For those who appreciate the finer things in life, there are many indulgences. Be it an affinity for high quality cigars, food, wine, chocolate, cheese, or other libations, the combination of the nose and palate work in tandem to create sensory experiences for those who desire only the finest and most stimulating things in life...and Graycliff has them all.
Upon landing in Nassau, Bahamas, I proceeded directly to the hotel, which is situated in Nassau’s historic downtown area. The building itself is an 18th century mansion with a foundation that dates back to the 17th century. Upon arriving, the front was deceiving as it hid a large a footprint that includes the Caribbean’s first 5 star restaurant, the world’s third largest wine cellar, 20 guest rooms, a cigar factory, chocolate factory, beer garden, and two elegant swimming pools. I was greeted by a friendly bellman who referred to me (and all other overnight visitors) as house guests, a term they would use throughout my stay, which gave a very personable feeling and was matched with a level of service that lived up to the name. Immediately upon entering the mansion, a true sensory experience began that would last for three days. Beginning with the foliar decorations all the way to my room, it was as if I was stepping back in time with oil paintings adorning the walls, rustic hardwood floors throughout, and antiques everywhere I looked. Such furnishings were not just limited to the main house, but also in the rooms (which are assigned names in place of numbers), which had generous antique placements and captivating artwork. In fact, I believe my bed frame was at least a century old and hand carved by the finest artisans.
To tell the entire history of Graycliff itself and the equally impressive history of the current owners would most likely consume every page in this book, and I am compelled to go into greater detail of both in future issues, but for the purposes of today, a mere snapshot of the location and my experience should more than whet your appetite. The hotel and grounds were designed, built, and decorated with the most discerning client in mind. While the restaurant serves the Caribbean’s finest 5 star cuisine, it is complemented by a 250,000 bottle wine cellar (third largest in the world) and an equally impressive spirits menu, which boasts the oldest bottle of wine (1727), single malt (1937), Armagnac (1868), and Cognac (1788). A stroll out the back door of the restaurant will lead you through beautiful gardens and past the pool area, which is finished with hand painted tiles by Sergio Furnari until reaching the back of the property, which houses several other boutique eateries as well as the chocolate and cigar factory.
The current owners, the Garzarolis, are a prominent family who immigrated to Nassau from Italy and have an impressive pedigree in the food, wine, and hospitality industries. The patriarch, Enrico, was one of the first people to import wine from South America into the U.S. in the 1980s and was key contributor to the success of today’s Napa Valley wine industry. Additionally, for many years he personally oversaw the importation and allocations of fine foods and spirits in Cuba. In spending time with the family, it was clear to me that their passion for “taste” remains their primary motivator for any guests to Graycliff. This was evident during my visits to the wine cellar, chocolate factory, and cigar factory. While I appreciate fine wine, cheeses, chocolate, and food, cigars are “my thing,” so I tended to spend most of my time in the factory.
The cigar operation was boutique and impressive, representing a microcosm of the larger factories I visit but with a type of TLC that is uncommon in the cigar industry. Tobaccos are fermented and aged in smaller pilones and all materials are of the highest grade and selection from the world’s best tobacco growers. Most interesting to me was a rare Cuban seed wrapper the family grows themselves in Costa Rica. The farm is one of Costa Rica’s highest altitude plantations, frequently operating above the clouds, and was formerly a coffee plantation which has yielded an excellent tobacco. For you Graycliff fans, this is where the Chateau and Espresso line wrappers are grown. All cigars are rolled in the Cuban fashion where one person prepares the bunches and passes the wrappers instead of rollers working in teams. To ensure that tradition is maintained, each roller is interviewed and selected by the Garzaroli family and brought to the Bahamas from Cuba, where they worked as #9 rated master rollers. The entire production process was put into place by none other than legendary cigar maker Avelino Lara, the supervisor of Cuba’s famed El Laguito factory and home to the Cuban Davidoff of the 1980s and today’s Cohiba. Avelino worked with the Garzaroli Family for over a decade before his passing several years ago.
What I found most compelling about the cigars themselves, aside from the aforementioned details, are the blends. The lines are not just crafted for cigar lovers, but for true connoisseurs of taste in general. Each leaf is carefully placed in the bunch to give it specific aromatic qualities and palate stimulation, creating a concoction that a non-cigar smoking wine or culinary aficionado can appreciate for the aspects of balance, flavor, and body alone. It is as if they were blended with the sommelier in mind. While on the property enjoying a fine meal, if their regular offerings do not provide the “perfect cigar” to pair with your food and wine selections, one can literally be crafted for you on the spot. Specifically, each night a roller is stationed at a table in the restaurant, ready to roll a blend customized to your meal or specific tastes… a true 5 star cigar experience to complement a 5 star dining experience.
For those who demand only the best of everything, Graycliff is a mandatory bucket list stop. So how much does it all cost? There is no easy answer. The rooms themselves range from $350 to $850 per night, but the whole experience seems to have no budgetary limits, so I guess it all depends on just how much of a good thing you are looking for. A single ounce of “Clos di Giffer” will run you $7,000, and for the patron that wants the only bottle of “Rudersheimer Apostel Wein” (recovered from a centuries old shipwreck), be prepared to shell out $250,000 large. For those of us that reside in the real world, there are plenty of modestly priced wines and spirits on the menu which can accompany an excellent meal for not much more than what you would expect to spend at a fine steak house in the U.S. That said, Graycliff offers an extensive list of optional experiences including wine tastings, food tastings, cooking classes, and cigar rolling classes, all of which can be customized with a stay at the hotel for a package price. For this author, all I can say is that while on the premises, “life never tasted so good.”