Bermuda is a bit of a conundrum. Perhaps the easiest way to describe this balmy archipelago is that it feels like the result of blending Jamaica and Brighton in a Magimix. The Marks & Spencer on Front Street is shaded by lush palm trees, relocated Brits working at HSBC are dressed in suit jackets, brightly coloured Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks and the faint sound of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ wafts over pastel-coloured colonial houses framed by frangipani and bougainvillea. This hotchpotch of styles and influences is understandable as, despite being impressively far from Brighton, Bermuda has housed the English since they settled here in the early Seventeenth Century. Although often mistakenly lumped in with the Caribbean islands, Bermuda is neither in the Caribbean sea nor particularly close to it. The place, for me, pleasingly blends the exotic and the familiar and I was strangely soothed by the the hum of British accents as we stood in the passport queue at L.F. Wade International Airport overlooked by a conspicuous framed portrait of the Queen.
Where to stay
Our beautiful boutique hotel ‘The Rosedon,’ a converted private manor built in 1906 and recently acquired by Relais Chateaux, looked truly iconic as we wove up the driveway to its white columned frontage and royal blue awnings. Although there have been a wash of angular-looking properties that have recently cropped up on the island, namely ‘The Loren at Pink Beach’ and ‘The Hamilton Princess and Beach Club’ which re-opened in 2016, little beats the old school glamour of this property; all Colefax and Fowler curtains and chandeliers. We arrived to a cold hand towel and a lethal ‘rum swizzle’ before being escorted to our Garden Suite which opened directly on to a central atrium complete with pool and tropical garden. Bermuda is extraordinarily hot in July and with the temperature too sweltering to sit by the perfectly appointed pool, there seemed nothing for it but to escape the mid-afternoon heat with a siesta in our room which had an impressively formidable air-conditioning system. As I crawled into the chilled linen sheets I mused at how ridiculously easy the two hour flight had been from New York. A lot has changed since Mark Twain’s first visit by boat in the 1860s when he penned the now famous line that Bermuda is a paradise but that one has to go through hell to get there.
After donning appropriately bejewelled kaftans my friend Amber and I headed across the street to the restaurant Marcus which a local resident insisted was the place to eat on Friday night. This latest offering from Marcus Samuelsson, the chef behind New York’s acclaimed Red Rooster, is impressively glitzy and occupies the former Gazebo Room of ‘The Hamilton Princess.’ The wooden balcony was slightly calmer than inside and looked out on the impressive adjacent marina where the super yachts bobbed on the turquoise water. Marcus didn’t disappoint and with a combination of sashimi with yuzu sauce, crispy buttermilk cauliflower and lobster tacos washed down with another rum swizzle island life was really starting to appeal. Friday seems to be a big night in Bermuda in general and the next stop was the patio of the ‘1609 restaurant’ which had a live band and more cocktails as part of its weekly ‘Marina Nights’ event. We danced to a live rendition of Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ before deciding to head into Hamilton proper. There are evidently three spots for dancing in Hamilton, ‘The Terrace,’ ‘Pickled Onion’ and ‘Doghouse.’ ‘Doghouse’ sounded the most grimy and so we headed there. I hesitate to recommend ‘Doghouse’ as it reminded me of some of the bars I went to as a student but there is something charming about the sticky floors and the redundant velvet theatre curtains that fall impotently around the dance floor. It certainly got rowdy and Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ had the crowd dancing till the small hours on the terrace.
Typical Bermudian ‘raft ups’
The next morning we had intended to explore the highly instagrammable town of St. George’s at the island’s Eastern-most tip followed by a wander through the stalactite-filled Crystal Caves. After a surprise invite to a ‘raft up’ near Cambridge Beaches, however, all plans were promptly abandoned. I had no idea what a ‘raft up’ was but after enjoying a decadent lobster Eggs Benedict at Rosedon’s fabulous ‘Huckleberry Restaurant’ we headed to the marina opposite where we were whisked to a flotilla of speed boats all tied together about thirty metres out to sea. I was initially a tad concerned about etiquette as it seemed a bit presumptuous to climb aboard adjacent vessels without knowing the owners but after a few rosés I was happily hopping between boats and diving into the translucent water. A version of a communal boozy picnic; these Bermudians really had it down to an art form. Polystyrene ‘floaties’ with holes for wine glasses allowed a quick dip not to break the steady flow of wine whilst oversized blow up flamingos bobbed alongside the boats in case you needed a momentary time out from the socialising. The Bermudians also seemed pretty delighted with the set up and I was told multiple times that, despite the cost of living, Bermuda is one of the best places in the world to live. Pink from a day of sun there was not much for it but to wander with our new friends back into Hamilton to the renowned speakeasy ‘Yours Truly.’ The bar has no sign but a distinctive red door which opens into a small dark room with some extraordinarily good cocktails. The ‘Bee Sting’ with gin, ginger and rosewater will end your night pretty decisively.
What to do
Because of bad weather on our final morning, our snorkelling trip to the shipwrecked HMS Vixen in a glass bottom boat was cancelled by the ‘Island Tour Centre.’ With renting jet skis from KS Watersports and exploring the Walsingham Nature Reserve now also out of the question we decided to absorb some culture and took a picturesque ferry ride to Bermuda’s Royal Naval Dockyard instead. Although a fair few British tourists had similarly decided to brace the drizzle, the majestic Commissioner’s House is worth it for the mural depicting four hundred years of Bermuda’s history. The Dockyard also plays host to the Bermuda National Museum where you can while away a couple of hours exploring rooms of photographs, oral testimonies, boat ship models and a wide range of maritime artefacts. This western tip of the island is not complete without a visit to ‘Woody’s Sports Bar’ which, although not looking particularly promising on Google Images, serves the best Wahoo sandwich I have ever put in my mouth. This raisin bread, onion and fried flakey fish combination is one that has locals queuing at this unassuming roadside stop-off.
I had planned to read on pink sands shaded by cedar trees, retrace the steps of Mark Twain as he descended into the dramatic Crystal Caves in 1908 and cliff jump at Blue Hole Park. Instead we seemed to have mainly survived the heat, eaten seafood and indulged ourselves with fabulous cocktails. As we sat waiting for our taxi whilst polishing off the Rosedon’s high tea complete with rose macaroons and miniature scones something told me that it is highly likely that I will be back.