Experience The Graycliff in Nassau
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
As an avid studier and lover of history (and especially pirate history), you can imagine how excited I was when I found out about the Graycliff Property in Nassau. And after visiting, I'm here to give you the lowdown on absolutely everything I wanted to know about the experience before I went.
Disclaimer: This post was in no way sponsored or endorsed by The Graycliff Hotel and/or any of its affiliates. All views presented within this post are mine alone and are not representative of any group or organization.
If you aren't familiar with the history of pirates in Nassau, you have some studying to do. It's probably my favorite thing to read about. At one point, New Providence was known as The Pirates Republic- and there was a legitimate effort to free the land from British control to allow the pirates sovereignty. Nassau was the perfect haven during the Golden Age of Piracy because of its protected harbors and fresh water supply, as well as its proximity to trading routes. It's this land on which many a pirate lived and died, so it's not surprising that some of them had a little (or a lot of) real estate here.
According to local legend, the Graycliff mansion was built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, who was a successful (and therefore wealthy) pirate. This part is up for debate. In all of my studies I have never come across a Captain John Howard Graysmith. If you know something I don't, please let me know. But the rest of the building's history beyond that is fascinating too and includes tales of prohibition, war, and aristocrats, just to name a few. Even if it was never a pirate Captain's house, the fact that the building does date back to before the 18th century is amazing in and of itself. You can read more about the history of the location on their site. Being that my trip to The Bahamas was focused on its history and piracy, it was clear that there was nowhere better for me to stay than the Graycliff.
Why just study history when you can stay in it?
The (Literal) Tea
We arrived a little earlier than our scheduled check-in time, so the staff at the front desk (who were as sweet as can be) allowed us to leave our bags with them while we wandered around the property for a while. First on our itinerary was an experience I had never even thought about before that paid a special homage to the history of the Bahamas: tea.
Seeing as to how the Bahamas were a colony of the British Empire for a long while, it makes perfect sense that a formal "tea" would be an experience here. We were ushered into the restaurant where it was maybe us and two other parties. We were all seated with plenty of distance (we actually had an entire sunroom to ourselves), and offered an assortment of different teas. We were given the most adorable fine china emblazoned with the logo of the Graycliff, before being served a number of different sandwiches, cakes, and cookies to go along with our tea. We had the most amazing and welcoming waiters (who I will talk more about later), and left after taking our time enjoying such a cute tradition. I felt like I was living out all of the pretend I had imagined as a kid. Seriously, it was everything every little girl dreams of when she asks for a tea party and so much more. If you're going to Nassau with a little girl (or anyone honestly), DO THIS. Besides being in the U.K., I'm not sure that it gets any cuter.
After we had finished, we were able to check into our room early. I was absolutely thrilled to find out that we would be staying in one of the very few rooms that is in the original house (there have been various sections added onto it to give the hotel more space for guests). I could have spent an entire day just relaxing in the room, but didn't want to miss out on getting the full experience of everything Graycliff.
The Cigar Factory
If there's one thing people think of synonymously with the Graycliff, it's Graycliff cigars. So it was definitely something I wanted to see first-hand. (When else do you get to see people hand-rolling world famous cigars?) It makes sense that the factory where they make all of these cigars is right on the property, just around the corner from the Graycliff hotel. We stopped in for a quick walk around the facility, which included an impressive humidor, tons of massive tobacco leaves (seriously do you know how big those things are?) and a bunch of hard-working, talented people who put care into every single cigar that leaves that room.
On almost every single person's work station, there were two things in common: a burning cigar and a cup of coffee- and every few minutes each would take a drag or a sip. They use traditional Cuban techniques that had been taught to each of them by one of the cigar legends of the world: Avelino Lara. You may not recognize him by name, but you know him as the creator of the original Cuban Cohiba cigar. Even if you don't know any avid cigar-smokers, I know that's a name you've heard. Lara, who was personally commissioned by Fidel Castro to perfect the quintessential "Cuban cigar", worked with the Graycliff until his death in 2009.
Instagram models, rejoice. This is one of the most popular spots in Nassau for basic people to take "candid" photos. The vibrant mosaic design of the pool is a gorgeous contrast to the stunning green of the foliage all around. I was worried that we wouldn't be able to get any peace or quiet around it, but I was completely wrong. Maybe it's because we were there around noon on a partly cloudy Wednesday, but for whatever reason, it was completely private and an absolute paradise.
I'm not a city person. I used to be, but I just can't do it anymore. I don't like the fast
pace, I don't like the rush of things, I don't understand all the rude people, and I can't stand the concrete everywhere. It took me a while to learn that I'm happiest where I have fresh air and open space. So being at the Graycliff, which is in the middle of busy Nassau, was honestly overwhelming. You feel pulled in 30 different directions, rushed like you're always missing something, and I resent that.
But it was such a welcome escape that when you walk into the pool area, you are completely surrounded by lush vegetation that truly makes you forget that there are taxis and tourists all around you. The birds who have made the trees above the pool home drown out the sounds of traffic with their little songs, and the water feature provides the most relaxing white noise. We sat down on lounge chairs for a few minutes and it wasn't long before both of us were so relaxed that we fell asleep and napped for an hour or so without a care in the world.
I love an excuse to get completely dolled up every once-in-a-while, so our dinner at the Graycliff Restaurant was the perfect occasion for me. There, the atmosphere is still that laidback Bahamian vibe, but with an air of added elegance and luxury.
Let's start with this: I am not some trendy or haughty person. My idea of a great meal is Waffle House. I don't see the need to spend tons of money on unique food experiences, especially when I'd rather just eat grilled cheese. So, often at restaurants that are considered "fine dining", I get so uncomfortable because I'm surrounded by awful human beings. You know what I mean. The kind of people who consider themselves connoisseurs of everything- and there was an entire table of those fake type of people seated near us critiquing every sip of wine they had. But our ability to make fun of those people and the immaculate service of the staff more than made up for it.
There were waiters for literally everything- we're talking there was one person designated to bring you rolls, another whose job was to bring you butter, another whose job was water, someone else who was in charge of drinks, etc. It was truly the most fun, elegant, world-class experience I've ever had in a restaurant, but it also had the Bahamian hospitality that made it feel welcoming, approachable, and friendly.
Now, at a location that could draw a crowd by itself, you might expect the Graycliff Restaurant to just be lazy and serve sub-par food because they totally could get away with it. But to be honest, the truffle pasta and filet mignon that I had there were among the best things I've ever eaten. Perfectly cooked, full of flavor, and however else culinary people would describe good food. The property also boasts the third largest wine collection in the world, so you know that their selection of wines (and local Bahamian Rum) are top-tier. Personally I can testify that their virgin Pina Coladas were fantastic.
We ended our dining experience with a soufflé (which, I had no idea, is rated among the best in the world), and I can honestly say that the experience was worth every penny of the somewhat hefty price tag. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if you should find yourself in Nassau, you absolutely should go.
The Cigar Lounge
If you're anything like my mother, just the thought of cigars makes you want to gag. But if cigars don't bother you, there's nothing like the lounge in the entrance of the Graycliff Hotel. After dinner, we wandered into the room next door to the restaurant (think where the living room would be in the house). There, a number of couches and chairs are scattered across the parlor, where a piano is centered in the room. The most amazing Bahamian woman sat there playing anything you suggested, with the vocal style of Etta James. When she took a break for a few moments, her son filled in for her which was a cute family moment. Cigar ashtrays adorn every little table in the room, as do matches.
But my favorite part was tucked away in the main hallway, hiding in plain sight; where a woman sits and rolls cigars in front of anyone who wants to watch. We must have stood there for a half hour just marveling at her technique- using the traditional Cuban method that most companies forgo these days in order to save time and increase profit. She sat there with a little light over the desk, peering through her glasses, and occasionally taking a break to take a puff of her own cigar which was lit and laying on an ashtray next to her. Next to her sat the most adorable older Italian gentleman. Judging by the chain on his neck, the rings on his fingers, and his endearing demeanor, he seemed exactly like what I've always pictured my own Italian grandfather was like (who I never got to meet).
I get star-struck from really weird things, okay. I could see Kate Moss and be like "oh, that's who that was?". Yet when I met the man who was responsible for founding SP-Teri skates, I legit had to ask if I could get a picture with him. This was probably the second instance of me ever being star-struck. I knew from doing my research prior to the trip that this man was non other than Enrico Garzaroli himself, the owner of the properties and man responsible for the worldwide success of the Graycliff brands and experiences, who has hosted scores of celebrities and even gifted Bill Clinton with the cigar that was brought up during his trial. Yet he was the most unassuming, relaxed person. If you didn't know who he was, you'd think he was just another guest enjoying the experience of being at the Graycliff. We stood and talked a while before returning to the lounge and being transported back in time. Something about the simplicity of it was just breathtaking. All of the guests and visitors, just sitting around the room chatting, smoking cigars and enjoying perfect music. We must have sat there for at least an hour just soaking it all in and reveling in every moment.
When we had decided it was time to call it a night, we just walked up the flight of stairs to our room which was situated directly above the lounge. The creaking of the original wood floors is a reminder every few steps of the amazing history behind the place where we were now standing. What unknown things had happened here since it was built so long ago? We took a short walk out to the balcony at the end of the hallway, where we were able to look down on the busy street below, reveling in the charm of its lights and sounds. I just kept thinking to myself "this is exactly what Walt Disney meant to emulate when he designed the Pirates of the Caribbean ride."
We walked back to our room, got ready for bed, and fell asleep to the faint sounds of the piano downstairs and the people talking, enjoying each others company. It reminded me of falling asleep in the middle of family gatherings when I was much younger: surrounded by happiness, content in the company of all those nearby, and I kid you not, I drifted to sleep with a smile on my face, just thinking:
"this was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more."
Have you ever visited? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Have any questions? Feel free to ask me and if I don't know, I'll get you in touch with someone who does.