April 01, 2009

It's hard to imagine how it could happen, but a beach resort in the southern Atlantic once renowned for its picture-perfect white and pink sands somehow dropped off the traveler's map. In 1959, when Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airways, opened his exclusive Cotton Bay Club on Eleuthera, the 110-mile-long by 2-mile-wide Bahamian island quickly became a playground for wealthy Americans. Then hurricane damage and the demise of Pan Am sent the elite elsewhere, and investors set their sights on nearby Harbour Island and the Exumas. Slowly but surely, however, Eleuthera is rebounding. Last year, Continental added new flights to the island from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The venerable Cove resort has recently been transformed into a stylish retreat, and a hotel at the center of a real estate development called Pineapple Fields is now accepting guests. And by the end of the year, Eleuthera will see the debut of several small luxury hotels, plus Starwood's 1,500-acre Cotton Bay Villas. This upscale, ecologically sensitive resort, owned by Bahamian locals, will leave the landscape of kamalame trees and pigeon plums largely untouched, and its beach will be the domain of only the lucky few. The Cove 800/ 552-5960; www.thecoveeleuthera.com; doubles from $195. Pineapple Fields 877/ 677-9539; www.pineapplefields.com; one-bedroom rentals from $195.

Pineapple Fields

The name Eleuthera comes from the Greek word for freedom—and this 80-acre property, just a stone’s throw from Governor’s Harbour, strives to embody the casual, carefree spirit of its home island. Somewhat amazingly, given the pedigree of its founders (David Barlyn and Peter Birkwieser, who made their fortunes developing much swankier resorts like St. Lucia’s Ladera and Jamaica’s Strawberry Hill), it succeeds. The complex of sun-yellow buildings, set amid a landscaped riot of palms, cascading bougainvillea, and gumbo-limbo trees, is comfortable but completely unpretentious. The 32 condo units are family-friendly, with washer-dryers, full kitchens (stocked with pots, pans, and even extras like blenders and colanders), and beachy décor (tile floors, white-painted wood, colored-glass light fixtures). The central swimming pool is a gathering place for parents and young’uns, and just across the street, beyond the terrific Tippy’s restaurant, is a two-mile crescent of beach fronting some of the island’s calmest, bluest water (outdoor showers outside each condo building are perfect for washing off sandy feet). Idyllic as it is, though, Pineapple Fields won’t stay small for long; Barlyn and Birkwieser’s plans for expanding the property are radical, and include a 25-acre botanical garden, an 18-villa eco-resort and spa/yoga retreat, and even a working pineapple plantation.

Room to Book: If you’re not thrilled by the patter of little feet above you (lots of small children stay here), ask for a second-floor unit.

Cove Eleuthera

Located on the island’s northern end, all 26 rooms open onto expansive porches.

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