It wasn’t until I arrived in Bermuda that I realized none of my friends new where I was in the world. I landed on the island in the middle of January and couldn’t help but smirk as folks suggested I work on my tan at the beach and enjoy a leisurely snorkel at sea.
If you take the time to open your atlas you’ll notice that Bermuda is in fact not in the Caribbean. Instead she sits all by herself in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the east coast of the United States some 1,030 km’s from North Carolina and 1,240 km’s south of Nova Scotia.
I had arrived in Bermuda during its slowest season, an attempt to explore the island with ease. While you won’t find yourself scooting around with flips flops and a bikini in the winter months there are a dedicated group of travelers who indulge in the islands cool, comfortable temperatures this time of year.
It feels a bit like Fall as I wrap a sweater around my shoulders. I’m chatting with a group of golfers from Boston who rave about their annual trip to Bermuda each year, “January is the best time of year to visit. Sure we get a few drizzles here and there but the island feels quieter this time of year and we like to joke that we always feel right at home here. We’re treated like locals.” The gent driving the golf cart asks me what I’ve been doing in Bermuda on my own and I respond with a quick grin, “I’m trying to tap into Bermuda’s secrets: quirky art galleries, ancient forts, quiet jungle, tranquil caves and along the way I’m drinking the islands iconic Dark & Stormy cocktail whenever the opportunity presents itself.” The men chuckle while the portly one pruning his putter chirps, “You’ve got the right idea. Avoid the dubiousness of the Bermuda Triangle! Sail yourself through an ocean of ginger beer spiked with rum!”
Overlooking the stunning blue waters of the Hamilton Harbour sits the Grand Dame of Bermuda resorts, my home away from home, The Fairmont Hamilton Princess. It is here, at ‘The Pink Palace’, where history meets modern sensibility and guests have the opportunity to rest and relax at Bermuda’s only luxury urban resort. Conveniently located in the city of Hamilton, the hotel is an urban oasis featuring beautifully appointed guest rooms; a stunning infinity edge resort pool with uninterrupted views of Hamilton Harbour; and 1609 Bar and Restaurant, Bermuda’s only open-air dining experience situated on a newly developed 60-berth marina. One can’t help but swoon for the luxury yacht’s below while sitting perched at the bar sipping a lime spritzed Dark & Stormy and freshly muddled Rum Swizzle.
Sips and Nibbles: Munch through Bermuda’s most famous dish, an epic fried fish sandwich at Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy. Enjoy a romantic evening at Waterlot Inn, the islands’s storied steakhouse. Enjoy a unique French inspired dining experience via Chef’s Table overlooking the kitchen at Beau Rivage. Indulge in house made burrata, epic charcuterie table, pretty pizzas and perfectly twirled pasta at Sul Verde.
One can explore the islands quirkiest assets while strolling through the nooks and crannies at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. The museum, which was completed in March 2008, is located in an original Camden farm complex, estimated to have been built 275 years ago.
Visitors to Masterworks have an opportunity to experience Bermuda as seen through the eyes of artists like Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Demuth. Many paintings in the museums Bermudiana Collection are landscapes which showcase the islands dreamy paradise, while others reflect the unique warmth of Bermuda’s people and cultural heritage. The collection offers an interesting glimpse into how the island has been perceived over time, from grim Bermuda Triangle themed film posters to voluptuous caricatures of cruisers soaking up the sun.
Be sure to ask the Reception Desk for a tour of the Storage Vault if interested in seeing any piece that is currently not on display. You’ll take a quick ride to the basement on a tiny elevator before whisking your way through hundreds of paintings which are perfectly organized on rotating flappable doors. It’s a rare treat for art fans. You won’t find staff at the MOMA or Louvre offering up exclusive behind the scenes tours of their collections any time soon.
The island’s most spirited and lively folk tradition is the colourful and chaotic Gombey. It reflects the island’s blend of African, indigenous peoples, Caribbean and British cultures, incorporating them over time into a unique performance art full of intricate masquerade, dance, drumming and whistle blows.
Historically, the Gombeys were not viewed as a respectable art form by the island’s ruling class and were banned by slave masters. Slaves were allowed to dance only once a year and did so in masks in order to protest, without fear of retribution. The tradition is at its liveliest during the Christmas season, traditionally performed on Boxing Day, where the troupes would march the whole day around the island with crowds of followers.
Today Gombey dancers are usually male and perform in groups of 10-30. The traditions have been passed down orally from one generation to the next within families and the Captains of each troupe determine the direction of the group and style that is taught. The city of Hamilton puts on complimentary Gombey performances throughout the week at Pier Six so visitors can tap into the unique tradition throughout the year.
In the UNESCO designated Historic Town of St. George sits one of Bermuda’s sweetest pleasures. Founded in 1928, The Bermuda Perfumery inspires its visitors with colognes and perfumes that are inspired by the island itself. Spritzing through a choir of pretty glass bottles one picks up aromas reminiscent of of cedar, lily, pink rose and ginger. Today the Bermuda Perfumery is located in historic Stewart Hall, where each bottle continues to be filled individually by hand.
If you’ve got time, sign up for a workshop to learn about the art of perfumery and create your own customized scent to take home. Master Perfumer Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone offers intimate seminars, of no more than five people at a time that are built around spirited discussions. Try your hand at the various families of scents and their respective olfactory pyramid and educate yourself on essential oils and specialty aroma molecules.
After you’ve finished sniffing yourself silly, hop across the hallway and plop yourself down for a proper afternoon tea at Sweet P. This hidden treasure is known for its sumptuous cakes, tarts and finger sandwiches which are arranged on a classic three-tiered dessert tray alongside steaming pots of fine English tea. A perfumery that also serves lemon curd slathered scones? A perfect pairing for those who have a penchant for sweet smells and dainty doilies.
If you’re looking to explore the island you’ve got two options: hire a private taxi driver or hop on a group tour. The island is so petite that car rentals are outlawed. You won’t find yourself hopping behind a wheel here so find comfort in putting the days agenda in someone else’s hands.
Hidden Gems offers daily All-Inclusive Interactive Island Eco-Tours which offer visitors a friendly full day excursion which highlights the best the island has to offer. The owner and operator of Hidden Gems, Ashley Harris, is a fourth generation Bermudian with an extensive background in horticulture and limitless knowledge of the island. Our day starts with a hot cup of coffee and glazed donut from a popular sweet shop in Hamilton. We spend the rest of the day zig-zagging across the island via mini-bus exploring Bermuda’s iconic pristine pink beaches, hiking up a historic lighthouse, poking around an abandoned cathedral and hiking through a lush jungle before tip toeing through a stalactite adorned cave.
If you’re looking for a private tour of the island be sure to hire Larry Rogers (441 734 8024) a laid back gent who knows Bermuda like the back of his hand. My five hour tour with Larry covered a lot of ground with highlights that include Fort Hamilton’s mighty moat, colourful residential homes in Friswell Hill, creepy crypt at Devonshire Cemetery, pretty pond and gardens at Palm Grove Estate, quiet beach at Tuckers Town Cove and a stroll through the islands pride and joy St. Peters Church. Locals have been gathering to worship here since 1612 making it the oldest Protestant church in continuous use in the New World.
If you look at a tourist map of Bermuda it’s hard not to spot the islands historic forts, you’ll be gobsmacked, there are a lot of them. Naval buffs and those who like to dig into a nations history will find a bit of bliss while strolling through Fort St Catherine. If you only have time to visit one fort during your visit to Bermuda this should be it!
The defences on this strategic hill, on the extreme north east tip of Bermuda, have kept watch over the island for more than 400 years. The construction of Fort St. Catherine began virtually the moment that Sir George Somers and the original settlers washed ashore at adjacent Gates Bay in 1609. Over the years the fort has enjoyed many makeovers; in the 1820’s it was extensively rebuilt to protect the Dockyard and the Town of St George from an anticipated American invasion while during WWII the fort was used as a strategic submarine listening post.
Gracing 240 acres of beautiful waterfront property, Rosewood Tuckers Point is an award-winning hideaway offering breathtaking vistas of Castle Harbour, Harrington Sound and the Atlantic. When this east-end retreat first opened in 2009, it was Bermuda’s newest and most expensive resort. Because of its relative youth and the attention paid to luxurious details, Rosewood Tucker’s Point is by far Bermuda’s finest hotel. The properties handsome whitewashed manor house exemplifies fine British colonial styling and is furnished with period antiques and island-inspired art.
I dropped by for an unforgettable afternoon at the hotel’s Sense Spa where I spent a few leisurely hours wrapped in a plush robe on the hunt for rest and relaxation. The spa offers relaxing beauty treatments inspired by the island’s rich culture ranging from massages and facials to manicures and pedicures. The indulgent atmosphere features quiet relaxation room, serene reflecting pool, petite garden and nearby swimming pool which spa guests are encouraged to use at their leisure. After sipping a hot pot of peppermint tea I was motioned into a glowing treatment room. For the next hour I was lulled to sleep via Cedar Warming Massage, a full-body, deeply warming massage which uses local cedar and juniper essential oils to melt away muscle tension.
On my final morning I skipped through Hamilton as a warm mist cast itself across the city. I spent thirty minutes zooming along the coast on a public ferry before arriving at the island’s Royal Naval Dockyard. Known today by locals simply as Dockyard, this was the principal base of the Royal Navy in the Western Atlantic between American Independence and the Cold War. After the closure of most of the base as an active naval dockyard in 1957, it fell into disrepair.
Beginning in the 1980s increased tourism to Bermuda stimulated interest in renovating the dockyard and turning it into a tourist attraction. Today, cruise ships regularly land at the dockyard during summer months which keeps the neighbourhood bustling. The dockyard is currently undergoing a facelift and expansion as it has been selected as the venue for the 2017 America’s Cup, the world’s premiere sailing event.
After hopping off the ferry I spent the next few hours wandering through several of the dockyards former warehouses which have been turned into artists shops as well as a pedestrian mall located in the landmark clock tower building. The area instantly reminded me of Toronto’s Distillery District, a fantastic neighbourhood for those who appreciate history but also have a penchant for window shopping.
Those looking to purchase arts and crafts before heading home will find a colourful potpourri featuring island inspired fashions, glassworks, jewellery, pottery, and cedar work all crafted by local artisans. If snacking is more your thing be sure to indulge in a fudge tasting at Clocktower Mall, sample the eleven flavours at the Bermuda Rum Cake Company and stop by for a glass of the islands only locally produced beer at The Frog and Onion Pub. Before heading back to town be sure to stop by the National Museum of Bermuda which is housed in the fortress Keep of the Royal Naval Dockyard, Casemates Barracks and the massive North-west Rampart. In all the museum features an impressive 16 acres of ground, eight exhibit buildings and the most extensive historical collection on the island.
After spending a jam packed few days exploring Bermuda’s nooks and crannies I was delighted to discover an island full of surprises. Along the way I made a point of sipping through as many of the island’s iconic cocktails as possible. On my final afternoon I had the opportunity to immerse myself in Bermuda’s fondness for the Dark & Stormy during a private tour of Gosling’s Rum. The tour was hosted by Malcolm Gosling Jr and began with a spirited tasting.
When pressed on how the cocktail came to be Malcolm chirped, “While the British Navy was based in Bermuda they made their own ginger beer. The name Dark ‘n Stormy was created when the British Navy were enjoying copious amounts of ‘ginger beer and rum’ at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. It wasn’t until one sailor was accidentally served a drink without any rum in it, that the bartender apologized and poured rum into the glass to top him up. Instead of blending in with the ginger beer the black rum sat on top. The drunk sailor looked at this for a couple seconds then said “that looks like a storm cloud neither a fool or a dead man would sail under.” Followed by “barkeep I’ll have another Dark ‘n Stormy.”
It was perhaps fate that I would spend a week in Bermuda during its most inclement season. After tallying some 28 Dark n Stormy’s during my stay I can honestly say that after a few glasses of the islands iconic drink its impossible not to find yourself smug mugged come rain or shine.
My visit to Bermuda was a press trip coordinated by Bermuda Tourism Authority. Accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.