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Simply Not…a More Congenial Spot — Bermuda

Published in the Chronicle/Advisor

Nothing was dark and stormy when we landed in Bermuda, except the name of the island’s national drink. That “Dark and Stormy” is a wonderful combination of Black Seal rum and locally brewed ginger beer (similar to ginger ale, but a bit more ‘ginger-y’).  Locals drink their Dark and Stormies with wedges of lime. I suggest you drink lots of them, alternating with Rum Swizzles, another local favorite.

You don’t have to travel far off shore from North Carolina (642 miles to be exact) to get to this tiny, affluent British territory. The British sensibility overlaid with the island vibe recalls days of the former Empire when Britannia ruled the waves. Settled in 1609, Bermuda made the international map in 1883 when one of the then-royals, Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, visited during the winter and called it ”a place of eternal spring.”

It was a nostalgic long weekend for my husband and me; we had honeymooned on the island almost 20 years ago. Just like with us, significant changes in the island were visible, including a great deal of development— but the same charm emanated from the brightly colored buildings with their unique white roofs, consisting of limestone wedges set in a stair step design.

We stayed the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, a huge pink resort downtown called the “pink palace” by locals. The hotel, open for 125 years, had many nice qualities including a fabulous location on the water. Our room, in the main section of the hotel was a bit tired, as sometimes happens with large high volume hotels. Ask for one of the Tower Rooms, which are larger and have a balcony.

We started with high tea served in the Heritage Court. Not as terrific as other high teas, for example the Peninsula in Hong Kong and Chicago, but well priced and quite adequate. How can you fault a three tiered plates, filled with 6 types of sandwiches, sweet things, scones, clotted cream and a lovely pot of Earl Grey tea?

Take the free boat over to the Fairmont Southampton (the hotel’s sister property). That’s where you’ll find the tennis courts, golf course and lovely sand beaches. Several hours spent lounging on the sand, looking at the aquamarine waves will restore anyone to sanity. The sand wasn’t really pink there, rather very fine and white, but who really cares? If I were to choose again, I would pick the sister hotel for its amenities, even though it is even larger and was packed to the gills with convention groups. These hotels offer specials and packages all year long, so shop well before booking.

Public transportation is plentiful and cheap— buses and ferries operate all day and night. We took the ferry from Hamilton to the biggest tourist attraction, the Royal Naval Dockyard. To be honest, it was disappointing from a shopping point of view. Sure, you could buy the famous Bermuda Rum Cake right from the factory, and the local potter produces unique pieces, but most of the shops were over-the-top touristy. All of the gigantic cruise ships dock here as well, disgorging torrents of tourists. To be fair, we didn’t take in the Bermuda Maritime Museum or the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, or the Botanical Garden, so maybe we didn’t give the area a fair chance to impress. We did have a mean Dark and Stormy at the Bonefish Bar and Grill while waiting for the ferry to return, however.

A few words are in order about Goslings Black Seal rum, the local standard that can also be found in the States.  Like much of the history of the island, it was the strategic location of the island on the trade route to the Americas that brought the first Gosling to its shores. In 1806, James Gosling had a royal charter to start a wine and spirits business in the New World and was transporting a huge fortune in spirits when his ship was becalmed for 91 days.  His charter from the Crown ran out and he put in to the nearest port, where he established a distillery. A family business, it is the only company that blends and bottles in Bermuda, and the largest exporter of a Bermuda made product.  A tip:  buy several bottles at the airport duty free before you leave the Island.     The local liquor stores sell it, as well, but with hefty local taxes adding significantly to the price.

Rum is also the key ingredient in another Bermudian favorite, fish chowder.  Local fresh fish, in addition to the chowder, should not be missed. We had one unfortunate, if inexpensive, meal at an Italian restaurant while visiting and would strongly recommend you stick to fish! Outerbridges Original Sherry Peppers, a mild hot sauce, is another critical ingredient to the chowder.  A terrific souvenir and locally produced product, Outerbridges sauces (in various flavors) are unique and tasty.

If you truly want to be a Bermudian, you need to fully understand the use of the word “hot.” Here it doesn’t refer to the weather or attractiveness. If you have had several tots of the local rum, you may be considered “hot.” A few more Dark and Stormy and you’re feeling no pain, then you progress to “full hot.” If you lose track of the days and your family is about to officially report you missing, you’re on a “Royal Full Hot.”

The advanced states of “hotness” can be easily remedied with a meal at any of a number of tremendous restaurants. One evening, we ate at the Flying Fish, a new restaurant down the street from the Fairmont Hamilton. Fresh local fish including the irresistible local tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi, mussels, crab, lobster are prepared daily. Upstairs, the sushi chef was sending platters of lovely looking sushi to diners all around us. We ordered the tuna steak, pan seared with balsamic teriyaki sauce and roasted garlic and the striped sea bass with a lemon caper saffron sauce. Their oysters are so fresh they are swimming in tanks.

A classic dining and lodging choice on the island is the Fourways Inn. First opened in 1727, Fourways certainly qualifies as a Bermuda original. They have a lovely gourmet restaurant with a classic French menu. A budget tip is to travel to the island between November through March, when Fourways Inn is part of a great value dine around package where you can sample various restaurants as part of your hotel package— this is also the spiny lobster season! We’ve always wanted to stay at Fourways’ Cottage Colony, suites nestled around their pool and gardens.

The cottage idea was started at another premier lodging choice, Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa. This wonderful escape is located on a private peninsula with 30 secluded acres with four private beaches at the far end of the island before you reach the Naval Dock Yards. Maybe it is just the nostalgia of the place where we honeymooned, but the property still looks great.

Bermuda packs so much into a small crescent shaped island—enough variety for the adventurous and tranquility for those looking to just lay about the beach.  Think about a vacation to Bermuda while humming the title song from the old movie, “Camelot.”

“It’s true, it’s true, the crown has made it clear. The climate must be perfect all the year.” With apologies to King Arthur— in short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot, for happy ever after-ing than the island of Bermuda.

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