well, long lazy afternoons.
The Bahamas still has the Queen as Head of State, but the vibe on Paradise Island is American country club (Miami is only a 40-minute flight away and there are 17 of those a day), with its championship golf courses, marinas and condos.
Nassau itself has developed randomly and not altogether sympathetically (apart from one or two ramshackle buildings and especially Christ Church Cathedral in George Street, built in 1723) around its natural harbour, which is a favourite with cruise ships.
We boldly asked if we could park in the Government House car park — and were allowed to do so purely because the young man on the gate supported the same footbal team as me. Once a refuge of pirates, Nassau is reported to have a bank for every 500 residents thanks to the Bahamas’ relaxed attitude to the provenance of funds held in accounts, most of which tend to be anonymous.
But there’s nothing relaxed about the prices. Thank goodness we stocked up at Duty Free on the way out as even basic groceries and, more so, eating out come at a premium. Yes, everything is imported but, even so, £5 for an unripe avocado seems steep.
The Atlantis Hotel, pictured, is also located on Paradise Island in the Bahamas
Not everyone gets the Caribbean.
Those of us who do and choose to come here regularly for an infusion of winter sun know that the weather is not always 100 per cent reliable.
One day, it rained ferociously but such is the heat, humidity and intensified scent from the shrubs and trees that everyone calls it ‘liquid sunshine’.
A different sort of liquid sunshine is on offer at the Fish Fry at weekends in Nassau, where locals set up bars and restaurants in various states of disrepair and sell rum cocktails in plastic beakers. We settled in for a session at Frankie Goes Bananas, eating conch fritters for £3 and drinking gin and tonics for £4.
Hurricane Dorian might not have battered this part of the Bahamas, but it came close enough to deter regular visitors and they are badly needed to come back.
The chorus now is a simple one throughout these glorious and glamorous islands — business as usual.