Caribbean / Mexico

Bermuda: You just may return again and again …

Sun on the beach | Photo credit: Flickr user Cait_Stewart

Bermuda is a 21-square-mile fish hook–shaped archipelago where British, American, and Caribbean influences fuse to create a unique culture, and given that it is situated about 1000 km off the coast of North Carolina, this elegant British Territory has been a popular destination of American, Canadian and British tourists for decades.

Juan de Bermudez discovered these uninhabited islands in 1503, but neither he nor the Spanish explorers who were to follow him saw fit to claim the islands for their king and queen. The Brits, however, arrived shortly thereafter in 1609. The Sea Venture, an English ship traveling to assist the beleaguered Jamestown, VA colonists crashed offshore. The English had a distinctly different take on the place than their Spanish counterparts. While rebuilding the Sea Venture, George Somers claimed Bermuda for England and a charter was subsequently granted a few years later. (You can view a replica of the Sea Venture on Ordnance Island).

Pink-sand beaches and Bermuda are nearly synonymous; the coral-tinged strands provide pastel contrasts between shore and sea. The larger beaches are pleasantly bustling on summer days, but it’s still possible to find an isolated stretch of sand to yourself. If you’re into long walks, Bermuda’s South Shore Park connects two of the island’s best-known beaches, Horseshoe Bay and Warwick Long Bay.

There’s no visible poverty here – Bermudians enjoy very comfortable incomes. Houses are picture-perfect, with sherbet facades and white limestone roofs. Wild bougainvillea, hibiscus, oleander and morning glory perfume the air. The beaches are gorgeous, from intimate coves to long swaths of pink sand. And the wide variety of hotels and eateries suits tastes from the simple to the sublime.

Bermudians happily retain elements from their past, exemplified in their cottage colonies, quaint chintz furniture, and hint of a British accent. Almost 140 isles comprise the chain, but the prime attractions –its famous pink beaches, golf courses, and the bustling capital of Hamilton – are on the three largest isles: Main Island; St. George’s Island and Somerset Island. Nine parishes make up Bermuda; most noteworthy are St. George’s, where the British first settled; Pembroke, site of busy Hamilton; and Southampton, where you’ll find the best beaches.

Hamilton is the centre of Bermuda’s economic, political, and social life. Because of its myriad dining, nightlife, shopping, and lodging options, as well as a seaport that attracts a number of cruise ships, it’s the liveliest spot on Bermuda. Parallel to the harbour, Front and Reid streets are the tourism hubs of the city. No doubt, at sometime during your trip, you will find your way here to dine, shop or just watch the activities in and around the harbour …

St. George or St. George’s (You can decide how you want to spell the name!) – named after the patron saint of England – was the site of much of Bermuda’s tumultuous history, from its days as a stop on the transatlantic slave route to its role in the American Civil War. You can board the Deliverance, a docked replica of the 1609 schooner built by the first English settlers; go further back in time by wandering the narrow cobblestone streets to the Tucker House Museum, and then visit the Bermuda National Trust Museum at the 17th-century Globe Hotel (which is one of the Bermuda’s oldest stone buildings).

Colourful cottages in St Georges | Photo credit: Flickr user D B King

In the west, on the tip of Bermuda’s fish hook, you will want to visit the Royal Naval Dockyard; an immense fortress that was a major Atlantic outpost for the British Navy from its founding in 1809. Within the Keep, or the interior of the fortress, is the Bermuda Maritime Museum.

Southampton is where you will find Bermuda’s most famous beaches, including pink-sand Horseshoe Bay. During the summer, Horseshoe Bay can get crowded, but there are plenty of lesser-known and equally good beaches just steps from its craggy coves. The East Whale Bay has far more available sand space. Elbow Beach, in Paget Parish, is a serene expanse of sand and sea. Farther north, the tiny, mostly uninhabited islands collectively known as Castle Roads, in St. George’s Castle Harbour, have excellent snorkelling, thanks to the 18th-century shipwrecks offshore.

Bermuda is meant to be enjoyed out of doors, during good weather, and that can be counted on only part of the year. The passing Gulf Stream keeps summertime temperatures in the 80’s. In winter the average temperature is only in the 60’s. Consequently, the primary tourism season is from March until the end of October, though locals advise that consistently good weather doesn’t start until May.

Wintertime activities are scarce compared to summer. Hotel rates, of course, are less expensive in winter because there are fewer visitors.

Before or after you have explored the islands’ historical treasure, you will probably want to golf. Bermuda has the world’s highest concentration of golf courses per square mile. Catering to every golfer’s fancy, each course provides a different experience and scenic locale. There are three public courses and six private courses (that grant access to non-members on a restricted basis).

And you must try scuba diving. Much like the East Coast of the United States, the waters around the island are filled with shipwrecks. First there was the Sea Venture, but even as late as the 1940s, ships were being lost in off the islands coasts. The largest of the wrecks is that of the Cristobal Colon, which met its demise in 1936. The luxury liner had no passengers, but was carrying a crew of more than 100 – all of whom managed to make their way to land. For those considering exploring the wrecks, ask at the hotel or visitor’s centre: There are numerous licensed divers who will lead you on a tour of the most popular sites. Scuba diving lessons and equipment are readily available.

And if you are brave enough to attempt scuba diving for the first time, then you will want to rent a scooter and tour the island. Scooters here are a popular mode of transportation. It’s not uncommon to see a business suit-clad woman park her moped, pull off her helmet, grab a brief case and head for the office.

Bermuda is known as a smart shop for those seeking imported European goods, particularly watches, perfume and hand-painted china. In Hamilton you will want to stop in at Trimingham’s – the island’s first department store. Another favourite shop-stop is the Irish Linen Shop.

Thirty or so years ago, Bermuda was the “exotic island of pink sand and beautiful beaches” and a destination especially popular for honeymooning. These days one hears considerably less about Bermuda, which is a pity: the beaches are still pristine, golf courses abound, shopping remains wonderful and banking executives still head to the office clad in shirt, necktie and short pants.

So if you are not in the mood for the bright lights and dazzle of Las Vegas, and you’ve been to Europe and “done that”, and you want to just get away for a week of relaxation, a bit of sun and surf and fine dining (and of course some golf!) then consider Bermuda – you just may return again and again …

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