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The Good Life

Graycliff, Nassau, Bahamas

By James Suckling | From Premier Issue, Autumn 92

In Nassau, legends are part of the appeal of the Graycliff Inn. Captain John Howard Graysmith originally built on the property and used it as a launching point for his raids on Caribbean shipping. Later, the first Anglican church in the Bahamian capital occupied the building. Finally, the old colonial building became the first public inn constructed in Nassau in 1844. Today, the charming inn has become a mecca for everyone from big spenders flying in for a good time to people seeking to escape for a few days in a quiet setting.

The 14-room hotel is a tiny oasis in what otherwise is a large, hustling tourist destination, often overrun with cruise ship passengers. But staying at the Graycliff reminds you of the bygone days of the Bahamas when only a few family-run hotels and private homes dotted the sandy coastline. Above all else, the Graycliff is a shrine to good hospitality and fine cuisine in the West Indies.

Your arrival at the white-washed colonial building is met with little ceremony. A uniformed servant will quietly look to your reservation, carry your baggage and show you to your room. It is more like staying in a private residence than in a hotel. The Graycliff's colonial decor, which includes several photographs of the British Royals, invites visitors to imagine they are the guest of a nobleman--perhaps even the Third Earl of Staffordshire who owned the Graycliff until 1966.

Today, Graycliff's owners, Enrico and Anne Marie Garzaroli, simply greet everyone in stride and make them feel at home. Enrico's philosophy for a successful hotel and restaurant is simple: "I believe that nothing is impossible in this life, and I try to offer the client whatever he or she wants," he said.

The guest rooms are elegantly decorated in the colonial period, and feel more like large bedrooms in a country house than hotel rooms. But even though the rooms are comfortable, it's much more likely that guests will relax in the welcoming main hotel reception room or on the quiet veranda. Most people spend their days sightseeing or relaxing at the hotel swimming pool. The hotel's brilliant blue-tiled pool, hidden among a tiny tropical forest of palms and ferns, is one of the island's most blissful locations. Room prices range from about $210 to $365 a night.

Most people who visit the Graycliff, however, come for one reason: gastronomy. The cuisine here is a melange of European and Bahamian tastes. Starters such as Bahamian crawfish in a puff pastry or conch chowder are well-prepared. The main courses are equally as good, with such local delicacies as grouper scented with seaweed in a curried sabayon sauce or fresh shrimp with saffron and spinach leaves. Chef Philip Bethell has a talent for maintaining the unique flavors of the local produce, while giving his cuisine an underlying elegance.

Choosing a great bottle of wine to go with your meal at the Graycliff is difficult. The Graycliff's wine list is massive, and underneath the restaurant, where the West Indian Regiment once kept prisoners, lies a cellar stocked with more than $3.6 million worth of wines and spirits. The hotel has received The Wine Spectator's Grand Award for one of the world's greatest wine lists since 1988. The wine selection ranges from the outrageous, such as a bottle of 1865 Lafite-Rothschild for $16,000, to the mundane, like a bottle of Mateus Rosé at $20.

The Graycliffs cigar selection is just as impressive. The hotel stocks just about every commercially available Cuban cigar as well as non-Cuban ones from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. The cigar collection numbers some 130 different types and 600 boxes. For lunch or dinner, plan on spending about $100 per person on food, wine, cigars and service.

The Garzarolis' personal service may not be for everyone, especially those people who are used to full-service international hotels. Nonetheless, with such a unique and wonderful style, the Graycliff has a growing congregation of guests who swear by the quality of this charming and tranquil establishment.

-- James Suckling

Graycliff
West Hill Street
PO Box N 10246,
Nassau, The Bahamas
Phone: (809) 322-2796
Fax: (809) 326-6110
Room Rates: $210 to $365

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