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Harbour Island's Pastel Houses, Pink Sand Beach
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Posted by:Dec 27th 2006, 07:19:01 pm
Fig Tree News TeamHead to Harbour Island for pastel houses, pink sand beach

By Cheryl Blackerby

Palm Beach Post Travel Editor

December 2006

DUNMORE TOWN, Bahamas — First, the obvious. Harbour Island is widely known for its 3-mile-long, pink sand beach. The fine coral crystals are as rosy as the first blush of a ripe mango. A $200-bottle of bubbling Dom Perignon Vintage Rosι 1995 uncorks a perfect in-the-pink sybaritic Saturday afternoon.

And there would be few to argue the island's only town is not the loveliest in the Bahamas — pastel clapboard houses and tropical gardens corralled by white picket fences lining narrow 18th-century lanes wide enough only for a golf cart, the transportation of choice here.

Cheryl Blackerby/Post


The beach stretches for three miles.

INFORMATION: For more information about Harbour Island and the Bahamas, call (800) OUT-ISLANDS or (800) BAHAMAS;

HOTELS:Tingum Village, where rooms, each with French doors opening to a private terrace, start at $85 ($95 in winter), and more for the five one-bedroom suites, two two-bedroom suites and the five-bedroom beach house. The inn is a short walk to the pink beach. You can rent bikes or golf carts ($45 for 24 hours) at the inn. The open-air restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Call 242-333-2161; visit
Pink Sands, a Moroccan-Caribbean decorated restaurant and a collection of 25 luxurious cottages starting at $750 from Dec. 19-April 30; $600 the rest of the year. Call (800) OUTPOST;
Bahama House Inn, a B&B created in a house built on the hillside in 1796, is owned and hosted by retired American exec John Hersh. Rates start at $135 per room in low season, $150 in high season (December through April). Call (242) 333-2201;
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But add this to your reasons to come: Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz have attended services at the little yellow Church of God, which has the best music on the island. Pastor Samuel Higgs, drummer and bass player, and guitarist Rocky Sanders played Europe's jazz clubs before settling down on the island.

Michael Bolton and Nicolette Sheridan got engaged at the romantic Pink Sands, a boutique resort next to the pink sands. Jimmy Buffett likes the cheeseburgers made with Ma Ruby's homemade bread at the little Tingum Village Hotel. And, Australian model Elle Macpherson has a house here.

Celebrities have the money and time to scout out the most beautiful spots on Earth, and the rest of us follow in their wake, although some of us found this tiny speck of sand — only 3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide — off the northeast coast of Eleuthera before Mick did.

Its diminutive size and small inns — the entire island has only about 200

guestrooms — was all the more remarkable when it was ranked No. 1 among the islands of the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda (which also has lovely pink beaches) by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine last year.

So how did little Harbour Island get to be a player among much larger and glitzier islands?

Because some people don't want large and glitzy. This little fishing village that was the first capital of the Bahamas — some houses remain from the late 1700s — has authenticity and character that you can't re-create. The tin roofs and pastel colors of humongous resorts popping up throughout the country fail to camouflage cookie-cutter concrete developments.

For one thing, no new resorts have a Ma Ruby, 72, who holds court in the open bar-restaurant-salon of Tingum Village. You can't hire a Ma Ruby. She asks guests at breakfast how they slept, and at night what they're planning to do. And will weigh in with seven decades of hard-earned wisdom while watching Dr. Phil in the bar.

And the big resorts surely wouldn't charge a mere $85 a night for a room with private patio shaded by almond trees and seagrapes.

Ruby Percentie's graciousness is legendary, so much so that she was made a member of the British Empire in May, and got to chat with Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

Juanita Percentie, the youngest of Ma Ruby's eight children, manages Tingum Village and has built a five-bedroom, five-bath, marble-floored, glass-walled villa nearby on the beach as her generation's contribution to Tingum. It is fabulous enough to be in Malibu, and will soon be available to rent along with the much more modest guestrooms. Ma Ruby proudly calls the new addition, "Juanita's house."

Tingum, by the way, is a Bahamian word that means thingamajig — what you say when you can't think of a word. And it was one of Ruby's children that named the hotel Tingum more than 30 years ago.

Of course the well-heeled cognoscenti stay at the island's half-dozen chic boutique inns. Generations of bon vivants have spent winter weeks at the Pink Sands, re-created by former Island Records owner Chris Blackwell under his Island Outpost company; and the exclusive Dunmore Beach Club, which has only 16 units in 8 well-appointed cottages.

Honeymooners and couples celebrating anniversaries and birthdays like the cozy Landing, a compound of two 19th-century homes facing the harbor; and the Rock House, a complex of historic buildings including a schoolhouse and 19th-century jail, renovated by the team that designed Gianni Versace's Miami villa.

But most everyone ends up at Ma Ruby's for food and conversation.

And they go to Ruby's son Richard Percentie's Queen Conch seafood shack on Bay Street to eat conch salad, and they meet up at her son Humphrey Percentie's club Vic-Hum on Barrack Street to dance to live Bahamian bands and mingle with the occasional rock stars who drop by.

You can shake the hand of son Lee Percentie, a dentist living in Boston, who is returning home to run for the Bahamian parliament, representing Harbour Island. But he is not yet so important that Ma Ruby can't tell him to shuttle guests to the harbor to catch the ferry.

No big resorts overshadow the small inns and cottage complexes of the island. Pink Sands is the largest complex with 25 one- and two-bedroom cottages, built decades ago among the seagrape and mahogany trees next to the pink beach. Martha Stewart stays here.

But small guesthouses like the Bahama House Inn, a bed and breakfast built in 1796, attract the non-wealthy who want a bit of luxury and history at an affordable price. The seven guestrooms have four-poster beds and writing desks, and the gazebo offers a view of the ocean.

Briland, as the island is known to its 2,000 permanent residents, is an easy long weekend away — about 200 miles from Florida, 60 miles from Nassau. But there is no airport, and you have to take a 10-minute ferry from north Eleuthera, 2 miles away.

Dunmore Town, one of the oldest settlements in the country, was laid out by Lord Dunmore. The Loyalist Governor of Virginia fled the Revolutionary War in the states and was awarded the title of Lord Dunmore, Governor of The Bahamas. Harbour Islanders made handsome livings as ship builders and as workers in a sugar refinement center in the late 1800s.

Tourists began to visit when Bahamas Air flights started to Eleuthera in 1941. And they've been trickling in — no more than 200 at a time on any perfect winter day — ever since.

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