EXUMA

IMG_7414pigbhammccccffinIMG_7232excmtrbwfijccproffhamcatccmandjewatbjrumhammthjbtccbccr

We arrived at Staniel Cay Yacht Club from Nassau by tiny prop plane, a trip that’s only made less terrifying by the incredible views. Below – spidery turquoise estuaries bleed into brilliant white sandbars; ahead – unbroken views of sky and sea.

Staniel Cay Yacht club sits in the middle of the protected Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, and is one of the few places to eat or stay within, well, a very large radius.  Luxurious but unpretentious, the hotel is made up of nine pastel-coloured wooden cottages, each with its own little balcony over the water where nurse sharks regularly come to visit. Guests are given their very own little boat to explore the pristine and secluded beaches and cays that surround the area. If you’re missing lunch to go out and explore (meals are included), the hotel can pack you a picnic basket and beach chairs so you can have your very own castaway picnic.

Staniel Cay is also the perfect home base for attractions like swimming pig beach and Thunderball Grotto. Named after the Bond movie that was filmed there, Thunderball grotto is a stunning underwater cave that has amazing marine life notwithstanding the hundreds of people that visit daily. At all hours of the day the sunlight filters through in beautiful patterns while snorkelers weave their way through hundreds of tropical fish.

Just a few minutes away by boat is Swimming Pig beach (Big Major Cay). While you’ve no doubt seen the pictures, it really is a surreal sight to see enormous pigs swim (quite gracefully) up to your boat in the crystal-clear ocean demanding food. They are utterly unperturbed by humans and very, very cute, especially the babies.

Still unconvinced by the tiny planes, I managed to find (after several desperate rounds of emails and phone calls) a boat tour that agreed to pick us up at the club on their way back down to Great Exuma, our next stop. It ended up being a great idea as we caught the end of the tour, which stopped at Great Guana and Leaf Cay. Apparently, the latter was bought by Nicholas Cage in 2006, but he subsequently discovered it couldn’t be developed as it was home to hundreds of Northern Bahamian rock iguanas – a critically endangered species. The island is currently on sale for $7,000,000. Any takers?

We only stopped on Great Exuma for one night before we set off on our Out-Island Explorer kayak tour of the Exuma Cays. We wanted to do the two night, three day tour so before we set off we had to stock up on camping gear (all provided by the tour company), food, and a heck of a lot of water.

The first slog from the setting point to the first island in the chain, Jimmy Cay,  is by far the longest and hardest. As soon as we turned out of the sheltered mangrove we were hit by a ferocious oncoming wind from the North. I’ve never paddled so hard in my entire life and yet it seemed like we were getting no closer to our target island. I very almost called it quits and went straight back but J kept pushing me on. I closed my eyes so I couldn’t witness our demoralising pace, and eventually, after A LOT of cursing and drenched to the bone, we finally got to Jimmy Cay. I’m so glad that we powered through because little did I know that this was going to be the best travel experience of my life.

It was like we’d kayaked to a different country. While the water at the start was choppy and turgid, as soon as we turned in behind the islands (where the water is protected from the Atlantic side by the islands), the water was the bluest, clearest and stillest we’d ever seen. The paddling was now a breeze. The first island we stopped at was Cluff’s Cay, which features a once beautiful and now totally abandoned and dilapidated house, and some enormous resident iguanas. We got off to explore the eerily beautiful house and abandoned garden and then continued on our way to choose which cay would be our home for the next three days.

After kayaking past several islands, each more stunning than the last, we came across Lily Cay, and we knew straightaway that this was the one. The water was incredible and the island was separated by rocks into three parts, which became our campsite, sunset bar and washroom. The water is so crystal-clear and shallow here that you can walk out for miles, even to a small nearby island. There wasn’t a soul in sight. We swam to wash up after kayaking, set up our tent, and explored our island while we gathered wood for the fire. In the evening we had a sunset aperitif at our bar followed by a three-course, gourmet meal of pasta, tinned mackerel and chocolate mousse-pot. We listened to music from our phones and portable speaker (yay for solar chargers), and looked at the stars. I’ve never seen so many.

The next day we explored the islands further up the chain. The whole area is so remote and the water so clear and calm that apparently it’s easy to catch fish to cook fresh on the fire, but unfortunately we’d forgotten to bring our spear gun. We spent most of the day chilling, looking for lobster, collecting sand-dollars and rod-fishing on as many of the stunning islands we could muster up the energy to kayak to. The only people we saw this entire time were two fishermen in the distance. If it wasn’t for running out of food and drinking water I’d have stayed here forever.

Great Exuma

We stayed at the very southern tip of Great Exuma, in secluded Williamstown. Since Williamstown was once separated from the mainland by a small toll-bridge, it has very much a small community feel of its own. One of the only activities to do here is to fish off the bridge for Tarpons, which are huge, tasty fish that our lovely cottage owner at Gunhill Bay Villas quaintly described as ‘fine fellows’.

I’m not sure if we caught turbulent weather or if the ocean is always rough in Williamstown, but our cottage was battered by the crashing Atlantic waves the entire time. We spent most of our time on the balcony, and occasionally we’d go out to the mainland or take the short ferry trip to Chat’n’Chill, a shack-like bar and grill on nearby Stocking Island. A favourite with the yachties, Chat’n’Chill sits on a beautiful beach with hammocks and picnic tables, and has resident rays and sharks that swim in the shallows. If you’re game to wade over a channel there’s also a beautiful hike that crosses over on the Atlantic side and ends with a view at the peak of Stocking Island, which boasts gorgeous views of Great Exuma.

After the hike I recommend heading to Chat’n’Chill’s conch salad bar, where they make a particularly good example of our favourite Bahamian dish. Deliciously citrusy conch salad is made with fresh conch plucked directly from its shell, cut to soak up the juices, and then combined with a mixture of diced peppers, onions, lime and hot sauce.

But our favourite meal of the trip was the seafood platter back in Williamstown, seemingly in the middle of nowhere at the GunhilI Bay Villas restaurant. Williamstown is also famous for its bakery, where local ladies make delicious rum and banana cake. We happened to be visiting during Easter so we were also lucky enough to try their famous hot cross buns. We bought them still hot from the oven and had them on our balcony with coffee, watching the Exuma-blue waves crash onto the shore.

ELEUTHERA

ttqmldfbskhbprlhblilhwindftrbtacsvussbmopkalzfalbvmdriblhbfasubffawifmtbhtrbtmtsjviljpbellibvfdrvtsmwispwellbeachottfi

We left for Eleuthera on the ferry from Potter’s Cay, a gritty market dock on Nassau featuring sun-bleached conch shacks, shipping containers and a distinctly rough but authentic vibe. The ferry only takes about 2.5 hours, which is more than worth it not just to avoid airport hassles (and tiny prop planes) but for the view of stunning Eleuthera rising up from the ocean.

The ferry docks on an island at the Northern tip of Eleuthera, at a small harbour town called Spanish Wells. Surrounded by blindingly emerald-green waters, Spanish Wells is made up rows of pastel-coloured clapboard houses and picket fences that look as if they’ve been transported directly from a New England fishing village. It’s like Maine on prozac. Stephen King would have a hard time setting one of his brooding novels here.

We stayed in a tiny rental cottage in Palmetto point with its very own beach, picnic table and fire pit, which we used one night to make foil-wrapped one-eyed-jack that we bought straight off the pier in one of the neighbouring fishing towns.

The best thing to do on island is to rent a car, turn up the music and drive. Eleuthera is a long, narrow strip of land that stretches 110 miles. The only highway – the Queen’s Highway – will take you past casuarina pines and coco plum bushes with flashes of brilliantly turquoise sea-views in between. Palmetto lies pretty much right in the middle so one day we would drive North, and the other South, stopping at whatever spectacular view we happened to come across. At the very southern tip of the island, down a long, dusty, dirt track, is Lighthouse Beach. Though I’ve lived in the Caribbean for the last five years, this is without doubt the most spectacular beach I’ve ever seen. The sand is pristinely white and powdery, and the water is studded by endless miles of reef, creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant blues. The best view of both the beach and reef is from a rocky limestone promontory, at the end of a short trail to a beautiful, disused lighthouse. It’s hard to imagine that a place so beautiful could be so sleepy, but we saw about a handful of tourists the entire time we were there. This is all soon set to change though, as the Bahamian government has just finalized a deal with Disney cruise lines to add Lighthouse Beach to their list of destinations. Disney will be ‘developing’ 700 acres of land.

The ‘capital’ of Eleuthera is Gregory Town, a tiny settlement with a few sleepy restaurants, a couple of bars, and a grocery store, where imported goods are so expensive that the onions are individually priced at about a dollar. About a five minute walk from the grocery store is one of the prettiest public libraries I’ve ever seen – a pastel pink-and-white colonial building surrounded by swaying palm-trees and dreamily peaceful views out to the sparkling ocean. The most action Gregory Town sees is at the popular Friday fish-frys, and every evening at dusk when the sharks come out to hunt in the shallows.

On the Northern tip of Eleuthera it’s a short ferry trip to the perennially popular Harbour Island. The two neighbouring islands could not be more different. While Eleuthera is dusty, sleepy, and fairly ramshackle, harbour Island is a buzzing, pristine tourist hub. Tourists in golf-carts zip past postcard-perfect, pastel-coloured Caribbean cottages, making their way to the eye-wateringly expensive restaurants and cafes on pretty Dunmore Street. Harbour Island is famous for its pink beach, but I can say without hesitation that it does not hold a tiny birthday-cake candle to any of the beaches on Eleuthera. What’s more it’s a lot more crowded.

The drive from Gregory Town to the Harbour Island ferry dock will take you past Eleuthera’s most famous photo-op spot, the Glass Window Bridge. From the bridge you can at once see the angry dark blues of the churning Atlantic on one side and the calm and turquoise waters of the Caribbean on the other. One day when we were swimming at some beautiful, unnamed beach where the bath-still water was perfectly silent, we noticed a dull roaring sound coming from somewhere in the distance, and we realised that it was the crashing of the waves coming from the other side of the narrow island. We walked over (about 15 mins to Surfer’s beach) to views of enormous waves, rugged coastline, and sand dunes. Apart from some sea-sprayed surfers, we hardly saw a tourist all day in one of the most beautiful locations we’d ever seen. 

Jost Van Dyke

Girl under palm tree on sandy spit in BVIView of sandy spit in the ocean with boat in Jost van Dyke in BVIWhite BayView from hike in jost van dykeGirl on bench in jost van dykeCorsair's restaurant and barGirl on swing in jost van dyke in bviCorsair's bar and restaurantboat on sandy spit in jost van dyke in bvigirl hiking in jost van dyke in bviWhite Bay from up very highCorsair's bar and restaurantOls military jeep in jost van dyke in bvigirl in front of Corsair's bar and restaurantLittle Jost Van DykeGertrude's bar on White Bayjvd23Foxy's TabooLittle Jost Van Dyke B-Line Beach BarGirls in white bay on boat in jost van dyke bviParty in white bay in jost van dyke in bvi

Named after a 17th Century Dutch pirate who settled there, utterly unspoilt and laid-back Jost Van Dyke is the quintessential Caribbean island. Also known as ‘the barefoot island’, Jost’s grand metropolis, Main Street, is a sandy extension of Great Harbour beach, with lazy beach bars and restaurants on one side, and hammocks so low they touch the sand on the other. When there isn’t a Reggae or Calypso band playing at the quasi-mythical Foxy’s bar, the main form of entertainment here is the hook game. A hook, connected to a string, that you must swing so as to attach it to a metal circle on a palm tree. Another past-time is watching the fishermen return to the harbour in their little boats with their less-than-little and indignant lobster spoils. Importantly, you can do both of these from your hammock.

Just over the hill is White Bay, which boasts the kind of desktop-wallpaper beach where you heavily suspect someone has played fast and loose with the saturation button. Only it really does look like that – the water is that brazenly turquoise and the sand as white as the name promises. White Bay is home to the famed Soggy Dollar Bar, itself home of the Painkiller cocktail – dark rum, coconut cream, orange juice and a pinch of nutmeg. Soggy dollar is so called because if you’re arriving by boat, as most people do, the only way to the beach is by wading in and paying with perfectly acceptable soaking wet money. If that wasn’t chilled out enough, a lot of the bars here (including Gertrude’s) are honesty bars, where you go behind the bar, make your own drink with as much booze as you like, and then tell the owners what you’ve had. Needless to say, White Bay is a party beach. The sheer drinkability of a painkiller and contagious festivity of happy yachties on holiday is a heady combination. If you want to enjoy the beach minus the people, Ivan’s stress-free bar is exactly that. Though still part of White Bay, Ivan’s is separated from the main beach by rocks and is much quieter. It’s accessible either by boat or a short hill walk.

One good way to see Jost is to hike it. We’ve done this a few times and while it’s challenging, the views are absolutely worth the uphill pain. Hiking from Great Harbour to the West side of the island by Foxy’s Taboo brings you to Bubbly Pool – a sea-water pool described as a natural ‘jacuzzi’ because when the swell is up the waves enter from a crevice in the rock to create surfy bubbles. But my favourite way to see the island, a view that I’m sure is shared by many, is to sail it. Having your own boat has the added advantage of being able to go to Sandy Spit – without a doubt my favourite place to visit when we go to Jost. About a five minute sail from Great Harbour lies an almost comically beautiful and stereotypical castaway island – a tiny mound of white sand surrounded by an aquamarine sea and inhabited by a few forlorn palm trees. There is absolutely nothing to do here apart from perhaps bring a bottle of rum and pretend to be shipwrecked. If I knew any I’d sing some sea shanties. From here it’s an even shorter sail to the isolated B-line bar on Little Jost Van Dyke. Moor up on the jetty and order a Passion Confusion and either tan on the beach or play Corn hole. You’d better enjoy either of the two, the bar is the only thing on this roadless paradise island.

Things to do on Jost Van Dyke:

  • Have a Painkiller on White Bay
  • Go to Bubbly Pool
  • Hike the Island – There are a few routes. Go West from Great Harbour for the shorter 2 hour hike past Garner bay and to Bubbly pool. Go East from White Bay (starting behind Perfect Pineapple Guest Houses) for a longer, more uphill, 3 hour hike with spectacular views of Jost all-around.
  • Have a drink at Corsair’s – Adorned all over with yachtie memorabilia and graffiti, listen to country and rock at the bar and chat.
  • Eat in Great Harbour – Corsair’s has the fanciest food but is the priciest option.
  • Go to Sandy Spit – If you’re not on a boat then you can rent a dinghy out at Great Harbour from the Scuba shop. Grab a drink/coconut while you prepare to inevitably wait for it to be fixed.

Anegada

Girl on boat with hathammockGirl in front of yellow jeep wranglerdvanbgirl on bench in anegada with skybluocGirl at Anegada Beach clubroomteBreakfast at anegada beach club luxury tentsgirl eating coconut on beachAnegada ocean and beachbuoyccoconutGirl in bar in anegadaduskanldandonkeygirl in anegada mangroveloblfGirl in bikini with conch in anegada in ocean

Pineapple bikini – Midori Bikinis – Top, Bottom; Crochet dress – Souvenir from Cuba.

If the BVI is already off the beaten tropical track, then lonesome Anegada, the most remote of the Virgin islands, has fallen clear off and into the ditch. Being on Anegada feels like being on another planet. The landscape is eerie and desert-like, populated by cacti and swampy-sea shrubs. The island is so flat that you’d be forgiven for missing it on the way in on the ferry – the biggest giveaway that you’re arriving is the ocean going from a deep blue to a dreamy tropical turquoise.

If you’re looking for an activity holiday then this probably won’t be it. They say that the donkeys and flamingoes outnumber the people (this is definitely not true), and there are only a handful of sun-bleached bars and restaurants. But if if you like the idea of feeling like you’ve been ship-wrecked on a desert island, and having nothing much more to do than listen to the sound of lapping waves, then this is the place for you. One of our favourite things to do was to walk along the endless deserted beaches to our favourite sleepy, pastel-coloured bar for a rum cocktail. If we were feeling lazy we’d go in our Wrangler rental with the local radio station on at full blast – having the radio on here feels strangely like a link to forgotten civilisation. It’s a cliche’ but my boyfriend and I decided that if paradise had beaches they couldn’t look much better than the idyllic beaches on Anegada. They’re even mysteriously strewn with hundreds of huge, beautiful pink Conch shells that you stumble upon everywhere. Maybe I’ve not travelled enough – is this the case anywhere else?!

The irony of travelling to such a remote place is that you end up getting to know the few tourists and locals you meet better than you probably would somewhere busier. It’s also the perfect place to go with a group of friends. The second time here we sailed over in a big group. We moored up to a bar with a pretty empty dance-floor but we soon changed that around and ended up having one of the best nights of our time out here.

Sleeping: We stayed at the Anegada Beach Club sea-front tents, which we saw on our first visit and vowed to come back and stay in. It’s not really camping as you know it – think four-poster beds with mosquito nets blowing in the breeze, deck hammocks, solar-powered showers and views overlooking a milky-blue Atlantic Ocean. Each tent even has it’s own mini path to the beach. They have paddle-boarding and snorkelling gear for in- between tanning sessions.

Eating: Anegada is famous for its lobster. They have so much of it and in most places it’s plucked straight out of  lobster traps and cooked right in front of you in converted oil-drums. We went to the Lobster Trap for my birthday meal. It has tables on a jetty decked out with fairy lights right over the water. We were the only people in the whole restaurant! If you want to visit at a busier time of year then the lobster festival is held on varying dates in November. 

Neptune’s Treasure: Famous for it’s cinnamon buns and home-made bread.  Have breakfast while watching the boats moor up on the harbour.

Anegada Beach Club: Get the coconut French toast!

passing ships

Girl in bikini on long beach tortolawatsitsGirl in bikini bvilbnbprofil1lbsnblkdmif3likecp4ff

Bikini – Missoni very similar here. I also love this one-piece and this bikini on sale. Necklace worn as bracelet – Givenchy vintage; Hat – lying around the house; Sunglasses – Gucci. 

Location: Long Bay, Tortola

I hope this seventies revival never ends. I keep panicking that its inevitable demise is just around the corner. I’ve had this vintage Givenchy necklace forever and I feel like I can wear it with anything I buy at the moment. I thought it would go perfectly with this Missoni bikini that I managed to extort from my family as a Christmas gift. I won’t get started on Missoni or I’ll start gushing uncontrollably so suffice to say that I think their use of texture and and tactile design is the best in the industry.

This is one of my ultimate beach-crushes in the BVI. I love the hill in the background, it reminds me of a teeny-tiny St. Lucia. Amazingly, the beach is never crowded – it always looks pretty much like it is here in the pics. When I’m there I always try to get a fresh coconut at “nature boy’s” tiny beach bar that you can just about see in a couple of the shots. It occasionally collapses with the breeze and is quickly repaired with some deft palm-leaf rearrangement. So much better than bars that don’t fall over.

Sandro

sandro2ffsandro1fsandro3fsandrocatf

Bikini – Sandro Paris; Sunglasses – Moni & Coli Puerto Rico similar here; Bracelet – H&M

Location – Tortola, BVI

Every time a past decade comes back into fashion, like the seventies revival at the moment, I wonder what on earth they’re going to do when they want to drag 2015 fashion back around. What’s defining about fashion at the moment? It’s probably a consequence of being within the aesthetic paradigm right now but equally I can’t imagine having asked that question in eighties – fashion then just seemed so..obvious. What’s our equivalent of the triangle/weird neon sprinkles-like shape obsession? I’ll probably know in a couple of years. Sorry about the last gratuitous catalogue picture but I wanted to show how cute and unashamedly eighties the print on this bikini is.

Amarcord

alls1kouygalls3alls2allssalls5ssuasshoesaccs

Dress – All Saints; Shoes – Taccetti; Sunglasses – Prada; Bag – Fendi; Choker – souvenir from Taormina, Sicily.

Location: Scaramouche, Soper’s Hole, BVI. 

I get days where I really miss my family back in Europe, especially Italy, which is where most of ridiculously extended family of cousins, aunts, great-aunts, and relatives that I call aunt and uncle even though I have no idea how I’m related to them live. Fortunately there’s an Italian bar/restaurant here in the BVI that reminds me so much of home – the decor, the amazing food, the people. Even the location on the harbour reminds me of the Tuscan seaside town I went to every summer since I was born. I even found out that one of the women that works in the bar used to work back in that town in Italy too! Tiny world…

Cuba

cubyellowrimmaoldmancubmaleconcarsstormhotel-inglaterra-havana_12076357843_o copyraq

I actually went to Cuba back in 2014 but I’ve decided I want to start doing throwback Thursdays of some of my favourite trips. So often I take pictures of trips never really to revisit them again so I think it’ll be a nice way to re-live those memories.

We started the trip in Old Havana. More than anywhere else in Cuba, it was here that I felt like I’d been transported back in time to the 1950’s. There was not a single modern structure I saw in those old cobblestone streets that interrupted the view of the beautiful Spanish colonial houses, churches and piazzas. Continue reading Cuba

PARADE

ag1fhbracelff1bagb3bbprofabf1agb2aabhairufffagb5

Bikini – Agua Bendita: Topbottoms; Earrings – Accessorize; Bracelet – Souvenir from Navajo, Arizona.

I’m so happy that this bikini got delivered the day before I left for the Anguilla August carnival as the beading and colours fitted the atmosphere perfectly – a few more feathers and sequins and I could have tried to blend into the parade! Choosing which one to order was difficult as Agua Bendita suits are all so crazy colourful and beautiful – I ended up mixing and matching two different styles as I loved the beaded tassels on this one. I should have taken a close-up of the top as you can’t see it but that’s also beautifully beaded. It feels so well-made too. And OK it’s pretty hard to compete with Irina Shayk (current model for the brand) but the bikini designs are quite flattering – especially the back of the bottoms. I’ll be posting the full Anguilla travel post soon.

Sono cosi contenta che questo bikini mi e’ arrivato il giorno prima che partissi per il carnevale estivo di Anguilla perche’ mi e’ sembrato perfetto considerando l’atmosfera – qualche paillette e potevo quasi infiltrarmi nella sfilata! E’ stato difficile scegliere quale bikini prendere perche’ tutti i costumi di Agua Bendita sono favolosamente belli e divertenti – adoro le perline sulle nappe di questo. Avrei dovuto fare una foto da vicino del top che non si vede bene ma anche quello e’ coperto di perline. Ammetto – e’ difficile competere con Irina Shayk (modella per Agua Bendita al momento) ma i bikini vestono molto bene! Venitemi a trovare per il travel post di Anguilla  🙂

BOMBA SHACK

bomba1bomba13bomba12bomba2bomba11bomba14bomba5bombaf

Shorts – Ralph Lauren; Top – H&M; Bag – Dolce & Gabbana; Shoes – Carvela; Sunglasses – Dolce & Gabbbana; Earrings – Tiffany & Co; Orange ring – Souvenir from Tamarindo, Costa Rica. 

Ever since I moved from London to the Caribbean I’ve been forced to abandon black, stud and chain covered everything and experiment with colours and new looks – and I love it. These shoes in particular (Carvela), would probably have never made it into my wardrobe back in the UK, but here they’re bold and fun and reassuringly uncomfortable. I reckon rhinestones can be my Caribbean twist on studs? That’s not to say I’ve abandoned muted colours – I love black and grey with a tan – but it just seems too happy and hot a place to always wear darks! I’ve found that colours = good mood, and sunshine = good mood, so I’m going for the double whammy. Yay summer!

Bomba shack is one of my favourite bars here in the BVI. It quite literally is a shack, but is definitely the coolest shack I’ve ever seen. It’s most famous for it’s pretty riotous full moon parties (there’s one today!). I can’t wait – maybe I’ll manage to take some pics to put up. Happy full moon!