Jeannine Williamson experiences a warm welcome in the Bahamas

Bahamas

It’s called Paradise Island for a reason… © iStock

Rum and beer have long been used for medicinal purposes,’ explains our guide Murray Sweeting, although with the sun climbing in the clear blue sky, we need little encouragement to take our first refreshing sip of Sands, the golden ale brewed in the Bahamas.

During the next three hours we get a real taste of Nassau’s food and drink. First of six stops is Bahamian Cookin’, a local institution set up by Mina Wallace 30 years ago, for an introduction to the ubiquitous conch, the marine mollusc that’s variously served steamed, grilled, fried, in stews, chowder and, most commonly, in fritters.

After first learning that it’s pronounced ‘conk’, we tuck into the latter while listening to fascinating culinary, cultural and historical tales that make Tru Bahamian Food Tours a feast for all the senses.

Over a salad at Athena Cafe we hear how Greeks first arrived on the island as sponge divers, and are amazed by confectionery resembling edible works of art at Graycliff Chocolatier before sampling spices, rum cake and other treats.

We leave satisfied in more ways than one, and return to the Friday night ‘happy hour’ at Giotto pizzeria, where pizzas big enough to share and three beers cost £13.

British influence

Situated in the Atlantic near Florida, the 700-plus islands comprising the Bahamas are
not part of the Caribbean, but often grouped with the region due to economic and cultural similarities.

One thing that’s for certain is a warm welcome. The capital Nassau is on 21-mile long New Providence, one of the 30 inhabited islands that were a British colony from 1718 to 1973. Today, familiar trappings remain in the form of statues of Queen Victoria, red letter boxes, the clothing shop.

A. Baker & Sons (opened in 1894), and practical driving on the left.

We check out more heritage by checking in to the British Colonial Hilton Nassau, a wonderful ‘grand dame’ hotel built in 1922. It occupies a prominent waterside spot by the harbour, once the site of the old Nassau fort used to ward off pirates.

Featured as a location for the 1965 Bond film Thunderball, the hotel combines the old-style glamour of an impressive lobby and wood-panelled bar with comfortable rooms and modern amenities.

It’s a lovely place to stay, as well as being very close to the shops and attractions.

Time to explore

Aside from the bling of wall-to-wall tax-free jewellery shops lining Bay Street and the hustle and bustle of the souvenir-filled Straw Market, a real retail gem is Bahama Hand Prints, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.

One of only two fabric manufacturers in the Bahamas, it’s worth making the short trip out of the town centre to visit the boutique selling fabric and elegant easy-to-wear clothes, accessories and household items in distinctive designs.

Taxis are inexpensive, or it’s fun to hop on a local bus, or jitney, to reach areas such as laid-back Junkanoo Beach, where colourful wooden bars play the namesake Bahamian music, and Potter’s Cay, tucked beneath Paradise Island Bridge, with makeshift stalls piled high with fruit and veg.

Next day we take a boat trip to Blue Lagoon Island where you can simply laze in a hammock, sign up for watersports, or meet the resident dolphins and sea lions, including several rescued from an aquarium destroyed by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

A far cry from marine mammal shows, the aquarium promotes awareness and conservation.

Whether you want to indulge in a Bond moment on the Hilton’s pristine white sands – the only private beach on the island, join an impromptu Junkanoo party, or soak up the sights and sounds of the lively street scene, there are so many ways to enjoy the rhythm of life in Nassau.

Bahamas

You’ll find it impossible not to fall in love with the stunning scenery © iStock

Great for fun-loving families

From 1690 to 1720 pirates ruled the Bahamian waves and many, including the notorious Blackbeard, lived in Nassau.

At the fantastic Pirates of Nassau attraction walk through a recreated ship, see how swashbucklers plundered the trade routes and find out whether X really does mark the spot when it comes to hidden treasure.

Great for food lovers

A 15-minute stroll from Nassau leads to Arawak Cay where casual ‘fish fry’ restaurants serve up the local catch and live music.

One of the best is Frankie Gone Bananas where a huge seafood platter, with traditional accompaniments such as peas and rice, fried plantain and macaroni cheese, costs £15.

Great for culture vultures

Recently renovated and reopened, the Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation is situated in an 18th-century building once used as a slave market and tells the thought-provoking history of slavery, abolition and emancipation in the Bahamas through well-presented displays.

Woman’s Weekly offer

Bahamas Cruise

4 nights from £249pp*Selected departures from November 2015 to April 2016. Includes four nights’ full-board cruise on board Enchantment Of The Seas from Orlando.

Add on flights, hotel, car hire and transfers. Call 0800 082 2178 quoting Woman’s Weekly or visit jetlinecruise.com/womansweekly