The northern Caribbean islands of the Bahamas are only 50 miles east of Florida and feel culturally closer to the US than to traditional British favourites Barbados or Antigua. This is where east-coast Americans go to holiday. The private jets lined up at Nassau airport on New Providence tell a tale of wealthy visitors keen to party.
Yet only 40 of the 700 Bahamian islands are occupied so, while two-thirds of the 347,000 population — including superstars Shania Twain and Sean Connery — live on New Providence, there are plenty of quiet, less developed islands to explore.
The outer island of Great Abaco and its surrounding small cays in the north-east of the archipelago is a good example. Low-level, candy-coloured Bahamian homes, white sand beaches and a safe, family vibe make Abaco a winner. Transport is by bike or golf buggy and leisure activities focus on bone (fly) fishing.
Abaco is surprisingly easy to reach through the international airport at Marsh Harbour, from where water taxis shuttle to harbours and marinas on the smaller islands. There are more boat slips than hotel rooms on the island, yet the Bahamian government has invested heavily in the infrastructure, and developments have followed.
Schooner Bay (+ (1) 242 376 9858), 30 minutes from Marsh Harbour airport on Great Abaco, is an attempt to recreate a traditional Bahamian village based around a sheltered Atlantic harbour and miles of sandy beach.
"All the main cities and communities in the Bahamas, such as Nassau and Hope Town in the Abacos, focus on a vibrant harbour so we built our harbour first," says James Malcolm of Schooner Bay.
Developer Orjan Lindroth, a Swedish national who has spent most of his life in the Bahamas, has put simplicity and sustainability at the heart of Schooner Bay. Nearly two thirds of the 320-acre site will be left as a nature reserve. There are 450 plots for sale and of the 130 released in Phase One, 50 are sold. Plots range from £110,500 to £240,000 for a beach-front site. Average build time is 10 months.
Facilities to follow include a pool, spa, tennis courts and restaurants, while the impressive harbour with 150 berths will have full marina services. A medical centre and primary school are also planned. A bone-fishing lodge is already welcoming guests.
It's all a deliberate move away from the gated second-home resorts that dominate the Bahamas. Its appeal is demonstrated, claims Malcolm, by the enthusiasm Bahamians have for the project, making up 70 per cent of sales so far.
Elsewhere in the Abacos, Bakers Bay (+ (1) 242 577 0635) on Great Guana Cay attracts an exclusive and wealthy crowd of American buyers. Prices average $6.5 million (£4 million) for substantial family homes beside a beautiful golf course, six-mile beach and deep-berth marina complex. Bakers Bay is one of 14 resorts worldwide owned by American company Discovery Land.
The Abaco Club ( +(1) 242 367 0077) on Great Abaco, once owned by British entrepreneur Peter de Savary and now managed by Ritz Carlton, is another established golf and members' resort. Set on a two-mile heart-shaped beach, property includes two- to four-bedroom cottages, plots and deeded fractional ownership with prices from $103,000 (£65,000) for a one-bedroom apartment for 10 weeks of the year. Plot prices start at $490,000 (£309,500).
* Stamp duty ranges from four per cent to 12 per cent split equally between buyer and seller.
* Annual service charge costs at Schooner Bay are £2,050.
* BA flies five times a week from London to Nassau (ba.com).
* There is no capital gains tax, income tax or inheritance tax.
'If you make the effort you can become part of the local community'
Lucinda Young, 31, a property landlady from Chelsea, has spent three years building a house near Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco. "I have holidayed in the Bahamas for years but found Nassau increasingly busy and dangerous," says Lucinda. "When I visited Abaco I thought it was beautiful. It's a place where if you make the effort you can become part of the local community."
Last year Lucinda invested in a land plot at Schooner Bay, planning to build a house to operate as a holiday rental. "I like the environmental aspect of Schooner Bay, the high build quality, and the community feel," she adds. "All the amenities a visitor could want — fishing lodge, beach club, small village centre, restaurants — are there."