Welcome to Bermuda
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Welcome to Bermuda
After the crew of the Sea Venture washed ashore on the sands of the islands now known collectively as Bermuda, a handful of enchanted sailors remained behind as the rest sailed on to Jamestown. That these colonists were from the same lot that formed the Southern colonies is revealing; the Bermuda that remains today echoes much of the same genteel tradition. Only in Bermuda, though, will you find this blend of British tradition, polite society and pseudo-Caribbean beauty.
Bermuda is only 500 miles east of North Carolina, and its climate and culture are perfectly temperate. Its proximity to the U.S., combined with its refined tastes and eminently British attitudes, make it ideal for vacationing Americans who want some peace and quiet. Bermuda's 28 square miles are mostly suburban, residential neighborhoods and golf courses (the world's highest concentration of golf courses, in fact), making it especially attractive to middle-class retirees, whether settling or just vacationing.
Hamilton is Bermuda's capital city in Pembroke Parish. A walk along its harbor is rewarded with the rainbow of pastel buildings that line the Front Street thoroughfare. A bronze replica of the Sea Venture surmounts the Bermuda National Gallery in City Hall, which proudly displays an art collection of cultivated taste. At Fort Hamilton, visitors brush up on their history and admire the fabulous view.
Saint George's Town was once the political capital of Bermuda and is the oldest continually inhabited English settlement in the New World; with many of its colonial buildings and streets intact, it is still the historic center of Bermuda. Centuries of mercantile and military history permeate the antique cityscape. A statue of Sir George Somers stands on Ordnance Island, and the grounds that are his namesake at Somers Gardens are a delightful retreat. Historic Town Hall retains its original dignity, if not its original function. Visions of colonial life drift with the breeze within the walls of the Unfinished Cathedral.
Sandys (pronounced "sands") Parish comprises the westernmost archipelago of Bermuda. It was here that Britain built its Royal Naval Dockyard and from here that it launched the ships that attacked Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812. People come to the dockyard today for the assortment of shops, restaurants, museums and arts centers that lend some grace to its classically martial architecture. South of the dockyard, the village of Somerset is nice for some swimming or fishing, and the Gilbert Nature Reserve preserves a living sample of indigenous Bermudian flora and fauna.
Paget Parish is the parish for visitors who want to appreciate Bermuda's natural and cultural history. Waterville (home originally to the well-heeled Trimingham family and now to the Bermuda National Trust) and the Camden House (the premier's official residence) flaunt gorgeous grounds and the artifacts of Bermudian high living. Paget Marsh and the Bermuda Botanical Gardens feature virtually untouched native marshland and collections of rare and variously beautiful plants, respectively. Local to Paget Parish is the newly and beautifully renovated Coco Reef Resort, complete with some of Bermuda's most stunning ocean views.
Warwick Parish (don't pronounce the second w, or appear crudely ignorant--say "Warick") is adjacent to Paget Parish to the northeast and is the most densely populated of Bermuda's parishes. This is a great place to spend the day, first with a picnic, then with a tour of Astwood Cove & Park, where the cliffs provide fabulous views to all and quiet beaches to more daring and nimble visitors.
Southampton Parish, Bermuda's southernmost parish, wedged between Warwick and Sandys, is ideal for outdoor exploration. Several trails run from South Road to the shore and provide captivating sights on the way to the beach. Climbing the stairs of Gibb's Lighthouse is good exercise, and the view from the top isn't bad, either.
Beaches in Bermuda
Bermuda's beaches are its most prized assets. There are miles of soft, pink sand here, broken up into quaint and cozy pieces. The best of them are on the southern shore, where lush, colorful flora softens the surrounding landscape and barrier reefs subdue the surf to an inviting, rhythmic roll. There's not much shade here, though, and the sun can sizzle even seasoned beach lovers in the summer months. It's wise to bring light clothing to cover up, and sunscreen should be mandatory.
Below are some of Bermuda's best beaches, listed by Parish.
Church Bay - On Southampton's southwestern edge, this beach offers calm waters and offshore reefs that teem with marine life, making it a favorite for snorkeling.
Horseshoe Bay Beach - This is Bermuda's most popular beach, with locals as well as vacationers. It is one of Bermuda's longest beaches at 1/3 mile, arcing into a pink crescent of sand and sunbathers. Events such as concerts, crab races and kite competitions draw a mixed crowd of spectators and competitors year-round. A concession stand and café sells food and rents water sports equipment. A lifeguard protects the beach, but only during the high season. There is an undertow that can be strong at times, so families with small children may opt to stake out a spot on the bay's western cove. This spot is known as Horseshoe Baby Beach, and the clear water here is extremely calm thanks to wall of rocks that mellow its current.
Chaplin Bay - At South Shore Park's southern end, to the east of Horseshoe Bay, this little beach sits at the boundary between Southampton and Warwick. It is small and quiet, and it shrinks further at high tide. When the beach is there, a wall of coral reveals itself, separating the beach into two parts. On the western side, it is Chaplin Bay in Southampton Parish. On the eastern, it is Warwick's Stonehole Bay. There are no facilities here, but it's not a long walk to those on Horseshoe Bay.
Stonehole Bay - Just west of Chaplin Bay, Stonehole Bay gets its name from a hole in the coral outcropping that separates it from its neighbor. It offers the same peace and quiet as Chaplin Bay; really, it is one beach with two names. The Stonehole Bay section is a little closer to Jobson's Cove, and its shoreline is a little rockier than Chaplin's. It's a great place to have a picnic or read a book and the water is safe but not usually good for snorkeling because it's often cloudy from the stirring of the waves. Like Chaplin Bay, there are no facilities, but the walk to Horseshoe Bay is only slightly longer from here.
Jobson's Cove - Not far east of Stonehole Bay, Jobson's Cove is adjacent to Warwick Long Bay. Because the cove almost completely encloses the beach, the waves are calm and the water is clear. It's rarely crowded, and an absence of nearby buildings makes it an especially peaceful escape. The beach has no facilities, but the restrooms on Warwick Long Bay are close enough to walk to.
Warwick Long Bay - At ½ mile, Warwick Long Bay is Bermuda's longest beach. Set against rolling green hills and steep cliffs, it is exposed to occasional strong winds, but the waves are mostly calmed by a coral reef that lies close to shore, attracting marine life and snorkelers. Farther offshore, a craggy outcrop of coral appears to sit atop the water's surface.
Elbow Beach - This is Bermuda's most popular beach. With its calm waters protected by coral reefs and its sands flanked by some of Bermuda's most luxurious hotels, it is often crowded. Families are drawn to its safety and convenience throughout the year, and college students come for the beach parties that are common during summer recess. Despite the crowds, the swimming and body surfing are good, and a lunch wagon moots any mention planning mid-day meals. Still, many visitors say the beach is at its most beautiful at night, when the water reflects the lights of the resort and washes coolly and quietly over strolling feet.
Shelly Bay Beach - This beach on the parish's northern side is perfect for children. Its water is protected from strong winds, and water is shallow with a soft, sandy floor. Trees provide the shade that is so rare on Bermuda's beaches, and playground behind the beach keeps kids happy even when they've tired of the water. And amazingly, in spite of all this, it's rarely crowded.
Somerset Long Bay - On the relatively subdued northwestern end of the island, its ¼ mile of sand makes this another one of Bermuda's longest beaches. The beach is isolated from Bermuda's major tourist attractions by the surrounding area of mostly undeveloped parkland. The water is usually calm despite some strong winds, although it can be rough and unsafe for swimming with the right combination of factors. The rocky bottom makes wading without water shoes is touch and go. When the water doesn't cooperate with total submersion, the beach is still a nice place to take a walk.
Dining in Bermuda
It's not surprising that Bermuda has such a big collection of high-quality restaurants, but it is surprising that those restaurants offer such a wide selection of world cuisines. On its tiny 21 square miles, there seems to be a place for everything. At the same time, Bermudians remain proud of their culinary heritage, and most chefs offer variations of traditional Bermudian fare.
With international cuisines have come global trends, resulting in additions to the Bermudian menus. For instance, vegetarian options are very common. Asian influences in particular have become popular, and it's common to find chefs adding Asian ingredients to traditional Bermudian dishes.
Dining on Bermuda isn't cheap. Three quarters of Bermuda's food is imported, resulting in substantial mark-ups for the consumer. This also means that meats are rarely fresh and so should not be ordered in abundance. In fact, many people will find that it's better to forego the meat in favor of a local dish, especially one prepared with fresh seafood. For example, a Bermuda lobster may look deadly --its shell is covered with spiny protuberances--but it's to die for.
Bermudians dress for dinner and expect their guests to graciously do the same. Men should wear a jacket and tie. Women may dress more casually; classy-chic is the norm. Even for lunch at a beachside restaurant, diners are obliged to be clothed; Bermudians take propriety seriously and may resent tourists who dine in their bathing suits.
Nightlife in Bermuda
Bermuda, it seems, is not the best place for gamblers or clubbers, as it has no casinos and just a few nightclubs. Most of Bermuda's nightlife, therefore, lies solely in the hands of the resorts and their assorted bars, pubs, and lounges. There are weekly beach parties and cruises during the high summer season, but for the interim months these are quite few and very far between.
While all-night parties may be hard to find, there is seldom any shortage of creative energy on Bermuda. The islands are known for fostering a hotbed of musical and artistic talent. Every fall, an annual jazz festival showcases some of that talent and draws worldwide attention from jazz insiders. Art galleries abound in Hamilton, along with centers for performing arts and festival events.
The arts scene is so prolific that there may be several gallery openings in one week or musical performances arranged on the fly. Luckily, there are bulletin boards, gallery directors, and art cafés to point culturally-curious consumers in the right direction.
Dress codes for clubs and night-time events are similar to those in restaurants. Men should avoid jeans and sneakers if possible and are wise to keep the jacket and tie handy. For women, chic-casual is standard.
Shopping in Bermuda
Shopping in Bermuda is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. Shops sell nice selections of clothing and accessories from some of the world's most famed designers, but the prices are no better here than in the U.S. The deals worth looking for are on imported luxury goods like fine china, jewelry and crystal. Seasonal sales, which typically take place in early Spring, may offer deep discounts on cool-weather clothing.
For cultural purchases, Bermuda's art galleries are wonderfully diverse. Goods include, but are not limited to, paintings, sculpture in wood, metal and glass, ceramics, glass-work and photography. Bermuda's enthusiastic community of artists is attracts both first-time art-buyers and avid collectors.
Shoppers who are eager to get more bang for their buck scour the airport's duty-free shop, but the pickings here may be relatively slim. For duty-free alcohol, it's best to place an order at a liquor store in town which will be delivered to the airport to be booked as luggage. (Bermudian rum is an especially good buy.)