Ed Leahy is always on the hunt for treasure. He finds plenty here.

The notorious pirate Blackbeard roamed the shallow seas off the coast of Nassau in search of merchant ship treasure and booty.

The English rogue, real name Edward Teach, and associates thrived in the waters off the islands of the Bahamas such was their proximity to major shipping lanes and the emerging United States of America.

Formerly known as Charles Town, before being burnt to the ground at the end of the 17th Century, Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas with 300 years of history dating back to the American Civil War and remaining interesting and entertaining right through to the days of Prohibition in the US and Al Capone.

The city runs along the north coast of New Providence – one of the Bahamas' 700-odd islands – from Cable Beach, around Goodman Bay and along Bay Street to the east.

The town centre is compact and easily explored by foot, and it didn't take much persuading to sign up for a city tour that promised seven stops to enjoy the best food and drink available in Nassau.

Tru Bahamian Food Tours takes you on a three-hour ramble about the city's streets and proved to be one of the most interesting city tours that I have encountered.

The tour kicks off with an introduction to one of the most ubiquitous of Bahamian delicacies, the conch fritter.

This tasty ball of fried conch and other concoctions is a fine finger food, dipped in a Marie Rose sauce and was cooked to perfection at the first restaurant, Bahamian Cookin', which serves a range of local cuisine including fried fish, guava duff and a Bahamian macaroni and cheese.

Next stop takes you to the Pepper Pot Grill and Juice Bar, which specialises in classic Jamaican dishes – Jamaican is a significant subculture in the Bahamas – and served up the most wonderful Jerk Chicken, rice and beans and fried plantains, all washed down with fresh carrot juice.

Van Breugel's boasts one of the country's finest chefs and offers an eclectic menu, taking traditional Bahamian dishes and combining them with Euro and Thai flavours.

The conch, once more, featured in a hot and spicy coconut curry conch chowder (try saying that 10 times quickly), served with fresh baguette and house-made parsley garlic butter.

An objective of the tour is to ensure that you are reasonably full by the end of your long lunch (you will be), but the saunter from eatery to eatery takes you throughout the town centre with a continuous, educational narrative of the town's history as you pass significant landmarks and areas of interest.

The walking tour will take you past Balcony House, built in traditional loyalist architectural style and once home to Stephen Dillet, the first black Bahamian elected to Parliament.

Close by, you will find the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation, which was named after heralded Bahamian slave Pompey, who led a significant slave revolt on the island of Exuma in the 1800s.

Christ Church Cathedral was the first official place of worship in Nassau and dates back to 1670, while Christopher Columbus keeps watch outside Government House, another outstanding example of loyalist architecture and home to an endangered silk cotton tree, one of the few remaining on the island.

Gregory's Arch is easily missed but proves to be a very significant part of town. It symbolised the class division in Bahamian society and led to the phrase "over the hill", referring to an area built to accommodate liberated African slaves.

The food tour continues with visits to the landmark Athena Cafe, a Greek restaurant located above a jewellery shop and serving classic Greek salad and gyros; and the chocolatier at the five-star Graycliff Hotel. The tour finishes up at Pure Caribbean, a local tea and spice merchant, and the tasty Tortuga Rum Cake Company, to sample the world renowned, golden original rum cake.

The rest of the afternoon was enjoyed rambling about the now- familiar city centre with visits to the Straw Market, the interactive Pirate Museum and the impressive British Colonial Hilton hotel, which backs out onto the strand at Cable Beach.

The town bustles throughout the day thanks to the thousands of cruise-ship tourists that pour into the port, while the city also boasts a lively nightlife scene.

Arawak Cay is found to the west of the city centre and is a great place to sample the Nassau nightlife, where several restaurants and bars offer excellent al fresco options for a genuine Bahamian evening's entertainment.

Conch fritters were once again enjoyed, along with a range of other seafood options, as well as the obligatory coleslaw, potato salad and rice and beans – tasting a little bit of everything is the Bahamian way and makes mealtime most interesting.

Dessert was swapped for a bowl of freshly prepared conch salad, where I got to experience a local cook extracting fresh conch from the shell - diced, marinated and mixed with fresh herbs and vegetables to provide one of the most palate-pleasing dishes you can imagine.

The drink of choice in these parts was a bottle of Dublin's finest stout – not off the shelf but from the fridge. The stronger exported Guinness was shared with locals telling stories until sundown and beyond.

The next day was enjoyed at leisure, residing at the spectacular Graycliff Hotel.

The Graycliff mansion was originally built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, another famous pirate of the Caribbean, who commanded the notorious schooner Graywolf and plundered treasure ships along the Spanish Main.

During the roaring 1920s, Graycliff once again opened its doors to the public. It was then owned by Mrs Polly Leach, a close companion to the infamous Al Capone.

In 1973 the charismatic Enrico Garzaroli and wife Anna Maria turned the private home into a very elegant hotel and restaurant.

Graycliff became the place to be for Nassau's rich and famous and remains so, with Jay-Z and Beyoncé among the most famed of recent guests.

Located a few hundred metres from the beach, the hotel enjoys a lofty position above Nassau and proves an oasis of tranquillity, despite its proximity to the town centre.

Breakfast was cooked to order in the hotel restaurant before a few hours of glorious, morning sunshine were enjoyed by the pool, which is serviced by a cocktail bar, comfortable sunloungers and surrounded by a pretty garden.

After lunch, I took a tour of the hotel's boutique cigar factory, where the high-quality Graycliff Cigars were being rolled by hand, before getting shown around the wine cellar, boasting one of the finest private wine collections in the world.

I also popped back into the Graycliff chocolatier, to sample more of the handmade, artful designs featuring various indigenous Bahamian ingredients like guava, key lime, goat pepper and mango.

The dark chocolate, salted caramel bon bon surprised my cultured sweet tooth as it proved my favourite over more traditional types.

My stay in Nassau was rounded off by one of the finest culinary experiences at the hotel restaurant, which is recognised as the only five-star establishment in the country.

The three-hour gastronomic feast began with a perusal of the hotel's specialty bottled-water menu - which was a first - before a seven-course tasting menu. It bamboozled the senses from the champagne aperitif to the lobster, fillet steak and the lightest, fluffiest soufflé to finish.

Coffee and a nip of sweet rum brought the evening to a close, engaging in some very interesting, if perhaps tall, Fidel Castro-based tales from the aforementioned Enrico.

This capital city is often overlooked as a mere jumping-off point before you are whisked away to the spectacular beach resorts and neighbouring islands of the idyllic Bahamas.

But if you do make the trip to these majestic Caribbean islands, a two-night stay in the historic port town of Nassau will certainly prove just as memorable.

Getting to Nassau: A one-hour flight from Miami will take you to Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport, while the city also boasts many direct routes to the US mainland, including New York. Direct flights from London are available from British Airways.

For more information on Nassau and the Bahamas, visit:

www.bahamas.co.uk
www.trubahamianfoodtours.com
www.graycliff.com

Ed Leahy

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