Seeking the Sun: Bahamas Bound

Bahamas--HR-Graycliff-Front-Patio-toolightFPOBehind coral-coloured surrounding walls atop Nassau’s West Hill Street sits Graycliff, an 18th-century estate, now a 20-room hotel and five-star restaurant. Surrounded by verdant tropical foliage, the property is tranquil, tucked away from the busy Bahamian capital.

Inside the Colonial Georgian is old-world opulence with dark-stained wood, chintz, antiques and plush upholstery. Its first floor is dedicated to dining, with seating wrapped around the main house and a formal private dining room where our host Manon Leblanc, marketing director for Air Canada Vacations, has us booked for the evening of our visit. She assures us, “You’re in for a treat.”

Off the foyer guests can take pre- or post-dinner drinks in the Spooning Gallery – the Cognateque selection shouldn’t be missed by cognac lovers. The salon is replete with art-filled walls, comfy chairs and couches and a grand piano – played with an accompanying singer on most nights.

Out the back of the main house, intimate tiered gardens lead to two pools, one inspired by the art deco era. Along the gardens’ path, carved-wood lions pose – current owner Italian-born Enrico Garzaroli wants to install sensors to surprise passing visitors with a roar. He’s a spirited proprietor but not the property’s first. Like the country itself, the estate has changed hands and personas more than a few times, starting with pirate-turned-aristocrat John Howard Graysmith. In 1718, he built Graycliff after taking the Brits up on their offer of royal pardon for resident swashbucklers who ceased their lawless ways. From pirate’s retirement retreat, it has been everything from an American garrison – bars remain on the wine cellar’s windows – to a prohibition-relief watering hole run by Al Capone’s girlfriend and back to a private residence – it was former owners from Quebec, who installed the main pool in 1957.

An independent Commonwealth realm since 1973, the Bahamas was known as the Pirates’ Republic until Britain cleaned house. With 700 islands and inlets and 2,400 cays (small sandy islands formed on the surface of a coral reef), it was and remains a natural hideout – though these days more for the famous rather than infamous, including part-time resident and box office buccaneer Johnny Depp.

Hosting dignitaries and celebrities is nothing new for Graycliff. The place has pedigree in spades. Its Pool Cottage has accommodated Sir Winston Churchill, and the British Bulldog isn’t the only guestbook notable. The Windsor Room is named for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who resided at Graycliff for a year after the former king’s abdication and during his post as governor of Bahamas (1940-1945). Other somebodies include Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman and our own star head-of-state Pierre Trudeau. The restaurant remains a hot spot. During a rousing dinner party he hosted years back, Garzaroli claims to have sensed more than friendship between yet-to-be super couple Beyoncé and Jay Z. Hideout, indeed. www.graycliff. com

Air Canada Vacations offers flight-and-stay packages including for Graycliff. Go to vaca tions.aircanada.com or call 1-866-529-2079.

NEXT: IF YOU GO

What to do

Nassau’s harbour was dredged in 1969 for cruise ships, and now 70 per cent of visitors arrive via gangplank. Here, ways to wile away time at port.

For the epicurious

Book a three-hour tasting and walking tour with Tru Bahamian Food Tours through Old Historic Nassau. trubahamianfoodtours.com

For the spirited

Try one or all three rum flavours at John Watling’s Distillery. Canadian Peoin Argamasilla opened it in 2013 and runs daily tours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Fridays till 9 p.m.). www.johnwatlings.com

For the multigens

A day at Atlantis Paradise Island, with the world’s largest open-air marine habitat (including Dolphin Cay dolphin and sea lion sanctuary) and a 141-acre waterpark (with some zero-entry access waterscapes), is perfect for the kids or the kid in all of us. www.atlantis.com

For the players

Atlantis also features a 60,000-square-foot casino, the Caribbean’s largest until the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel opens down the shore this December with its own 100,000-square-foot casino. www.bahamar.com