Savvy event strategists looking for a thoroughly British destination without the headaches of transatlantic travel will find a charming bit of Blighty a mere 650 miles off the Carolina coast on the quaint, picturesque island chain of Bermuda.
Due to alphabetical confusion, most of us know less about Bermuda than we think we do. For instance, it is not part of the Caribbean; that’s the Bahamas, mon. Nor is it where Hemingway liked to sink a hook and toss back a few; that’s Bimini. However, Bermuda is the B island with two notable word associations: shorts (yes, they do wear them proudly) and triangle (poppycock, most locals agree).
What struck me most on my first jolly cab ride from L.F. Wade International Airport (BDA) into downtown Hamilton was just how unexpected this 21-square-mile island chain appears at first blush. In terrain, this hilly, verdant British territory looks for all the world like it broke off the southern tip of the motherland and drifted west, so remarkably different is it from either the Carolina coast or the northernmost jewels in the Caribbean necklace.
Where most tropical ports of call weave their island spell with palm-topped Tiki bars and open-air markets, Bermuda presents the cruise ship crowds that disembark at Hamilton with a sunny, dignified world banking center whose vibe skews more to urban happy hour than “life’s a beach.” The majestic homes and manicured grounds that overlook the inner harbor suggest that this is one island that politely indulges, rather than depends, upon the generosity of floating strangers.
Bermuda is so darn bedazzling that it has even spawned its own descriptive: “Bermudaful!”
Here are a few places to go and things to know should Bermuda figure into your travel plans.
Heads up, sailors: The world’s best sport sailors will converge on Bermuda next June for the 35th America’s Cup. Despite the island’s rich maritime history (it was founded in 1612 by British shipwreck survivors, after all), it will be the first time Bermuda has hosted the world series of sailing.
What’s up with those rooftops? Bermuda’s signature stepped limestone roofs are far more than a lovely decorative touch. Lacking fresh water sources on the islands, the Bermuda government requires that every home collect 80 percent of its rain water and funnel it into an underground cistern (palm leaves are often added to purify it for tap use). Added plus: the rock-solid hip roofs tend to keep their lids on during hurricanes.
Front Street and Reid Street: Hamilton shopping runs the gamut. Front Street, near the docks, features dozens of trinket warrens selling T-shirts, jewelry, fragrances, Cuban cigars and, of course, rum. Uphill on Reid Street, you’ll find more sophisticated shops specializing in European designer fashions – Italian silks, Scottish tweeds, and collections by Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci and La Perla.
Portofino et al: Bermuda’s first Italian restaurant and a fixture for more than 30 years, Portofino epitomizes the gracious service and famiglia atmosphere that gives true trattorias their appeal worldwide. That said, Hamilton is awash in primo pasta and pizza options, including La Trattoria and The Little Venice.
Say yes to Dr. No: The lovely Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on the inner harbor, aka “the Pink Palace” and well worth a stay or a day of exploring in itself, once played an intriguing role in world history. During World War Two, the British government converted its basement into what became known as “Room 99,” an intelligence center where 1,200 censors intercepted and analyzed all mail, radio and telegraph communications bound for Europe, the U.S. or the Far East. One of those British wartime intelligence officers, Ian Fleming, would feature the hotel’s fish tank-lined Gazebo Bar in his James Bond novel, “Dr. No.”
Take the bus. Really: Know this: outside of its parks and the town centers of Hamilton, Somerset, Tucker’s Town and St. George, Bermuda is no place to explore on foot. The narrow streets, frequently hemmed in by the foundations of the houses above, resemble nothing more than concrete toboggan runs with numerous, treacherous blind curves. Try to stroll one of these traffic chutes and you’ll soon have a close encounter of the worst kind with a Morris Minor, or worse, a Westerner trying to conquer the British right-hand drive. Fortunately, bus service is prompt, frequent and safe.
Ferry to Southhampton: My favorite way to escape downtown is by ferry, and my favorite ferry destination is Southhampton, the country club-ish southern hook of the island, just 20 minutes away. Here you’ll find the expansive Fairmont Southhampton, which features a brochure-ful of island amenities, including 10 restaurants, golf, tennis, watersports, spa, reef and shipwreck diving – and of course, those fabulous pink sand beaches with miles of sunsets. There’s only one word for it: Bermudaful!