Sitting under the sub-tropical sun, toes wiggling in the white sand, freshly bronzed face tilted toward the turquoise ocean, it’s an unfathomable idea that you’re only two hours from the United States’ East Coast.
By Jillian Rinehimer
On a flight from Boston to Bermuda, you barely have enough time to enjoy a nap or get further into your book before you peek out the window to tie-dye blue waters dazzling in the sunshine. If you are lucky enough to have a window seat upon your descent, you will also get a full view of the 24 mile long, fishhook-esque island, dotted with white roofs and broken up by winding roads.
In Bermuda, the locals run on island time, slowing down the pace of life and making it the perfect getaway vacation. You’ll be able to tell from the minute you slide into your colorful taxi, the windows rolled down and the driver welcoming you with a friendly smile as he begins to meander toward your hotel, slowing down at points of interests and chatting expressively with his hands as if he was a tour guide rather than a taxi driver.
After passing the indigo inlets scattered among Bermuda’s individual islands and the clearer waters lapping the white sands tinged with coral pink particles, you’ll have the urge to drop your bags and head to the nearest beach. This is when you realize you’re in paradise.
Whether you come during the peak tourist season in the hot, humid months between May and August or to escape the North East’s brutal winters, you will certainly be entranced by Bermuda’s year round beauty. In summer, Horseshoe Bay and the South Shore beaches fill up like fashion shows with guys sporting the latest Vilebrequin trunks and girls flaunting Victoria Secret’s spring and summer lines. The winter months bring a damp breeze over the nearly empty beaches; the perfect time to absorb a form of untouched beauty. The winter months also make for idyllic golfing weather, the powerful sun gets you sweating quickly but it’s nothing compared to the heat of the August sun; making summer golf a job for the professionals.
On an island of beaches and golf courses, it’s easy to enter a routine of relaxation, however, make time to explore what the island has to offer and to appreciate the unique archipelago of Bermuda. Millions of years ago, volcanic activity created the island’s unique shape, yet it wasn’t until 1609 that the island first became inhabited by English colonists’ after a hurricane shipwrecked the Sea Venture, sailing from England to Virginia, on Bermuda’s reefs. The island has since transformed into a colorful haven of pastel houses straight out of Candy Land, offering a unique home to over 65,000 residents. The semi-tropical island has maintained it’s beauty by limiting one car per family and introducing bright wildlife that has flourished island wide. Tropical hibiscus flowers, camouflaged lizards and bright white long tails flying high against cloudless, blue skies are sure to appear no matter where you end up on your island adventures.
Apart from the island’s natural beauty, there are a vast amount of attractions that give rich insight into Bermuda’s history and local culture. It is best to start central in the capital city, Hamilton, with low buildings overlooking the Harbor and flocks of businessmen strolling around in bright Bermuda shorts. As the number one International Business Centre for offshore insurance and reinsurance, Bermuda conceals this title with offices as colorful as the homes and height regulations based off the 143 foot tower of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Front Street is lined with traditional architecture but as you make your way toward Barr’s Bay Park, you’ll notice insurance offices with a modern twist.
After admiring the change in architecture, take a break in the Park overlooking Hamilton Harbor then head back toward central Front Street, to pick up your souvenirs. If you’d prefer to immerse yourself in the culture and search for less typical souvenirs, be sure to take a stroll up to Reid Street and beyond for a glimpse of the more local shops.
Hamilton is a city that you can spend a few hours exploring, or the whole day. As part of the British Commonwealth, Bermuda offers some classic British highlights, many of which you can experience after you’ve shopped your way through town. If you’ve never visited London, a pint at one of Bermuda’s English pubs, scattered throughout Front Street, will come close to satisfying that craving. Or if you’d prefer a spot of tea, indulge in high tea at the Hamilton Princess, where they do a wonderful take on the British tradition of loose leaf tea, scones, sweets and small sandwiches. Once you’ve had your fill of the capital, you can hop on a ferry for an enjoyable twenty minute ride across the Harbor and Great Sound to Bermuda’s West End, Somerset, experiencing picturesque views of the island along the way.
The ferry drops you off in the historic H.M. Dockyard, what used to be a hub strictly for the Royal Navy, playing substantial roles in both World Wars. In 1951, the island’s most West End quickly became a tourist hotspot after the Navy closed its operations and made the previously private area, open to the public. The fortifications enclose some of the modern sites of Dolphin Quest and the National Museum of Bermuda, which offer options for both nature lovers and history buffs. One of the most unique stops is Dockyard Glassworks, the only place in Bermuda where the inside temperature is more sweltering than the outside. Seating is lined along the rows of tables and open fires where you can watch artists create stunning glasswork from sizable paperweights to delicate jewelry, along with intricate designs of fish, treefrogs and longtails. On the other end of the Glassworks shop is the Bermuda Rum Cake Factory where you can sample to your heart’s desire a variety of flavors. If you’re looking for the local favorite, stick with the traditional.
To cool off, spend time at Snorkel Park, a family attraction during the day and club come night. Kayaks, paddle boats and a range of water toys make for a playful afternoon but when the sun sets, the locals and tourists mix for a cheers over “Shark Oils,” a potent, green drink that is sure to get you in the mood for a night of dancing along to the reggae beats under the stars.
On the other side of the island lies the last piece to Bermuda’s historical puzzle. You’ll want to make an afternoon out of your visit to the island’s East End with your first stop at the original Swizzle Inn. Order a pitcher of Rum Swizzle, a sweet concoction of pineapple juice, orange juice, Grenadine, Angostura Bitters, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Gosling’s Gold Rum. Make sure you have a designated driver or have cash for a taxi because one sip of this sweet punch and you are addicted.
After lunch, cross the Causeway for a further glimpse into Bermuda’s past. Wander off the beaten path to old fortresses recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and get lost in between the alleyways in the quaint town of St. George’s. You’ll immediately notice the stockades and ducking stool, used as public punishment in the 17th and 18th centuries; used only today for a fun photo opportunity. Once you get your perfect photo, take time to visit the boutique shops hosted by traditional Bermuda cottages. One of the longstanding attractions is a tour of the Bermuda Perfumery, famous for their Lily perfume, and a variety of unique tropical scents. Spend the rest of the afternoon at Cooper’s Island, a protected nature reserve at the end of a beach chain that includes Clearwater and Turtle Bay. You can park your moped at the gates of the reserve and walk down to the serene beach, hiding from the mobs of tourists that other beaches attract.
During your island adventures you will realize how Bermuda and it’s locals still rely on older traditions. Whether it’s the hand map you’re given when you rent a moped or when you reach for your credit card at the end of a taxi ride, just to be told it’s cash only, the past ways are part of the quaint island charm. With everything that the island has to offer, you may not have enough time to explore it all during your first trip, but that just means you will have to return!
*Of course some always can’t take as much time to visit and may plan to spend only a couple days via cruise. In this case, check out the insider tips for things you simply can’t miss while visiting the island*
Where to Stay and Where to Play:
Bermuda attracts golfers, beach-goers, and those who want to do both, so make sure you book your stay at the hotel that suits your needs!
STAY: The Reefs Resort and Club received the 2013 and 2014 Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards for the number one resort in the Atlantic, Bermuda, Turks & Caicos, and the Bahamas. This luxurious location is tucked away in Southampton, popular for wedding venues and honeymoons.
STAY: The Fairmont Hamilton Princess is walking distance to downtown Hamilton with balcony rooms overlooking the Harbor, you will surely enjoy being close to all the action, including the restaurants and pools that are at your fingertips.
PLAY: Drive into Rosewood Tucker’s Point past the 18-hole golf course and any golfer’s dreams will have come true. The clubhouse is stocked for a relaxing post-golf drink and the modern hotel is equipped with infinity pools to simultaneously cool off and enjoy Bermuda’s bluest waters.
PLAY: The Newstead Belmont Hills Resort offers only suites for it’s guests, overlooking Hamilton Harbor from a different perspective. Although the Resort is not located on it’s 18-hole golf course, they offer special deals for guests, including a complimentary round and transportation for at least one guest.
PLAY AND STAY: The Fairmont Southampton Princess grounds are an ideal combination of a sprawling golf course and a removed private beach. The hotel stands tall overlooking the famous Horseshoe Bay from it’s front and the rest of the island from it’s back rooms. The elegant spa and restaurant provide two other reasons not to ever leave the grounds!
Festive Times to Visit:
Bermuda Day falls on May 24th, a time to celebrate the beginning of summer. True locals wait to take their first dip in the ocean until this day, usually after the morning parade and during the afternoon boat raft-ups.
June is the time of year for sailing. The Newport to Bermuda Sailing Race takes place in the even years and the Marion to Bermuda Race in the odd. Once the ships arrive safely to their ports, various celebrations, concerts and parties last until they depart.
The Cupmatch Holiday is probably the most anticipated time of year for Bermudians. The holiday kicks off on the last Thursday of July with the first bowl of the two-day annual cricket match between St. George’s and Somerset cricket clubs. You can attend the game this day but many choose to attend the _large_ party at Horseshoe Bay, Beachfest, and use Friday to attend the cricket game. Saturday is a day for house parties and preparing for the Non-Mariners Race on Sunday, which attracts thousands of boats to the biggest raft-up of the year in Mangrove Bay, just outside of Somerset.
The Bermuda Rugby Classic takes place in early November attracting international Rugby players and fans. Tents are set up surrounding the player’s field at the Bermuda National Stadium and the week of festivities breaks up the lack of action in the transition from summer to winter.
Recently announced, the newly anticipated event for the island has become the 35th America’s Cup that Bermuda will host in 2017. To prepare for this prestigious sailing event, Bermuda has begun major renovations to accommodate visitors who will fly in just to experience this historical moment.
*For all of these holidays, prepare your trip in advance as many markets and restaurants will be closed, but you’ll get to experience the locals light up through various parades and parties.
What’s All the Talk About?
Shining some light on Bermuda’s myths:
The sand isn’t neon pink but the fine sand is tinged pink, some beaches more than others, with bits of ground coral and red organisms that die on the ocean floor before being deposited ashore by the tides.
Bermuda Shorts are a popular style with the businessmen. The most popular colors of pink, yellow, red, blue and green shorts are worn with loafers, knee high socks and a pressed collared shirt. It’s the most traditional outfit among Bermuda men.
Moongates are scattered throughout Bermuda, often used in the setting of wedding and honeymoon pictures as walking under them brings good fortune to lovers. They can be found at the entrance to most gardens and are made from Bermuda stone.
Johnny Barnes is the famous morning greeter. He greets commuters with waves, air kisses and a heartwarming smile, starting in the early morning and ending around 10am. Mr. Barnes is so loved that a statue was commemorated yards from his routine post and a bench was donated to him as a resting spot when he reached his late 80s.