The understated entrance to Graycliff in the heart of historic Nassau.
When the general manager of a swanky resort on swanky Harbour Island in the Bahamas reflects on your next destination with the comment; “Graycliff? Well, it’s in a class of its own, isn’t it?” – you know you are in for a unique experience.
And Graycliff is very much an experience. The hotel itself is an historic mansion, dating from the 1720’s. Over the years it has welcomed guest as diverse as Sir Winston Churchill, the Beatles, Nelson Mandela, Shakira and Beyonce, not to mention royalty from around the world.
The hotel is set in a rambling tropical garden with two inviting pools (one lined with lovely hand-painted tiles) and a list of amenities you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere. But more about those later.
Graycliff is located right in the heart of old Nassau. Once you are in its environs, however, you could be a hundred miles away from the crowds of that town’s bustling waterfront. That doesn’t mean that it’s out of the way, by any means. All the attractions of Nassau – from the art gallery, to the waterfront bars and Bay Street shopping to Junkanoo beach – are within easy walking distance. There is even a charming Heritage Village, complete with its own museum and artists’ studio, right across the street from the hotel.
Graycliff describes itself as a “welcoming oasis of casually elegant tranquility”. Cynical as I can be about these things at times, it’s hard to come up with something more accurate. Graycliff is nothing if not elegant.
Don’t expect the muted tones, brushed stainless steel and organic stone-accented open spaces of a modern on-trend luxe hotel here. This is an authentic traditional colonial manor house with polished dark wood, gleaming chandeliers and leather armchairs you could get lost in. It’s a solid, stately and classy affair designed for old style comfort, from top to bottom.
There are 20 individually decorated rooms in four categories, all spacious, beautifully appointed and exceedingly comfortable. The antique furnishings are complemented with the latest fittings and luxury amenities, toiletries by Bulgari included.
The restaurant at Graycliff could justify an article of its own. It is legendary. Not just in Nassau, but throughout the islands. For a starter, it was the first five-star restaurant in the Caribbean, so expect the food to be of the old-school fine dining variety. And you’ll receive fabulous service from a small army of efficient and gracious staff.
And, if that’s not enough, Graycliff’s world-renowned wine cellar boasts an astounding 250,000 plus bottles, the third largest private collection in the world. Diners can ask for a personal tour of the cellar.
The de rigueur procedure is to have a pre-dinner cocktail in the sumptuous lounge, be escorted to dinner when ready, and then return to the lounge to have a digestif and optional cigar (yes, it is still allowed – even encouraged – here) and listen to a very talented and authentically soulful singer-pianist.
Let’s just say this is a ‘special occasion’ kind of place (at least for us).
Now back to those amenities – the ones you won’t find in too many (if any) other places. I mean how many hotels do you know of that can claim its own on-site cigar factory, chocolatier and Cognateque (yes, that’s a thing)? There is also a winery (the Bahamas first), a churrascaria and a pizzeria. And I am only scratching the surface of Graycliff’s offerings.
Of course, there are a few things that Graycliff cannot offer. With its downtown location, one of those is the direct beach access many might seek in the Bahamas (although the hotel can arrange a trip to Blue Lagoon Beach). There is no casino, another thing Nassau is known for. Personally, that’s not my thing, but if it matters to you, a 15-minute cab ride will get you to the tables and slots of either Atlantis or Baha Mar. And if you do well, you can always take a limo back. Finally, Graycliff can’t provide a cheap vacation. This is very much a five-star hotel, so expect to pay for it.
But be assured that you will undoubtedly be paying to stay in a special place.
The main pool, set in rambling tropical gardens, features hand-painted tiles.
Thanks to it’s unique history and the ongoing efforts of its current owners, the Garzaroli family – who have been steadfast supporters of local tourism – Graycliff is a vital part of Nassau’s culture and even its soul, something you feel as soon as you walk through the door. Sure it’s a bit pricey, but as the lady from Harbour Island said, it’s in a class of its own.
Guests gather for pre- and apres-dinner cocktails in the elegantly appointed lounge.
Photos courtesy of Grayclff.