by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | December 5, 2014

Grace PanamaEarlier this month, luxury hotel company Grace Hotels hosted a swanky reception in Manhattan to showcase its Bespoke by Grace program, which allows guests truly to personalize their destination experience, whether via a one-on-one culinary class with the hotel's head chef, a photographer-led tour of the city or blending wines with a local winemaker. It was an all-round glitzy affair, with a terrific three-piece jazz band and individual mouthwatering appetizer stations manned by chefs from several Grace properties in places like Argentina, Panama and Rhode Island.

"What exactly is 'Bespoke'?" I mused aloud with a very nice gentleman standing next to me. "I mean, it's a catchy phrase, but what does it mean?" It turned out the gentleman was Paul Hanley, interim chief executive officer of Grace Hotels. "It didn't begin as a concrete strategy," he told me. "It just kind of bubbled up from hotel to hotel and became part of our identity. We didn't sit around a conference table and create it. The experiences come directly from the hotels themselves. It's all about really getting to experience the destination, even if you have just one day."

Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in NewportAt the 33-room Vanderbilt Grace in Newport, R.I., groups can set sail aboard a classic yacht on Newport Harbor or fish for lobster with local fishermen. In Panama City, they can accompany the 60-room Grace Panama's executive chef, Pedro Masoliver, to the local fish market and follow that up with a culinary class back at the hotel's kitchen. At the 30-room Mayflower Grace in Washington, Conn., which holds both a Forbes five-star rating and an AAA five-diamond status, groups can take a fly-fishing course or a guided hike along nearby nature trails. "It can be anything that's unique to the destination, and our hotel will create a customized experience around it," said Hanley.

A privately owned group of small luxury hotels, Grace, which got its start in 2007 with the opening of a boutique property in Santorini, Greece, has made some big leaps recently. I first learned of the London-headquartered company last year, when it held a small reception to announce its entry into the U.S. market with its takeover of the Vanderbilt Grace, a mansion built in 1909. The new chain quickly followed that up with the opening of its first hotel in Argentina, the 52-room Grace Cafayate, and this year with the Mayflower and Panama City properties.

There are more in the pipeline. Next year the company will add a third hotel in the U.S., the White Barn Inn & Spa in Kennebunk, Maine, which will be renamed the White Barn Grace, as well as properties in Morocco, Switzerland and, again, in Argentina. When I asked Hanley if there are other locations in the U.S. in which Grace is looking at to have a presence, he responded coyly, "Yes, but nothing I am allowed to tell you about right now." You can bet, though, they will all be offering their own very unique Bespoke experiences.