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Discover Bermuda: The Paradise Next Door
I really get around (travel-wise, that is) and when I talk to other well-traveled writers and friends I am always amazed how many of them have overlooked one of the world’s prettiest places: delightful, 21-square-mile Bermuda. Not only is it among the easiest-access islands for Americans (it’s in the Atlantic, 650 miles off Cape Hatteras and under two hours by air from the East Coast), but its teal blue water, botanical bounty, and pastel-hued charm make you feel as if you’ve been transported to an entirely different continent. I place it in the realm of Capri, Madeira, or Mallorca – sunny, manicured islands rich in natural beauty and full of surprises around every corner.
I didn’t discover Bermuda myself until four years ago, and a recent visit reaffirmed that the world’s oldest British colony, where the U.S. dollar is readily accepted, is a terrific destination for couples looking for a subtropical getaway involving golf, tennis, biking, spas, fine dining, or even historic touring. Here are my picks for 10 ways to enjoy Bermuda, plus three top resort options (if you can swing a last-minute getaway, hotel rates throughout March are a great value).
10 Ways to Enjoy Bermuda
1. Go Beach Hopping: Most of Bermuda’s resorts have beaches, many with a soft-pink hue (caused by the shells of microscopic coral-dwelling foraminifera mixed with sand), but to truly appreciate the island’s photogenic landscape you should explore a few on your own. The best stretch is on the south shore in Warwick and Southampton parishes (shown above at left). The most famous beach is Horseshoe Bay Beach, a sweeping crescent with cool cliffs and caves at one end and walking trails that lead to pretty coves, such as Port Royal Cove, and other smaller beaches like Chaplin Bay Beach. Church Bay Beach to the west is ideal for snorkeling, while Warwick Long Bay Beach is another stunner, from which you can walk to swimmable Jobsons Cove.
2. Take a Cave Tour: Caves may not sound all that romantic, but you’ll be sorry if you miss a descent down 180 steps into the magnificent Crystal Cave (shown at left). As you meander along pontoon walkways floating atop a Windex-blue lake in this underground cavern “dripping” with thousands of million-year-old crystalline stalactites, you’ll appreciate how Bermuda’s beauty is more than skin deep. Admission, $20 per person.
3. Try Golf Lessons or a Tournament: With seven courses, Bermuda is ideal for couples that love to play – or want to learn. The Port Royal Golf Course, home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, has a Golf Academy offering lessons daily (from $120 for an hour to $240, plus 9-hole greens fee, for a playing lesson) as well as Visitor Tournaments on select Mondays. The adjacent Pompano Beach Club also hosts two annual mixed-format couples tournaments (this year, March 3-9 and November 5-11), with packages featuring six-nights’ accommodation, daily breakfast and dinner, and greens fees, from $1,410 per person.
4. Say “Ahhhh” at a Spa: There’s no better way to unwind together than with a couples treatment. Three top spas offer variations: Book the Couples Suite at La Serenity Spa at The Reefs Resort to enjoy any offered massage (from aromatherapy to warm bamboo) in tandem or truly relax with the Time For Two: an Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow scrub, a 60-minute Relaxation Massage, a Spa Lunch, and a Classic Pedicure, $299 per person. Another blissful sanctuary is the Spa at Tucker’s Point, located in Rosewood Tucker’s Point, where in a couples room you can indulge in the skin-smoothing Beekeeper No. 5 Honey & Cane Sugar Scrub followed by a soothing Back, Neck & Shoulders Massage, $170 per person, before relaxing in the idyllic spa pool area (shown at right). Two of the six newly refreshed treatment rooms at the Spa at Elbow Beach are for couples and feature a soaking tub for two, a daybed, and a private balcony with ocean views. Again, couples massages run the gamut, but you can also splurge on the three-hour Rum Swizzle Ritual using fruity cocktail ingredients (lemon, lime, orange, pineapple, and grapefruit juices) in a body exfoliation, bath (while you sip a Swizzle), and massage, $480 per person. Yum!
5. Get Swizzled: Speaking of Rum Swizzles, try one (it won’t be your last) at The Swizzle Inn in Bailey’s Bay, where one of Bermuda’s national drinks (the other is the Dark ‘n Stormy and both involve a generous pour of local Gosling’s Black Seal Rum) originated in 1932. Request a table in the back room, where generations of Swizzle fans have tacked their business cards to the ceilings and walls after downing delicious shakers (which you get to keep) of this sweet-yet-potent libation. The Inn’s motto: “Swizzle in and swagger out!”
6. Follow the Town Crier: It may seem a quaint throwback, but both of Bermuda’s cities, Hamilton and St. George’s, employ a town crier, a distinctively uniformed liaison to the mayor who is the public face of local government for visitors. In Hamilton, you can take a walking tour with the larger-than-life (he’s 6’5”) and exceedingly personable Ed Christopher (shown at right, Monday and Wednesday from April to September, $5, meet at City Hall at 10:30am), while in UNESCO World Heritage Site St. George’s, your guide is the seriously hammy David Frith, and if you time your visit right, you can enjoy an over-the-top “ducking” (aka dunking) of the town’s “gossip and nag” into the harbor.
7. Take Salsa Lessons: Yes, I am still talking about staid Bermuda, but if you want to shake things up a bit, head to RumBar (on the lower level of Victoria Grill) for SalsaMania Fridays (8:30pm to midnight), where you can show off your own moves or ask the sexy and fit regulars to show you a thing or two.
8. Enjoy Pub Grub & High Tea: As a British overseas territory, Bermuda has its share of pubs, each offering its own take on traditional fare such as fish-and-chips, fried onion rings, and the local favorite, Bermudian fish chowder. As mentioned, The Swizzle Inn doesn’t disappoint, but you can also duck into the Hog Penny Pub (dating to 1957 and reconstructed from old Watney’s pubs in England) in downtown Hamilton or the Frog and Onion Pub (opened in 1992) out at the Royal Naval Dockyard. For something sweeter and more sophisticated, try afternoon tea (a Brit tradition dating back to the early 1800s) at the Heritage Court in The Fairmont Hamilton Princess, where a selection of scones, breads, pastries, and finger sandwiches is accompanied by your choice of 14 teas, $34 per person.
9. Bike the Railway Trail: You can rent scooters on Bermuda (but left-side driving and curvy roads make it a bit treacherous). Instead, enjoy the gorgeous landscape on a bike ride along sections of the 18-mile Railway Trail. Formerly the route of Bermuda’s early 20th-century rail line that stretched from one end of the island to the other, it’s now paved in sections and dirt in others. Rent your bikes from Eve Cycles Ltd, which has shops in both Paget and the Royal Naval Dockyard, for $25/day.
10. Wine & Dine: What is a romantic getaway without decadent dining? Here are four great options: Lido at Elbow Beach, where chef Guido Brambilla turns out flavorful winners like Wahoo Tartare (with shallots, tomato, guacamole, and gazpacho sauce) and Raviolo filled with Asian-spiced Niman Ranch pork belly, from $130 for two. The Point at Rosewood Tucker’s Point (shown at left), where chef Serge Bottelli delivers an amazing Blue Crab Salad with Pink Grapefruit, and Porcini Mushroom Crusted Sea Bass, from $140 for two. Victoria Grill in downtown Hamilton, where chef Tom Tabor creates fresh takes on modern bistro fare, from Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms to Yellowfin Tuna with a soy amber sugar glaze, risotto, snap peas, and miso beurre blanc, from $110 for two. Waterlot Inn at The Fairmont Southampton, a steakhouse set in an atmospheric, 340-year-old Bermudian house where you can savor fresh fish (such as pan-seared grouper or Georges Bank jumbo scallops) and top cuts of beef, from $160 for two.
Elbow Beach, Bermuda: For a relaxing combination of history (the hotel dates to 1908), luxury (Mandarin Oriental has managed the property since 2000), and easy island access (it’s just seven minutes from Hamilton), 98-room Elbow Beach, which is set on 50 acres bordered by a half-mile pink-sand crescent, makes an ideal base. All rooms and suites are in one-story buildings – some with ocean views, others with partial-ocean or garden views – and feature extremely comfortable king-sized beds, marble bathrooms with soaking tubs, and sliding glass doors leading to a patio (shown at right). Rooms underwent a $5.5 million refurbishment in 2010 giving them “East meets island” décor that’s pleasingly neutral with Thai touches in pillows and artwork. You’ll also enjoy four restaurants, five tennis courts, and the Elbow Beach Spa, featuring six newly refreshed spa suites with soaking tubs and a view, from $319/night throughout March (with third-night-free promo), $725 from April to September.
The Reefs Hotel & Club: If ocean views are high on your priority list, this cliff-top property may be the resort for you. The Reefs, which dates to 1947 but has undergone extensive upgrades, now offers two very different accommodation options: 64 traditional guest rooms and suites and 19 Club Suites. All rooms/suites have updated décor and amazing sea views, and as of March 15, half are fresh from bathroom renovations. If you can, splurge on one of the spacious two-bedroom Club Suites (shown at left), privately owned condo units opened in a new building in 2010 and featuring sophisticated contemporary décor, full kitchens, and a terrace with a private Jacuzzi, plus Club-only privileges. The Reefs also features a lovely private beach (and is not far from Horseshoe Bay Beach), three restaurants, and the La Serena Spa, where the relaxation area also offers a terrific view, rooms from $410/night from March 15-31, $500/night throughout April (including breakfast and dinner); Club Suites from $999/night in April.
Rosewood Tucker’s Point: Just three years old, the luxury enclave Rosewood Tucker’s Point, located in one of Bermuda’s most upscale neighborhoods (New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi own homes there), features a mix of 88 spacious rooms, suites, and villas (the smallest is 500 square feet) offering water views and set around four pools and wonderfully manicured grounds adjacent to the Tucker’s Point Course and featuring the serene Spa at Tucker’s Point. The resort itself is not directly on the beach, but shuttle service whisks guests to the Beach Club (shown at right), featuring a private beach and two pools (one adults-only and one family-friendly). Room décor is updated colonial with fine brocade fabrics in muted colors and Bermuda-specific artwork such as blow-ups of vintage postcards. Throughout March, stay seven nights for the price of five (lowering rooms rates to $425/night); April rates start at $741/night.
Note: It’s off-season until late March, meaning changeable weather and temperatures generally in the high 60s but pocketbook-friendly rates. Peak season is June to August, so you may still be able to find a few deals in April or early May, or plan ahead for September and October when prices drop. American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and U.S. Airways all offer daily flights.
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