Take An Island Break, Bermuda-Style

Oct 1, 2015
2015 / September 2015

The tiny island of Bermuda boasts big contrasts. Bankers, lawyers and insurance executives walk the streets in traditional blazers and ties, wearing the famous Bermuda shorts as they head to international business meetings. Along the way, they pass sleek yachts from around the world, sport-fishing boats and tourists in skimpy attire headed to the pink-sand beaches and the beach bars that sell traditional drinks based on the island’s legendary rum, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (try a Dark ’n’ Stormy). There’s even a drink named for the infamous Bermuda Triangle, but you won’t disappear if you have just one. In the British tradition, business takes a break for afternoon tea time. It all adds up to a perfect island for the harried business traveler to kick back and relax.

Formed by several volcanoes that erupted in the mid-Atlantic, this subtropical island of some 50 miles end to end isn’t a Caribbean island, as many think. Actually it lies many hundreds of miles from its closest neighbor in the Bahamas, some 650 miles east of the North Carolina coast — and only a two-hour flight from several U.S. East Coast cities. All of Bermuda fits in 21 square miles, comprising 181 islands and 75 miles of dramatic coastline, including seven golf courses. Fewer than 10 of the islands are inhabited.

Kicking back in Bermuda can be as luxurious as a suite at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club with a gourmet dinner served on your private terrace as the sun sets over the Atlantic, or as casual as a local guest house where you can pick up some fresh fish dockside and cook your own dinner after a day on the pink Bermuda sands. You can tour the island in a private luxury car with driver or rent a scooter, grab a map and learn to drive on the left, British-style. Regardless of your personal style or budget, the islands’ history, culture, pink-sand beaches, gin-clear waters, marine life and sunsets all cost the same — nothing. Plus, as only the British could put it, “In Bermuda, we go for proper fun.”

What was once the largest British naval base outside the United Kingdom, the Royal Naval Dockyard, or “Dockyard” as the locals call it, transformed to a major historical, cultural and entertainment destination on Bermuda. Geography played a critical role as the British sought a naval base in the Atlantic to serve their Caribbean interests between Halifax and the West Indies. They wanted to keep an eye on the newly minted America, too, after losing the American War of Independence in 1783. Bermuda was their only choice. The base remained active until 1951.

Bermuda Maritime Museum, Royal Naval Dockyard

Bermuda Maritime Museum, Royal Naval Dockyard © Roman Stetsyk | Dreamstime.com

The Dockyard lies at the west end of the island, as far from St. George’s as you can get. Start exploring at the National Museum of Bermuda, where you’ll see 500 years of history housed in the largest fort on the island. Here you’ll find restored British military buildings, the Commissioner’s House, tours of Shipwreck Island’s Spanish gold and artifacts, and a museum playground for the kids. On certain days, visitors can enjoy a historical re-enactment of life at the fort.

Due to the proximity of the cruise ship docks, the Dockyard offers much more to see than history. Dine at almost a dozen cafés and restaurants featuring everything from brew pubs, beach bars, ice cream parlors and burger grills to sunset seafood dinners and a pub called The Frog & Onion. Visitors can shop ’til they drop at more than 25 shops in the Clocktower Mall, which offers everything from sports clothing to native crafts and jewelry, fine arts and special Bermuda-themed gifts, along with the Dockyard Pharmacy. Many are one-of-a-kind local boutiques and offer custom clothing.

Sports activities centered on the Dockyard near the ocean side of the docks feature golf, dancing at a beachside club, dolphin trips, snorkeling and scuba, reef adventures and cycle and seaway rentals. Visitors usually dedicate a full day to take it all in. Local guides often recommend even more.

In 2017, the oldest trophy in international sports comes to Bermuda: America’s Cup, dating from 1851. Racing begins in October this year with the World Series race. The teams will be based in the Dockyard area with special events and race displays. The defending champion, ORACLE TEAM USA, will be on hand for both races. The America’s Cup website details all the events, times and places.

No visit to the island is complete without a day in St. George’s at the far eastern end. It’s like visiting another island, which it actually is. Established in 1612, the UNESCO World Heritage site shines as the crown jewel of Bermuda’s history. Take a walk back in time on the narrow cobblestone streets, which remain much as they were centuries ago. Begin your tour on King’s Square, the heart of town. You’ll be treated to some re-enactments in full costume.

Replica of the historical ship Deliverance in St. George's

Replica of the historical ship Deliverance in St. George’s © Verena Matthew | Dreamstime.com

Find the best views across a short bridge to the small island that’s home to a full-scale replica of the Deliverance, which carried English settlers (those who survived after their ship hit the rocks of Bermuda) on to Jamestown, Va. Take a short walk to the Bermuda National Trust Museum, which U.S. visitors find especially interesting, as it explains the role of Bermuda during the American Civil War. The island served as a staging port for Confederate shipments to England.

If you brought your swimsuit, Fort St. Catherine offers more than a military exhibit. Next to the fort stretches a gem of a beach for swimming and snorkeling — one of the best on this island. For more active water sports, seek out one of the local outfitters of Jet Skis, Boston Whaler or pontoon boats, kayaks, paddleboards or fishing charters and cruise the clear, smooth, turquoise waters protected by the many reefs that brought down tens of ocean-going vessels.

If you enjoy scuba, more than 40 wrecks are mapped around the reefs. Check with your dive shop, as all wrecks are not open all the time. Most lie in shallow water supporting a plethora of sea life — perfect for snorkelers or amateur divers. Tobacco Bay National Park lies on a sheltered bay, a great spot to spend some beach time, and offers a lively beach bar, café and island barbecue. Try a frozen Dark ’n’ Stormy cocktail to cool down.

Shopping on St. George’s is part of the experience, and you’ll find shops unique in the entire island. Traditional Bermuda-made goods are the attraction at Bermuda Memories and come with a taste of an island favorite, Bermuda rum cake. David Rose shows fine jewelry along with a spectacular view of the harbor. The Bermuda Perfumery makes its own, and you can stop in for a perfume-making class on some days. Or if you’re heading back to the water, Just Add Water can outfit you with everything you’ll need from sunglasses, underwater cameras and beach clothing to masks and snorkels, all with a Bermuda twist.

Dark ’n’ Stormy rum cocktail

Dark ’n’ Stormy rum cocktail © Sanne Berg | Dreamstime.com

If all the walking, shopping and salt air stimulate your appetite, St. George’s offers many dining options. Choose from Wong’s Chinese take-out to the more formal St. George’s Club high on a hill, or watch a perfect sunset at The Beach House and try some sophisticated Mediterranean fare paired with an extensive wine list. In King’s Square, explore the quick, simple and tasty island specials at Go Jo’s Coffee Shop and the best carrot cake you’ll ever taste. Catching up on your sports scores? Soccer and Friends Sports Bar awaits in King’s Square. Other dining choices include the Tempest Bistro, Tavern by the Sea and the White Horse Pub. You’ll return to your hotel full and refreshed.

Kicking back in Bermuda is a great choice for proper fun, but don’t take that as uppity or uptight. It’s island time all day and night. Enjoy your Dark ’n’ Stormy whenever and wherever you like: beach bar, waterfront club or elegant hotel lobby. Just don’t forget your (Bermuda) shorts.

Bermuda Info to Go

Most major U.S. airlines fly from their East Coast hubs to Bermuda’s L.F. Wade International Airport (BDA) in St. George’s. From Europe, you can book service on British Airways direct from London (LGW).

Where to Stay in Bermuda

Fairmont Southampton Hotel On the pink-sand beaches of the south shore, The Fairmont offers 100 acres of palms and bougainvillea and its own golf course. Enjoy spectacular luxury beachside dining at its Ocean Club. 101 South Shore Road, Southampton Parish $$$$$

Hamilton Princess & Beach Club If you love to be in the middle of the action, the Hamilton Princess (managed by Fairmont) is the place. Walk to museums, restaurants and pubs on the picturesque harbor. 76 Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke, Hamilton $$$$$

Elbow Beach Resort A unique hideaway on the southern shoreline on 50 acres of gardens, Elbow Beach features 98 private cottage-style rooms and suites and four dining options overlooking the beach and a full-service spa. 60 South Shore Road, Paget Parish $$$$

Restaurants in Bermuda

1609 Restaurant Share this open-air space with yacht owners as you watch the sunset. The menu is high on seafood with first-rate service. Known for local island cocktails, the restaurant sits over the docks. Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, 76 Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke, Hamilton $$$

The St. George’s Club The cottage colony property overlooking St. George’s offers two dining options: Griffin’s Bistro, with its outstanding wine list and excellent service, and The Beach House, a good beach bar just below the club. 6 Rose Hill, St. George’s $$$

Hammerheads Bar and Grill Relax at the indoor-outdoor bar, catch a sunset and enjoy excellent local and American food. When the sun goes down, the nightlife heats up as Club Aqua opens for dancing. 7 Maritime Lane, The Dockyard $$

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