The Florida Panhandle conjures up favorite boating ports of call that are usually known for gentle waves and sunny days. Last October, our nation was astonished when the Mexico Beach vicinity was devastated by Hurricane Michael's storm surge and extreme winds.
Fortunately, Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola endured less-potent tropical storm force winds, their marinas were not destroyed, and those lovely destinations are open for business. The sugar sand beaches of Destin and Fort Walton Beach are often rated among the best in the United States and lure sun lovers to this popular area. Other attractions include first-rate golf courses and resorts, nature trails along pristine sand dunes, waterparks, world-class fishing and easy living.
As one of the earliest European settlements in America, Pensacola is steeped in 450 years of history. The city is surrounded by four historic forts that were built in the 1800s. Whether you tour Civil War-era Fort Pickens, visit Historic Pensacola Village or climb 177 steps to reach the top of Pensacola Lighthouse, you'll experience life in days gone by. The growing arts scene includes cultural gems ranging from the Children's Museum to National Navy Aviation Museum. Strolling around downtown along Palafox Street reveals a cornucopia of gourmet shops, galleries, boutiques, and good bars and restaurants.
Unfortunately, marinas in areas hit by hurricane force winds sustained various levels of damage depending on the wind direction, storm surge, and construction of their docks and facilities. Port St. Joe and Panama City were hit particularly hard, while Carrabelle and Apalachicola are recovering more quickly. Prudent mariners should call ahead to get a current report on the conditions of the approach channel, docks, amenities and facilities in those areas.
WHERE TO DOCK
Marbella Yacht Club (850-424-5531) With an approach depth of 12 feet, transient slips for yachts up to 70 feet and no bridges to negotiate, this is an ideal marina for large sailboats entering Destin Pass from the Gulf of Mexico.
Sandestin's Baytowne Marina (850-267-7773) Located in the heart of Sandestin Resort on Choctawhatchee Bay, this full-service 98-slip marina allows access for boaters visiting the 2,400-acre ultimate tranquil resort.
FORT WALTON BEACH
Emerald Coast Boatyard & Marina (850-244-2722) A landmark in the community since 1978, this centrally located boatyard and marina are simply known as The Boat. The historic location is now completely upgrading its facilities.
Fort Walton Yacht Basin (850-244-5725) On the Santa Rosa Sound, next door to the Original Waterfront Crab Shack, is one of the region's oldest family-operated marinas. With 94 slips and maximum boat length of 50 feet, transients are welcome.
Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor (850-432-9620) In the heart of downtown Pensacola, this facility has floating docks for vessels up to 175 feet. Located at the end of Pensacola Bay's east channel, this marina's 15-foot deep basin is a favorite of yacht owners.
Holiday Harbor Marina (850-492-0555) On the north shore of Perdido Key, this marina offers direct access via the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to either Perdido Pass or Pensacola Pass to the Gulf. With slips for yachts up to 82 feet, it is Perdido Key's largest and only full-service marina.
WHERE TO DINE
Louisiana Lagniappe (850-837-0881) Chefs prepare fresh Gulf seafood with a Creole flair. The attire is casual, yet the entire family can enjoy an upscale waterfront dining experience with great food and excellent service.
Beach Walk at Henderson Park Inn (850-650-7100) This dinner-only restaurant is Destin's only fine-dining spot located directly on the Gulf Coast. Enjoy outstanding cuisine, personalized service and unparalleled views.
FORT WALTON BEACH
Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer (850-460-8900) The name Brotula's comes from the Bearded Brotula or sugar fish. Specializing in locally sourced seafood, the chefs produce steamed and boiled shellfish platters that mesh into a fun and rustic southern fish house.
The Shack (850-664-0345) This is the Original Waterfront Crab Shack, located on the sound with sunset views. Serving Florida seafood favorites in a laid-back atmosphere, it is perfect for lunch or dinner and easy on the budget.
Global Grill (850-469-9966) An upscale downtown tapas bar and restaurant that wins awards thanks to Chef Frank Taylor. Global Grill offers unique culinary creations with Mediterranean, European, Asian and American influences.
Joe Patti's Seafood (850-432-3315) Serving customers since 1931, Joe Patti's has become a Pensacola destination for those who seek quality seafood and friendly service. Located in a wholesale fish house, it's nothing fancy but has quite a following.
The scenic Canal du Midi in southern France is a must for boaters! Cruising this 300-year-old waterway, you will savor the slow easy French pace, passing medieval villages, country farms and vineyards in the heart of the Languedoc wine region. Le Boat, the largest charter boat operation in Europe, offers surprisingly affordable, entry- level charters to this canal (and hundreds of other waterways). This historic passage is easy to navigate, scenic, fun and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Boating at a mellow 5 kilometers an hour aboard your vessel of 30-45 feet, the big excitement is passing through the lock system every few kilometers and arriving in ancient villages as your daily destination on your personal private cruise ship.
Don’t expect a luxury yacht holiday, however, because you are the crew and captain, you will be driving the boat or donning gloves to handle the dock lines in each “écluse” (lock). But it’s entertaining and affords a sense of freedom by chartering your own boat and navigating these centuries-old canals. Le Boat provides itineraries of how far you should voyage each day, but it’s truly up to you.
Our weeklong voyage started in Castelnaudary, a small, pretty village. Le Boat’s base in Castelnaudary is in the Grand Basin with a lovely view of the cathedral and village across the waterway, just a short walk over an old stone bridge to town. We could also see the majestic Pyrenees Mountains to our southwest along the French-Spanish border.
Our first night, after our swift check in and orientation aboard our 40’ Horizon, we strolled to town, enjoyed local Languedoc wine and dinner at the Maison du Cassoulet sampling the specialty dish of slow-cooked white beans, tender pork and duck. Traditional “cassoulet” was a staple historically, especially in meager winters. Wow is it yummy and filling!
While returning over the old stone bridge back to our boat within the fleet, twinkling lights of the village reflected in the canal. We were excited to embark the next morning after a quiet comfy night’s sleep in the berth of our Horizon — Le Boat’s most modern vessel, equipped with a head, shower and full galley kitchen.
Before bed, I read about the fascinating history of the Canal du Midi. It was initially commissioned in 1516 by King Francis who hired Leonardo DaVinci to survey and create the route. Canal construction didn’t commence until 1667 and was completed in 1694, connecting 240 kilometers from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with aqueducts, bridges and 91 locks to overcome the 620 feet height change in water level.
Designed as a trade route to shorten the otherwise long passage around the Iberian Peninsula, it’s also called the “Canal des Deux Mers” or canal of two seas. This vital trade route for two centuries is now a meandering waterway for pleasure boaters as well as bicyclists riding the tow paths paralleling the canal.
On the first morning, our first lock was the most dramatic, departing Castelnaudary via a series of four locks that descend 9.5 meters in consecutive rushes of water. Captain Greg (my husband) and I established our duties: he’d drive into the narrow stone chamber (thankful for bow thrusters) while I secured lines to the lock shore, ready to adjust as the water floods out.
We traveled in tandem with two other boats, a Swiss family and a German couple. All were experienced boaters, so we developed an efficient rhythm of entering the locks sequentially, tying up, descending and exiting in order.
We cruised 15 locks by noon, then tied to a canal bank for the daily lunchtime lock closure of 12-1:00 p.m. We’d provisioned in Castelnaudary for the perfect picnic of flaky croissants, local ham and cheese, and a glass of Languedoc rosé on our boat’s top sun deck.
When the “Eclusier” (lock operator) returned to open the lock for us, we cruised the canal again with the occasional excitement of encountering oncoming boats in the narrow canal. Some boat captains were better at steering than others.
Our first day, we clocked 19 locks, 26 kilometers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. We chose to stay overnight in Villesèque, a lovely anchorage with a few other boats tied to the shores. There was no marina, but we could walk to the tiny village over a charming stone bridge to see the church and the Sully elm tree planted in the square, among the last elms still alive in France.
We toasted to our first boat day with wine and cheese on our top deck, and invited over our boat neighbors, a delightful South African couple who proved Le Boat’s international appeal. He’d never boated before, but Le Boat states that you need no prior boating experience.
On Day 2 we cruised under sunny early October skies, loving the canopy of iconic Plane trees that drape some of the river. Unfortunately, much of the 40,000 Plane trees along the 240- kilometer stretch are diseased. Over 25% have the blight and are systematically being cut and burned, a huge undertaking. In parts of the river, trees are being removed, and replanting different species is underway, but it will take time to reestablish the majestic trees.
We arrived midday at the marina of Carcassonne and docked our boat well-positioned for exploring the city, with views of the waterfront park and tour boats coming and going across the Aude River.
Carcassonne exceeded my expectations, and I know now why it’s the second most visited tourist attraction in France (#1 is the Eiffel Tower). La Cité is a massive, fortified castle with 52 spiraling turrets and imposing double walls of rampart circling 3 kilometers perched above a medieval village.
We immediately rode our bikes, provided by our Le Boat charter, up to the fairytale citadel. You can also ride le Petite Train for 7 Euro. Crossing the castle drawbridge, we stepped in to La Cité and the 13th century. Be sure to pay to enter and appreciate the scale of the ramparts and the view of Carcassonne’s lower city and the Pyrenees to the west. Then stroll the maze of medieval cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés. Lunch at Comte Roger was a chic culinary treat. A real luxury would be to stay at the five-star Hôtel de la Cité for an elegant evening in the illuminated castle.
Back in Carcassonne’s village, we found the grand pedestrian plazas marked by statues and fountains, boutiques, bakeries and casual bistros. It’s a fun city to explore on foot, with provisions aplenty for boaters.
A SIP OR TWO AT LOCAL VINEYARDS
The next morning, after fresh pain au chocolat, we hopped on our bikes to cycle to wineries. Greg guided us with his iPhone’s Komoot app, which maps out recommended hiking and biking routes. Château Auzais (est. 1872) was a wonderful tour and tasting. Our guide described the Occitanie wine’s bouquet as the convergence of Atlantic winds melding with the Mediterranean, as we sipped our favorite wine aptly named “La Cité des Ventes.”
Château de Pennautier was another fantastic estate. The gorgeous 1620 castle was home to the financier of the Canal du Midi construction — the same architect who designed Versailles. The château’s authentic furniture is gorgeous. Reserve an interior castle tour or just stroll the beautiful gardens. From here, we visited the sister winery and restaurant for a lovely lunch and wine tasting of Pennautier’s whites, rosés and reds.
We planned to boat the next day to Trèbes from Carcassonne but biked instead. The tow paths along the canal are ideal, in fact you can cycle faster than you can boat. We waved to fellow charter boats as we breezed by vineyards, farms, locks and bridges. Our return into Carcassonne provided stunning views of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at once — La Cité Castle and Canal du Midi.
Our return trip from Carcassonne to Castelnaudary only took a day through 24 locks and 30 kilometers with our now well-orchestrated rhythm of navigating locks. Our timing was good for the opening of most locks, and we traveled solo, as mid-October is end of the season the lock keeper told me. Summer is very busy on the canal, with boats in a queue for their turn in locks, and busier marinas.
As for the voyage, I recommend you plan one-way (for an upcharge) for the adventure of all new places along your voyage. The round trip had us retracing our passage, viewing previous scenery. We prefer the excitement of not knowing what’s around the next river bend and discovering new villages.
Also ascending the locks, going upriver, is more difficult. Captain Greg would let me off on a dock before the lock, I’d walk ahead and retrieve his tossed lines to secure the boat, we’d adjust during the rush of cascading water, then I’d board our boat when it came to the top of the full lock.
We felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, having completed our week with success (i.e. no one fell in, no damage to boat). Our final day was leisurely aboard the boat, walking Castelnaudary’s village to a delightful bakery, to the cathedral and up the hill to the windmill, a wonderful 17th century Moulin with splendid views of Black Mountain and the French countryside. We biked along the canal, then relaxed on our boat’s sun deck viewing the Spanish peaks where we planned to ski in winter.
Our check out was quick but thorough. Le Boat’s fleet varies in age, so I was happy we’d opted for the newer spacious Horizon model. Funny, other couples posed for selfies by our boat preferring our more sophisticated-looking vessel for their posts. Some of the older boats are a bit banged up from lock passages, a testament to the “no license or experience required” policy of Le Boat.
We’re already browsing Le Boat’s itineraries: Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, England, the Netherlands or Canada for our next charter adventure.
“WOW!” WAS ALL I COULD COME UP WITH when my neighbor asked, “So, how was Croatia?” I simply ran out of adjectives to express the beauty and allure of this country. With its unique combination of history, culture, cuisine, friendly locals, rugged mountains, long coastline and crystalline blue waters, not to mention hosting a world-class boating scene, it’s easy to see how Croatia is becoming a popular destination with something to excite everyone.
If you are looking for history, then exploring one of the many Croatian UNESCO World Heritage Sites will quench your passion for the past. Transport yourself back to the 4th century AD with a stroll through the remnants of a Roman emperor’s palace. Wander through one of the best-preserved Roman coliseums in the world, and you can almost hear gladiators’ swords clashing against wooden shields.
Croatia’s story is woven together with charming medieval hill towns where regal bell towers seem to pierce the heavens. Climb the ancient tower’s stone steps spiraling to the top and be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. Look straight down past the windows with a line of colorful laundry fluttering in the breeze and on to the delightfully twisty cobblestone streets just wide enough for a donkey cart to pass. Now, centuries later these lanes are lined with enticing artisan shops, gelato stands, and tucked into every bend, a little sidewalk café begging to be discovered.
Ruins of castles and fortresses dot not only the coastline but many of the islands. Standing guard, their thick limestone walls once provided safe haven to the residents within, and now only serve as a testament of a more turbulent time. Walk along the massive stone fortifications and peer down into the moat, and one can almost feel the thunder of horse hooves as knights ride across the drawbridge.
Surround yourself in the art of the ages by stepping inside Croatia’s sacred churches and splendid cathedrals, the architecture spanning the Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque periods.
Although it is possible to stay in a Hilton-style hotel or rent a Mediterranean villa by the sea, you have other options. We chose to immerse ourselves in the medieval world by staying in the heart of the old town centers in family-run studio apartments. Sleeping under a roof that dated back 600 years enriched our Croatia experience while also supporting a local family business. These cozy apartments are refurbished to modern standards and are as comfortable as any four-star hotel.
If you’re a nature lover, Croatia boasts eight national parks. One can hike a lake rim and descent onto a series of wooden boardwalks meandering among turquoise waterfalls giving a unique on-the-water view of Mother Nature’s power or try backpacking through an island forest. However, you do not have to go to a national park to be enveloped in nature, as Croatia is a wonderland anywhere you turn.
If you’re into adrenaline sports, Croatia can provide all you need from bungee jumping to zip lining. For those leaning toward adventure with less heart stopping action, cycling, paddleboarding, sea kayaking or snorkeling are popular choices. My favorite jaunt was an all-day off-road dune buggy ride with a final stop at a local winery for a tour and tasting.
Croatia has a long history in winemaking, and wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Croatia cuisine reflects the flavors of central Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean. The coast of the Adriatic Sea is famous for its fish and seafood dishes while the inland menu features hearty meat platters. Sharing a border with Italy, it’s not unusual to be enticed with handmade pasta or even pizza.
Wrapped around all these sensory experiences is the Croatian people. Perhaps it’s due to the mild Mediterranean climate that the locals exude, a version of a “malo po malo” or “little by little” attitude that entices us fast-paced city dwellers to slow down and take in life. Pausing for a wine spritzer or cappuccino at a sidewalk café could last hours, and it’s not only quite all right...it’s expected. As a local told us; “There’s no such thing as coffee to-go in Croatia.”
CRUISING CROATIA’S DRAMATIC SHORELINE
This small country is touted as the number one sailing destination in Europe, and with good reason. Rivaling the West Coast of the United States in length, Croatia’s shores are lined with protected ports and marinas that support a wide range of options for visiting the more than 1,200 islands. So, it’s no wonder that each year many visitors opt to explore Croatia by water.
If your taste leans toward a traditional cruise line, you will find an ample supply of lavish cruise ships capable of hosting more than 3,000 guests making overnight stops at the most popular ports of call.
For those seeking a more intimate experience, it’s increasingly popular to book a cabin on a 20 to 40 passenger luxury yacht. Croatia specializes in these small ship cruise lines, because they can explore tiny islands with hidden coves and access regions of the coast larger ships can’t navigate. Becoming your mobile boutique hotel, these opulent yachts boast the finest service, cuisine, spacious teak sundecks and even jacuzzis to enjoy your final nightcap.
Looking to be captured by the romance of exploring the Adriatic under sail? Then your hot ticket may be booking a cabin on one of the smaller eight to 16 passenger schooners known as gulets. Handcrafted of mahogany, pine and teak, these motor-sailing gulets offer a marvelous blend of modern-day comforts with charms of tradition. Potentially a little more laidback, swimming, sunbathing and just plain relaxing become a favorite pastime of the guests.
If you’re a bit more on the adventurous side, contact one of the many charter boat companies servicing Croatia to reserve your own sailboat or powerboat. Both are available as bareboat or skippered charters. Many choose a local captain to handle the boat and play guide, allowing you to kickback and gain a sense of the culture, all the while discovering his favorite anchorages, villages and local restaurants you would have missed along the way. You just might end the cruise with a new best friend.
If you’re land trekking and want a quick taste of boating life in the Adriatic, wander down to the harbor and book a day cruise from a variety of island tours or dinner cruises offered on small excursion boats.
After a full day of exploring, we often found ourselves joining the locals sitting on the rocky shoreline and hoisting our drinks to yet another magnificent Adriatic sunset.
A WINE LOVER’S SECRET PILGRIMAGE
Ever tasted Grk wine? If not, don’t feel bad. Most people, including wine connoisseurs, have never heard of, much less tasted, Grk “Gerk” wine. This Holy Grail of wines is one of the more elusive vinos in the world that ironically enjoys an almost cult-like following in Croatia.
Among wine specialists, there is no consensus whether this peculiar three letter name comes from the wine’s taste (to locals, Grk translates to bitter) or the origins of the first grapes brought to this area by the Greeks, which is also Grk in Croatian.
Around the 3rd century BC, ancient Greeks settled just off the coast of what is now mainland Croatia to a small island called Korčula bringing their precious vines. The southern slopes provided what Grk likes the most: excellent sandy soil and temperature stability under the influence of the surrounding sea. Vines enjoy sunny days, and locals swear that the grapes also benefit from the added reflection of the sun both off the water and the rocky hillsides behind.
These factors seem to be the sweet spot for cultivating this rare variety; however, the precious microclimate only exists in less than 100 acres of coastal land, which is the entirety of all the Grk planted in the world. Cultivation on other islands or in other parts of the country and the world have failed for the most part, making this one of the rarest grapes and categorized as “almost endangered” by the State Institute for Nature Protection.
To make matters worse, Grk is among the 1% of grape varieties in the world that cannot self-pollinate. Because Grk has only female flowers, it is always planted with the male grape vine nearby to enable pollination. This additional complication also hampers the desire to upscale commercial production.
Limited in production, it’s rare to see Grk wine served or sold outside Korčula. So, the best chance to savor this wine is to visit the handful of family wineries producing Grk. During summer when Korčula welcomes a massive influx of tourists, almost the entire production of Grk wine can be consumed within a season.
MEET ME AT THE WINERY
Time to start my Grk quest. I took the two-hour ferry ride to the island of Korčula, and a short bus ride left me within walking distance of three family wineries. Confession: I had planned to visit all three wineries, but after I got settled into my wine sampling accompanied by a delectable charcuterie board, I began easing into island time and whiling away the afternoon at just one winery.
A tour of the production was accomplished practically from my seat overlooking the vineyards. I did walk over to view the wine cellar, which had enough room to house only eight wine barrels. These are tiny boutique wineries, and the labor of love that goes into making this wine is evident. I asked the owner if they bottled their wine to sell or import off the island. Looking at me quizzically, he replied that it was for sale only for individuals that came to visit the winery, and they sold out each year.
But was it good? As more of a full-bodied red wine lover, I didn’t know what to expect when he poured this pale golden wine. It was fabulous. It displayed an astounding depth and complexity I usually do not associate with white wine. The taste and texture were dry with hints of pine, citrus and saltiness leaving a subtle touch of tartness or bitterness at the finish.
I left the winery feeling my quest was accomplished. I smiled knowing that the bottle of Grk swaying in my backpack wasn’t going to make it back to the United States in my carry-on luggage, so I’d just have to enjoy it here. Now I have one more reason to return.
So close to the United States, yet the Bahamas are worlds away with a tropical paradise vibe. This must-visit popularity comes not only from proximity but also a plentiful number of islands to visit, each with distinct personalities. You find everything from upscale resorts to laidback beach bars and pristine nature preserves.
While four islands have international airports, and more than 50 have smaller airports and airstrips, some reachable solely by boat. This means the only way to travel to these destinations is by ferry, water taxi or private boat. Here’s a sampling of seven boat-only Bahamas islands to visit.
GREEN TURTLE CAY, ABACOS
Sea turtles abound on this namesake three-mile-long barrier island considered part of the Abaco “Out Islands.” Fly from the United States into airports on Treasure Cay or Marsh Harbour. From Treasure, it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to the cay. A couple of marinas, such as at the Green Turtle Club and Bluff House Beach Resort, make it easy to arrive by private boat. The best place to see endangered green sea turtles is Coco Bay Beach. This calm shallow bay to the north is the perfect place to swim and snorkel next to these gentle giants. Reach the bay either on shore by walking or golf cart, or by boat.
Green Turtle Cay is full of civilization too. To the south is the historic town of New Plymouth, founded in the 18th century by British Loyalists during the American Revolution. Walk past the quaint New England-style homes to sight-see at the Loyalists Memorial Sculpture Garden and Albert Lowe Museum, which is housed in a Victorian-era family home and traces the island’s history from its origins. Restaurants, shops, galleries, banks, churches, hardware and grocery stores are on the island.
Smack in the middle of this 30-square mile chain of 100-plus islands and cays, it is relatives of Chester Darville who first settled here nearly a century ago. Today, Darville owns the cay’s sole business, Flo’s Conch Bar & Restaurant. He brought his father’s dream to life by taking the family back to their home when he opened Flo’s in 1993. Darville’s mother, Flo, served as head chef until her death, building a reputation for the best conch fritters. Today, conch fritters, conch salad, cracked conch and conch burgers are on the menu along with Danville’s special rum punch.
Beyond Flo’s, expect good snorkeling on the nearby reef beyond the small dock and anchorage and sport fishing near and offshore. Located 40 miles north of Nassau, the closest airport is 9 miles south in Little Whale Cay, with no ferry service. This makes Little Harbour remote to reach by boat. Perhaps that’s why some of Darville’s customers have included Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Sylvester Stallone.
Find a best-of-both-world experience on this 12-mile-long island located three miles east of Nassau. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bahamas’ capital city, Rose is full of peace and quiet. Back to nature after past lives as a pineapple plantation and private residence until 2005, the now road-less, nearly resident-less island is ripe for a day trip. “While on Rose, guests can partake in snorkeling, exploring, and of course swimming with the world-famous pigs,” says Deb Saunders, sales and marketing at Sandy Toes, which operates full-day private excursions to Sandy Toes Beach on Rose.
“We make our own water and power to leave the smallest footprint, so Rose Island may retain its beauty for many years to come,” Saunders adds. Rose is popular with private boats to cruise over from Nassau. First Beach, on Rose’s west end, is closest at a little over 4 miles east of Nassau Harbor. MacTaggart’s Beach, to the east, is farther and delightfully secluded as a result.
Baby sharks and bigger ones too are the star attraction in the naturally protected harbor of the Compass Cay Marina. “Visitors come from all over the world to have a close interaction with these docile nurse sharks,” says Trevon Rolle, assistant manager. “Aside from these precious creatures, enjoy several hiking trails, a large maze of mangroves leading out from the marina that’s great for kayaking and paddle boarding, a beautiful sandy crescent beach on the eastern shore with gazebos, and a natural formation at the island’s northeast tip called Rachel’s Bubble Bath, which is a natural swimming pool.”
Fly from Fort Lauderdale or Miami to Staniel Cay and take a water taxi to Compass. Or cruise from the Exuma Banks and Exuma Sound through buoy-marked channels, where the draft is six-feet in low and nine-feet in high tide. Marina docks accommodate yachts up to 200 feet and are equipped with reverse osmosis water and 30-, 50- and 100-amp electricity. The marina store sells beverages and food items. The closest fuel is Staniel Cay five miles south.
Once used as a nature-made corral where nearby communities raised chickens (hence the namesake fowl), this 50-acre island has been a private luxury destination for two decades. Its vibe is Robinson Crusoe meets the Ritz. Six secluded yet spectacular one-, two- and three-bedroom rental villas start around $20,000 per week in season. That combines with resort amenities such as a restaurant, pool, tennis courts, housekeeping services and watersports equipment. Best of all, an 18-foot powerboat with unlimited gas is included in every villa hire.
Fowl is a perfect homeport to cast off on a trolling trip for snapper and grouper. Or snorkel at the nearby underwater Thunderball cave, so- called for the same-named James Bond spy flick filmed here. Or cruise to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch. Staniel is the closest airstrip to Fowl, and the resort offers guests a seven- minute ferry ride. Or, BYOB (bring your own boat) and tie off at Fowl Cay’s north dock.
Shaped like — you guessed it — a long narrow stocking, the one-mile distance from the Government Dock in Georgetown, Great Exuma, across a protected harbor, makes this an easy dinghy trip. You can explore several beaches on this three-mile-long island, from Starfish and Powder beaches to the northwest and northeast, respectively, to Sand Dollar beach at the southern tip. Right in the middle, and nearest to Georgetown, on a small beach sits the Chat ‘N’ Chill beach bar and grill.
“Try our fresh conch salad and experience a Bahamian tradition,” invites owner Kwanza Bowe. “Watch as conch is taken straight from the sea, cracked and broken out of its natural shell right before your eyes. The conch man then skins the conch, washes it, chops it up, and prepares it with locally grown onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, goat peppers and Bahamian sea salt for your conch salad.” An easy walk from this eatery is gorgeous sand dunes. Beyond, on the island’s Atlantic side are stromatolites. These are fossilized bacteria dating over 1 million years old and found only on Stocking Island and in Australia. “We also recommend visiting the Jacques Cousteau Mystery Cave,” Bowe adds. “This is reached by a two-minute boat ride from the Chat ‘N’ Chill. The cave’s mouth teems with fish and is an excellent snorkeling spot.”
Take a visit to the wildlife side. Christopher Columbus first sited it in 1492, but no humans have lived on this 4.5-square-mile island for over a century. The Bahamas National Trust established a national park here in 1964. Pink sand beaches, lush mangrove ecosystems and spectacular sandstone cliffs make this one of the prettiest islands in the Bahamas. Imperiled long-tail tropicbirds, ospreys, sooty terns and oystercatchers nest on the island, while surrounding waters are nurseries for conch, crawfish, sharks and fish. Green turtles are a common sight in the creek off the southwest shore. Discover ruins of several early 20th century structures made of limestone, shells and mortar, but no amenities or facilities are ashore. So, bring food and water to explore on land. The best anchorage is in West Bay, and a couple of moorings, marked by large red buoys, are nearby. The closest island is Rum Cay, 20 miles south, which has a small airport.