Leo Rolle has seen it all. The 69-year-old Bahamian tennis pro has spent half a century working at the One&Only Ocean Club Bahamas as the director of tennis. He has helped Richard Nixon, Joan Collins, as well as dukes, and earls with their serve. But he's discreet, he won't disclose any gossip. The Beatles filmed the movie, Help! here, Elvis and Priscilla once stayed. What were they like? He's not saying.
But Leo, who looks a fit 40, will talk fondly about when he taught founder of the luxury resort, supermarket heir and pleasure seeker, Huntington Hartford II how to master tennis back in 1967.
"He was very soft spoken, a true gentleman; wonderful to play with," he says before performing One&Only's signature gesture, right hand over heart.
Hartford bought the land on Hog Island just off Nassau, had it renamed Paradise Island, built his dream resort and chartered a Pam Am jet to fly the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burl Ives from New York for the opening extravaganza, Bal du Paradis, in 1962. Sean Connery filmed Thunderball here; he lives nearby and apparently still visits the martini bar to relive the 007 years. More recently, Daniel Craig shot Casino Royale on the grounds. Indeed, it's not just the azure seas, tropical Georgian architecture, bougainvillea and hibiscus-filled gardens and sublime service that lures holidaymakers here; the martini bar and Bond association is a big draw for visitors to the One&Only Ocean Club.
Regular guests have martinis named after them; the bartender knows exactly how they like it. On the menu is the Fleming, named after Bond author, Ian Fleming, who sat barside when Thunderball was being filmed, as well as the Vesper martini, ordered by Bond in Casino Royale.
In the grand library next to the martini bar there are framed portraits of all the luminaries who have visited over the years. Shoved towards the back on a library shelf, behind Hartford and another former owner, Merv Griffin, is a photo of Donald Trump jumping for joy in front of two palm trees; he apparently owned the hotel for just a period of months in the 1980s after Hartford squandered his fortune on unwise investments.
A One&Only resort since 2002 (best known here for their Hayman Island and Wolgan Valley resorts), the ultra-luxurious Ocean Club reopened in February this year after an extensive refurbishment. It was partly out of necessity; Hurricane Matthew has taken the roof off parts of the property.
Designer Jeffrey Beers together with HKS Architects worked on renovating the historic Hartford Wing with a colour palette derived from the natural surroundings including splashes of turquoise and teal. The suites flow out to a terrace or balcony offering views of the Atlantic. Guests can expect sheets with thread counts in the thousands, bathrooms with Bianco Dolomiti marble surfaces, rain showers, and double vanities, and a butler delivering a flute of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries at dusk.
Created by Michelin-starred New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the new expanded Dune Restaurant offers a menu of dishes that take advantage of bounty from the bay including giant spiny lobster, grouper with plantains, and on the breakfast menu, tradition Bahamian boiled fish with johnnycakes and grits. Resort executive chef Sebastian Agnes can serve specialties in-room, at the pool bar, or even a three-course dinner on the beach under the stars, which includes a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and an American Idol-worthy performance of a Stevie Wonder song by the waiter.
Mornings are filled with sunrise yoga on the deck overlooking the sea before a Swedish massage in one of the eight Balinese-style treatment rooms at One&Only Spa. After lunch you might want to utilise one of the resort's bicycles to check out the Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course. Venturing out, the hotel can organise a private yacht trip with a beachside lunch catered by a personal butler or a cultural tour through Nassau to learn of the famed Bahamian Junkanoo festival at the Junkanoo Expo Museum as well as a visit to a rum distillery and the art museum.
But the real star is the ocean. There's something about the spell of the sea; here holidaymakers cling to the coast in great numbers. The clear blue hues rival those in Tahiti. Two hundred metres up the beach at the giant Atlantis resort (it predates, and looks very similar to the Dubai version) umbrellas are hoisted rim to rim, and deckchairs butted against each other, but outside the One&Only there are just a smattering. We have the luxury of choosing to lie on the silicone sand or sit on a deckchair with sunscreen, an umbrella and buckets of bottled water at hand. A guest might follow a salty plunge with a dip in the new beachside infinity pool where pool butlers offer bunches of frozen grapes, cool towels and lemonade as a cooling salve.
Steps away from the simplicity of the seashore, the extravagant Hartford assembled a new world of ceremony. One of three pools at the resort, the adults-only Versailles pool offering the perfect vista of the tiered garden influenced by the grounds of the French palace. At the apex of the gardens stands a 12th-century Augustinian cloister, bought from William Randolph Hearst. The Cloisters provide the perfect backdrop for brides and grooms, some successful marriages (Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber) and not so successful (Chris Evert and Greg Norman) happened here. Peering through the shrubs is a giant statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt and looking him in the eye, across the garden is David Livingstone, both heroes to Hartford.
With this array of natural and built beauty, the Ocean Club is the sort of property that may well outshine any other beach resorts in the world. It's extravagant, but also a hideaway. The jet set are still here, the same sort of people you might have seen in society photographer Slim Aarons' frames 50 years ago. These days it might be Jerry Seinfeld, Beyonce or Daniel Craig on the sun lounge, sipping a vesper, before enjoying a spot of tennis. They know that the man who knows all, Mr Rolle, will never serve up any dirt on them.
The Bahamian dollar is equal to the US dollar and both are widely accepted.
The average temperature from March to August (spring/summer) is 25C; while the average temperature in September to February (autumn/winter) is 23C.
Rooms at One&Only Ocean Club Bahamas start at $US689 per night for a minimum two-night stay. Check website for package specials.
Qantas fly to Nassau via Los Angeles and Miami with codeshare partners American Airlines. Regular flights leave from Miami daily and take one hour. qantas.com aa.com Andrea Black stayed as a guest of One&Only Resorts.