Updated: Apr 4, 2018
The Cloister is eye-catching day or night
"Hello!" came out of nowhere and it startled me. It was a polite warning rather than a greeting. I looked around until I spotted someone's head peeking from behind a wall.
"I'm just taking pictures. Hope that's ok," I told the hotel guard as I backed away from the entry to the pool. I had just finished reading the sign that said, "For members and hotel guests only beyond this point."
I was in the alluring Versailles Gardens of the The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort in Paradise Island (Ocean Club was formerly a One&Only Resort). It's a popular attraction and a dreamy backdrop for an elegant wedding in The Bahamas. It's nowhere near the scale of the Garden of Versailles in France. But this miniature, inspired by the original, is charming. I found love and romance everywhere I looked.
Mother and child bronze garden statue
An adaptation of Greek Mythology's Cupid kissing Psyche, maybe?
One of a few water lily ponds in the garden
If you follow the pathway up and across the street from the gardens, you'll find the picturesque Cloister. It is so stunning that passing tourists and even runners would stop to admire it.
The Cloister at One&Only Ocean Club in Paradise Island
The garden path doesn't stop there. There's a pleasant surprise past the cloister. Like a proper ending to a fairy tale, an adorable gazebo sits at the foot of the steps, facing the harbor.
The gazebo sits at the end of the garden path.
The cloister is seen at the top of the stairs behind this gazebo.
What exactly is a cloister anyway? My curiosity steered me to fascinating information.
A cloister is a quadrangle structure that is at the center of a monastery. Characterized by walkways with arched walls, it links the monastery's church, refectory, and dormitory.
There's so much history behind this 12th century cloister.
In medieval times, it served as a quiet place for monks to meditate and learn. Earlier versions were open air and they typically surrounded a courtyard garden. The open area, in contrast to the monastery's indoors, received bountiful natural light, making it conducive to studying and writing manuscripts.
The cloister's hallways with arches and columns
A lone statue of a pensive woman at The Cloister's courtyard
Why is there a cloister here? I discovered that this particular installation was reconstructed from the remains of a 12th century Augustinian cloister in France. It was imported by William Randolph Hearst. (Yes, of the Hearst Castle fame.) He was well-known for spending his riches on buying and reconstructing entire rooms from European castles and palaces.
This cloister was reconstructed stone by stone.
The dismantled cloister was later purchased by George Huntington Hartford, heir to the A&P supermarket fortune, and had it reassembled at his Ocean Club in The Bahamas.
The Ocean Club was originally called Shangri-la, a paradise-on-earth estate developed in the 1930's. It was owned by a Swedish industrialist named Axel Wenner-Gren. (Think Electrolux vacuum cleaners and refrigerator technology.) In 1959, Hartford bought the estate with grand visions of developing it into a place as luxurious as Monte Carlo in Monaco. He renamed what was then Hog Island into Paradise Island and over the course of three years, built an opulent 52-room hotel on the grand estate which he named Ocean Club. Sadly, this huge investment turned his life "from riches to rags" and he later lost ownership.
Hartford's ambitious project was handled by renowned Cavalier Construction which was co-founded by Godfrey Lightbourn of The Bahamas. The same construction company, reputed for its excellent standards, rebuilt about 30% of the cloister's original pieces that were broken during the shipment.
Romance is everywhere in The Cloister and Versailles Gardens
Today, The Ocean Club resort in The Bahamas remains a symbol of ultra luxury and exclusivity. Its Cloister and Versailles Gardens continue to be sought after for that quintessential and romantic wedding venue in the Caribbean.
Note: What was formerly the One&Only Ocean Club was acquired by Four Seasons in November 30, 2017. This blogpost has been updated to reflect the new property name of The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort in The Bahamas.