Bermuda is not Caribbean; in fact, it's closer to Nova Scotia than it is to any Caribbean island. Bermuda is not British, even if the crown takes care of matters regarding security, defense, and diplomacy. What is it, then?The best of both, with the beaches of those islands to the south and the order and harmony of the Brits. So pull up your kneesocks and order a rum swizzle. You're in a whole other world.
Where to Stay
Two of the best resorts on the island were recently renovated, and have come out looking as fresh as daisies. When you drive up to Elbow Beach (60 S. Shore Rd.,) ;the beach is pure Bermuda, a swath of pinkish sand dotted with chaises and more umbrellas, washed by turquoise water. Service is excellent, down to the card with the weather forecast slipped under your door at night.
Ariel Sands (34 S. Shore Rd., Devonshire; 800/468-6610 or 441/236-1010, fax 441/236-0087; doubles from $395) has interesting interiors, with terra-cotta floors, sisal rugs, contemporary rattan furniture, little Lucite shelves holding seashells, and plastic throw pillows on the bed. The beach isn't as extravagant as Elbow's, even if last year's Hurricane Gert added some sand.
Bermuda does have a wildly eccentric streak, and no hotel exemplifies it better than Newstead (27 Harbour Rd.), a hotel across the harbor, were once owned by the same family. The father gave one property to each of his daughters, and while classy Waterloo has kept itself up admirably, Newstead has gone gloriously to seed. "There are families who've been coming here for more than fifty years," says the bartender, and you can see why they like it. It's a big, winding manor with a cast of characters that wouldn't be out of place in an island episode of Fawlty Towers.
The fun, friendly Pompano Beach Club (36 Pompano Beach Rd., Southampton; 800/343-4155 or 441/234-0222, fax 441/234-1694; doubles from $385) is great for children. The beach has a long shallow-water section, and the aquatic-sports center next door rents all sorts of toys, including motorized floating lounge chairs. There are a lot of steps on the property, but you can always rest on your patio, guaranteed to have a terrific ocean view.
The island's most full-service resort is the Fairmont Southampton Princess (101 S. Shore Rd.; 800/441-1414 or 441/238-8000, fax 441/238-8968; doubles from $179). It has everything you need: seven restaurants, a golf course, 11 tennis courts, a health club, eight shops, a nightclub, daily activities ranging from power walks to kitchen tours, special events such as the Bermuda bazaar (when the hotel brings in craft vendors), even bingo on Sundays.
A good budget option is Salt Kettle House (10 Salt Kettle Rd., , no credit cards), a harborside guest house run by kooky Hazel Lowe. Be sure to reserve way in advance, even up to a year. It's that popular.
Where to Eat
Coconuts at The Reefs, 56 S. Shore Rd., Southampton; 441/238-0222; lunch for two $55. The Reefs' casual restaurant plays it smart: plastic chairs and tables on a wooden terrace over the beach, under a slatted roof. It's light, airy, and possibly the most pleasant place to eat lunch on Bermuda. The menu has local influences-rockfish chowder and a terrific grilled-scallop and avocado salad. What is it about a place like this that makes everything taste so good?
Lighthouse Tea Room Gibb's Hill Lighthouse; 441/238-8679; lunch for two $20. Right next to the lighthouse, this British tearoom serves crumpets and eggs for breakfast, salads and sandwiches for lunch. But for the real experience, come to afternoon tea (served from 2:30 to 5). If you've climbed the 185 steps to the top of the lighthouse, you've earned the pot of tea, the large scone with clotted cream and jam, and the finger sandwiches filled with cucumber, cream cheese, and smoked salmon.
Wellington Room Waterloo House, 100 Pitts Bay Rd., Pembroke; 441/295-4480; lunch for two $50. The interior is somewhat prissy, but the harborside patio is paradise. It's what all restaurants in Bermuda should be: yellow-and-white-striped umbrellas against a blue sky, shaded by a poinciana tree. The sophisticated menu might include chilled melon soup or a salad of cherry tomatoes, greens, goat cheese, and grilled mango.
La Coquille Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, 40 Crow Lane, Pembroke; 441/292-6122; lunch for two $60. A restaurant that offers much more than your garden-variety museum canteen. No fish sticks here: La Coquille serves real French food and has a modern feel, with chrome-and-rattan chairs, tile floors, white tablecloths, and blue-and-white china.
Dennis's Hideaway Cassia City Rd., St. David's Island; 441/297-0044; dinner for two $65, no credit cards. You'll get lost looking for Dennis's—a run-down pink building with mcdennie's spray-painted on the wall—that's for sure. But this is real Bermudan food. Ask for the works—a feast of conch (or "conk," as it says on the menu) fritters and fish-and-chips.
You can't rent a car in Bermuda; you can take the bus, hire a taxi, or rent a scooter. My tips:
• You receive minimal instruction, and it's not enough. Before setting off, ask all the questions you can think of, and take time to practice in the parking lot until you feel comfortable.
• Lean into turns. Scooters are more like bikes than cars—you steer with your body as much as your arms.
• Focus your eyes on where you want to go; your hands will follow.
• Objects in the mirror are much closer than they appear.
• Don't tighten your grip on the handle if you panic—that's the throttle.
• Don't worry about people passing you: the speed limit is 22 mph.
• Locals use their horns to say hello to other drivers. It's not you.
Water-skiing's New Wave
The first time I went water-skiing I was seven years old. My dad, who was steering the boat, forgot to tell me to let go of the rope if I fell. My family laughed about it for years.
On a recent trip to Bermuda, I finally decided to have another go at it. No offense to my dad, but I figured Kent Richardson, of the Bermuda Water Ski Centre, might be better at explaining ahead of time how things work. He's been skiing in tournaments for more than 20 years and has represented Bermuda in seven world championships.
When I called for an appointment, Kent told me that all the kids want to "wakeboard" these days, not water-ski, so wakeboarding it would be.
But after I set eyes on the board, I began to think twice. It looked like a snowboard painted in a leopard pattern. Unlike those on skis, the neoprene bindings were set perpendicular to the board. As we got in the boat, Kent insisted that it was easy. I'd be doing a water start, with my knees drawn up to my chest and my arms straight ahead. When the boat started to pull the rope I was holding, all I had to do was let the board drop a bit and twist and stand.
My first try ended fairly quickly, but it didn't feel bad. The second go was better: I was out of the water, if only for a split second. My third try was much worse, but I could tell I would get it; and by my fourth I was up and gone. It took me a few more runs before I could cut across the wake, but each time I improved and was soon smiling uncontrollably. Before long I was zooming back and forth over the wake and catching some air—maybe not the big fat air that snowboarders talk about, but still—and I heard Kent let out a whoop. I'll be damned if I wasn't having a blast.
Returning to the dock, we saw dozens of fish jumping out of the water. I like to think I inspired them.
BERMUDA WATER SKI CENTRE, Robinson's Marina, Somerset Bridge; 441/234-3354; $120 per hour. Also available: barefoot skiing, tubing, and slalom courses. Richardson teaches from April through mid October.
Shop to It!
Bermuda Clayworks 7 Camber Rd., Royal Naval Dockyard; 441/234-5116. The Dockyard has typical shops in its Clocktower Mall; skip them. Farther along is this stark warehouse where they make pretty floral-patterned vases, dishes, and customized ceramic address plates.
Irish Linen Shop 31 Front St., Hamilton; 441/295-4089. Some of the linens are just too flashy, but other tablecloths, napkins, and sheets are appropriately demure. Love the cloths printed with vintage maps of Bermuda.
Marks & Spencer 17 Reid St.; 441/295-0031. H. A. & E. Smith's Ltd. 35 Front St.; 441/295-2288. Trimingham's 37 Front St.; 441/295-1183. Three sensible English department stores, all in Hamilton, for anyone who thinks that bright Bermuda shorts and kneesocks will work back home.
Pegasus Front St. W., Hamilton; 441/295-2900. The prints and maps, some well over 100 years old, are fascinating; every beach house should have a set of the seashell prints.
Tienda de Tabaco 69 Front St., Hamilton; 441/295-8475. Remember, you're not in the United States, so you can forget about that silly embargo on Cuban cigars (though nonsmokers may find the boxes more interesting).
The Island by Night
Pickled Onion 49-51 Front St., Hamilton; 441/295-2263. The best of Front Street's bars is an Ikea-influenced room where young people go to drink martinis and stand cheek to rosy cheek.
Hubie's Bar 10 Angle St., Hamilton; no phone. Locals cram into the red leatherette booths to catch the jazz band on Fridays. Cheap, dark, and lovely, it's a side of Bermuda day-trippers don't see.
Swizzle Inn 3 Blue Hole Hill, Hamilton Parish; 441/293-1854. "Swizzle Inn, Swagger Out" is the motto here. But the rum swizzles are so potent—they're like tropical Long Island iced teas—that the second half of the motto should probably be "Stumble Out."