“Chingas!” That’s Bermudian parlance for amazing, awesome and oh so cool. From suspended ocean hammocks that lull you to sleep as you catch a frothy wave with one foot dipped in aquamarine waters; the spectacular re-design and art collection at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club to exploring sherbert-coloured island parishes and underwater wrecks of sunken pirate ships, Bermuda will keep the superlatives coming at every turn.
A Colourful and Swashbuckling History
Reaching back to the 16th Century, Bermuda, (actually a chain of 181 islands in the Atlantic,) was discovered by accident by Spanish conquistador, Juan de Bermudez. Surrounded by treacherous inner reefs, hundreds of Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese vessels, some manned by pirates and laden with treasure, competed for Bermuda’s conquest but many were shipwrecked trying to navigate the treacherous waters. It’s even thought that William Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest” written between 1610 and 1611, was based on the shipwreck of the Sea Ventureoff her coast. When the British East India Company was founded in 1600, Bermuda was colonized by the English in 1609 and divided into 9 Parishes named after British aristocrats. St. George, now a UNESCO World Heritage site was originally Bermuda’s capital but in 1793, passed that torch to Hamilton, now the financial heart and main port for cruise ships to dock in Bermuda.
Pretty In Pink
Known as “The Pink Palace,” the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club is like a rare pink diamond presiding over the palest shell- strewn sand with her commanding views of Hamilton Harbour. Originally known as “The Hamilton Princess,” the grand dame opened her doors in 1885 attracting affluent Americans from the Eastern seaboard. But when Princess Louise, the 4th daughter of England’s Queen Victoria visited proclaiming it “a place of eternal spring,” the world’s elite clamoured to experience Bermuda themselves.
From Mark Twain to James Bond
“You can go to heaven if you want to,” said Mark Twain.” I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”
Globe-trotting humourist, raconteur and author of the beloved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka, Mark Twain was one of the first guests to stay at the Hamilton Princess and visited Bermuda eight times. He was often seen on the hotel’s sprawling verandas puffing on his pipe and regaling guests with his travel adventures. Twain has been immortalized in bronze sitting on a bench at various locations throughout Hamilton. Visitors young and old sit down beside him and pose, as if engaging the legendary statesman in conversation.
Did you know that Sir Ian Fleming, who wrote the iconic James Bondthrillers on which the 007 films are based, was stationed at the Hamilton Princess Hotel in 1941 where he was briefed on a massive British espionage campaign against the Nazis? A Lieutenant Commander in British Naval Intelligence at the time, Fleming oversaw the Imperial Censorship and Contraband Control Office set-up at the hotel to read the world’s mail, taken off transatlantic ships and planes. With his impeccable eye for detail, it’s thought that Fleming used a floor-to-ceiling aquarium at the Hamilton Princess as an idea that turned up in the subterranean lair of arch villain, Dr. Noin his 1958 novel of the same name.
Explore Bermuda In A Twizy
You may be surprised to learn that rental cars are not allowed in Britain’s oldest colony although taxis are available. It’s a way to control environmental pollution as well as severe traffic problems. In 1908 Mark Twain actually appealed to American President Woodrow Wilson to circulate a petition calling on the colonial government to ban motor cars that might destroy Bermuda’s special charm.
But don’t despair, there are so many fun ways to zip around the island you’ll never miss a thing. Why not rent a Twizyat the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club? With the stability of four wheels and foot pedals for brakes, the electric Twizyseats two (driver in front, passenger in back,) and produces zero carbon emissions. There are charging stations throughout the island even at the beaches. The hotel can provide some exciting itineraries so contact the concierge for full-day Twizyadventures.
History buffs will want to explore the scenic town of St. George and The Royal Naval Dockyard constructed by the British in 1809. During the War of 1812 a British fleet left Bermuda to attack and seize Washington D.C. It was on one of these ships that an American prisoner, Francis Scott Key wrote A Star-Spangled Banner. If you’re a fan of re-enactments you’re in for a treat. Town criers announce actors in period costumes who present slices of 18th Century life in King’s Square.
For beach worshippers, cruise to Horseshoe Bay and Warwick Long Bay Beach known for their pink sand, dramatic scenic coves and secluded spots to swim along the South Shore.
Keep in mind that Bermudians have kept the British tradition of driving on the left-hand side of the road.
If you want to explore the island like a local, rent a moped and ride through the parishes’ winding streets and along ocean drives. Or try a pedal bike (bicycle) along the 18-mile scenic Bermuda Railway Trail transformed by the Bermuda Parks Department from an abandoned railway bed. Once used by the local train system, the route runs parallel to the ocean. You’ll pedal on meandering trails through lush forests of tropical flowers and trees; some hills with steeper slopes and over bridges surrounded by panoramic ocean views.
Looking for a more relaxing way to delve into Bermudian culture? Climb aboard a guided horse-drawn carriage ride with Bronco Stables Horse & Carriage Tours of St. George. Drivers are great sources of information when it comes to Bermudian lore and insider tips on where to dine and places to visit.
But what better way for a landlubber to explore the island than from the water. Bermuda’s Sea Express Ferry Service with its main terminal on Front St. in Hamilton, operates four different routes with stops from one end of the island to the other.
Get Down to the Underground
Bermuda’s spectacular scenery isn’t just on ground level. The Crystaland Fantasy Caves were discovered 100 years ago in Hamilton, when two young boys went searching for their lost cricket ball. Surrounded by exquisitely manicured gardens, bridges lead down a 60-foot tunnel to limestone caves from which astounding chandeliers of stalactites thousands of years old are suspended. Perhaps most incredible are the large pools of luminous turquoise water, their clarity the result of the absence of bacteria so deeply underground.
And speaking of exploring below the surface, Bermuda has more shipwrecks per square mile than anywhere else in the world and over 300 in total! A diver’s paradise, some of the best sites include The Mary Celestia, a paddle steamer that went down in 1864, resting 55-feet deep off the South Shore. The Cristóbal Colóna Spanish luxury liner and the largest shipwreck in Bermuda crashed into a coral reef in 1936 at Elbow Beach with her wreckage scattered across 100,000-square-feet.
Art & Music A Double Fantasy
Art enthusiasts will be fully immersed in the relaxed luxury of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club that underwent a stunning $100 million re-design in 2016. The hotel brings the outside inside through floor- to- ceiling pink vaulted arches that open onto expansive, sculpture – studded gardens, infinity pools and romantic Spanish cedar pergolas. A latticed catwalk overlooking Carrera marble floors inside the hotel gives guests a bird’s-eye view of the lobby’s museum-worthy art collection of 60 contemporary pieces by David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Jasper Johns, Tom Sachs, Damien Hirst, and Yoshitomo Nara who share company with works by local artists. Vintage Bermudian posters adorn corridor walls and common spaces. Sumptuous food and art go hand-in-hand inside the 3,000-square-foot open-air Marcus Restaurant the namesake of celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson. Designed by New York’s Parts & Labor, a colourful subway-tiled bar is decorated with Andy Warhol’s Pop-art lithographs of Mick Jagger. Canvas sailcloths and brass pendant chandeliers reflect the nautical vibe from the outdoor 1,500-foot veranda overlooking the hotel’s exclusive 60-berth marina.
Ahoy little maties! The new Prince & Princess Kid’s Club beachside at the hotel is designed around a large wooden sloop inside a playground on which kids can be pirates, take part in treasure hunts and sandcastle building workshops.
John Lennon spent two rejuvenating months in Bermuda in 1980. He rented a house in the beautiful area of Fairylands in Pembrook Parish; wandered around St. George’s, took in the live music scene on Hamilton’s Front Street, and explored the Bermuda Botanical Gardens with his four-year-old son, Sean taking special note of the Double Fantasy Freesia flower. The sojourn inspired Lennon to write 25 songs in Bermuda and titled his last album before his death, Double Fantasy. Local sculptor, Graham Foster was commissioned by The Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art located inside the Botanical Gardens, to create an art piece that would commemorate the Beatle’s stay in Bermuda. Double Fantasy is a 6-foot- high, 4,000-pound structure out of Cor-Ten steel depicting Lennon in profile, his Rickenbacker guitar, granny glasses, doves of peace and of course, the Double Fantasy Freesia flower.
Whether you’re looking for an active, high-energy vacation or lazily meander in the footsteps of famous visitors who have sought out Bermuda in the past, prepare to be captivated!
Top Photo: Dolphin Quest