ByNina Kokotas Hahn
Most people are shocked to learn that a hotel like Graycliff exists in the Bahamas. Not only for its pirate lore and luxurious B&B accommodations, but for the whole package of unexpected and elevated offerings, each of which stand in stark contrast to the popular all-inclusive resorts of nearby Paradise Island.
Think of Graycliff as a well-kept secret, the exact sort of twist that can turn an ordinary Bahamas vacation into something remarkable. Here’s why Graycliff is reason enough to visit the Bahamas:
1. Former digs of a famous pirate. Graycliff originally belonged to a pirate in the same era that an unofficial skull-and-crossbones Bahamian flag was the real deal. As history tells it, Graycliff mansion was built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a fearsome Caribbean pirate who plundered treasure ships along the Spanish Main. Graycliff’s history runs rich both before and after the pirate, previously home to the first Anglican Church in Nassau before it was destroyed by the Spaniards in 1703, captured and headquartered by the American Navy in 1776, and an exclusive scene for Prohibition socialites in the 1920s, when it was owned by a good friend to Al Capone. This and more history are part of the fun in discovering Graycliff today.
2. Historic, boutique hotel set away from Nassau madness. You’ll give up beachfront views, but gain a secluded, lush environment tucked around a pretty pool and just a few minutes away from the beach. The rooms—20 guest chambers and cottages in all—are each unique and charming, some with sizeable floorplans, some new and some old. Since history runs deep here, you can request to stay in the original master bedroom in the main house known as the Baillou or the Pool Cottage that once accommodated Winston Churchill.
3. Award-winning Graycliff Cigar Company. Founded in 1997 by the Garzaroli family, the cigar company features 16 master rollers and blends ranging from the exclusive Grayliff Professionale to the available-only-in-the-Bahamas Bahiba. Graycliff Cigars have also scored awards from across the globe, including France’s Club Cigare’s 2001 Cigar of the Year Award and Robb Report’s Best of the Best for the 2006 Chateau Grand Cru. Come to Graycliff and you can watch the torcedores at work or even take a cigar rolling lesson.
4. Dining takes typical Bahamian fare to a new level. Most would not say they go to the Bahamas for the food, but Graycliff may change your mind. Bahamian influences inspire sophisticated, beautiful dishes with a twist in a grand setting. There’s also Humidor Churrascaria for those with a hankering for lots and lots of meat. Whatever you choose, take a look at that wine list, wouldja….
5. Largest Wine Cellar in the Caribbean and one of the largest in the world. Perhaps the most surprising thing to learn about Graycliff is that it’s home to an incredible wine cellar housing some 250,000 bottles from over 400 vintners in 15 countries. It’s also been awarded the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1988. Rumors run wild about its worth, but let’s just say the wine list includes an 1865 Château Lafite and a $200,000 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller. Guests can enjoy that mind-blowing list when dining at Graycliff or participate in a luxe tasting that involves paired cheeses and a tour.
More recently Graycliff addeda Cognateque, a 9,000-bottle collection of cognacs, armagnacs and port, of which 1,500 are collector’s specials. Just another reason to vacation at Graycliff.
Nina Kokotas Hahn is a travel writer and Chicago journalist whose work appears in Chicago magazine, HuffPost Travel and Condé Nast’s HotelChatter. Globetrotting since infancy, she’s the daughter of a travel agent and considers thrill-seeking part of the DNA.