by André Gayot
A not-too-distant 650 miles east of Cape Hatteras and 774 miles from New York City, Bermuda is a plateau unexpectedly planted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Although it borrows its name from a Portuguese seaman, Juan Bermudes, Bermuda is the oldest British colony and one of the last as well. That's one of the many paradoxes of this singular island. A Virginia-bound British fleet of nine vessels under the command of admiral Sir George Somers in 1609 might have been the first in a long series of maritime disasters which contributed involuntarily to the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, where ships disappear as rabbits in a magician's hat. The flagship Sea Venture hit a bad storm which drove it into the reefs and sank it. By that time Sir George had already learned that this area was inclined to attract storms of any description and that the waters were scattered with rocks. Yet the statements did not discourage him from taking possession of the isolated rocks in the name of the British crown.
Five centuries later, the speaker in Bermuda's parliament (one of the oldest parliaments in the world) wears a white wig and watches cricket games. Policemen are known as bobbies and give you directions with a British accent. The queen's birthday, a national holiday, is celebrated with pomp in St. Peter'sthe oldest Anglican church in the worldand in dark-paneled pubs with a pint of local ale. That would be England if it weren't for the weather and currency. Sun is de rigueurat least between showersand a Bermuda dollar (BD$) equals one U.S. dollar.
With the semi-tropical climate, the great wealth of the 62,000 Bermudans is the pristine nature of the island's 21 square miles. The locals go to great lengths to keep it that wayas they always have since 1600 when they forbade the fishing of sea turtles and destruction of cedar groves. Today this means no billboards, no neon, not too many automobiles (one car per household) and no rental cars…only mopeds and a very effective bus and ferry system. If the adjective "manicured" carries meaning for a landscape, Bermuda fits the description. Pink houses, white limestone roofs (to collect rain water; ground water is in short supply), sands and turquoise beaches comprise the rich (meaning expensive) Bermuda rhapsody.
Apart from shipping, banking and reassurance activities in the capital of Hamilton, Bermuda relies heavily on tourism to sustain its economy. There are more golf courses per square mile than anywhere in the world. Onion fields have given way to more-lucrative luxury resorts offering almost 7,000 beds. Bermuda's government continues spurs the development of more high-end resorts; the project only works if tourists sleep in them. Despite the island's assets and its proximity to the East Coast, the tourism industry is not what it could be. This is probably due to the increasing competition of new, coconut treefringed resorts surging up everywhere in the tropics with more-affordable rates. Yet Bermuda remains special and has much to offer the tourist.
If you find yourself on this island, adventure and relaxation await you. When seeking accommodations, try the Fairmont Southampton Princess for its spectacular ocean and bay balcony views, glass-bottom boat tours and in-water dolphin encounter experience. Fourways Inn in Paget is home to fine dining and tranquil gardens that make it a popular spot for weddings. If you are in search of some fun on Bermuda's world-class golf courses, you need not look far. The Fairmont Southampton Princess Golf Club is convenient for guests of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess resort in Southampton. North of the Princess is Riddells Bay Golf and Country Club in Warwick, which requires introduction by member or hotel. At the top of the island lies St. George's Golf Course. Many golf packages are offered by island properties.
A whole other world awaits your exploration underwater off Bermuda's coasts. The clear waters are home to coral reefs with fish, sea turtles and hundreds of shipwrecks dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The island is known as one of the world's top dive destinations in terms of conditions (water temperature averages 83 degrees) and innovations, and certified scuba divers can take advantage with Blue Water Divers and Watersports in Southampton or Nautilus Diving Limited at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Snorkelling can be done through Blue Water Divers and Watersports or at Bermuda Snorkel Park at the Royal Naval Dockyard. If you're looking for an adventure without even getting your hair wet, try helmet diving with Bermuda Bell Diving in Smiths, Greg Hartley's Under Sea Adventure in Somerset, or up north in St. George's with Peppercorn Diving. Kids will enjoy a BAMZ Curator's Tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo before opening hours of those establishments.
Bermuda's nature can be discovered by biking or walking the Bermuda Railway Trail or by Eco-Tours with Bermuda Lecture and Tours. Attractions also include Walsingham Trust with its live caves, collapsed sinks, brackish ponds and mangrove swamps; Spittal Pond with its 64 acres that are home to Spanish Rock, Jeffrey's Hole and many shorebirds and waterfowl; and the botanical gardens which house a hibiscus garden, a sub-tropical fruit garden and an aromatic garden for the blind.
For a break from nature, there are a few shops in the city of Hamilton which sell Irish linens and cashmere, English china and crystal and other treats. There are also a number of historic homes and great architecture to be enjoyed in the towns. The town of St. George has been approved as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its authentic condition which features unique and diverse examples of Bermudian architecture dating from the last four centuries. It is the oldest continuously inhabited town of English origin in the Western hemisphere and its forts boast almost the complete range of British coastal fortifications and artillery from 1612 to 1956.
Don't forget to try some of Bermuda's restaurants located around the island. Fourways Inn can be found in Paget, as can Captain's Table at White Sands. When in Southampton, try Newport Room at the Southampton Princess. Grab a bite before or after your flight near the airport in St. George's at Carriage House. Warwick is home to Palms restaurant at Surf Side.
Though its tourist industry competes with other tropical islands, Bermuda deserves a visit as much as you deserve be its guest. You will find that although it's tempting to just lie back and enjoy the beach and surroundings, this small island offers so much more.