Bermuda rules when you want to sail away from it all
Apr. 26, 2007 07:45 PM
The northernmost coral island, Bermuda lies in the Atlantic Ocean, just 650 miles east of North Carolina--and actually closer to New York than to the Bahamas. And while easily accessible from her Caribbean neighbors, Britain’s oldest colony seems a world away, in both tradition and attitude.
Location, location, location. The most important criterion in real estate also plays a prominent role when it comes to the 21-square mile string of independently governed British islands called Bermuda. For Bermuda’s geographically strategic location not only contributes to her reign as a boating capital of the Atlantic, it influences everything about the island. Bermuda’s proximity to the United States makes her a hub for long-distance yacht races and a prime stopover point on transatlantic journeys, while cooler, more-northerly winters have kept her from the commercialization that has overtaken many Caribbean islands with longer seasons.
Prized for meticulously kept pastel-colored houses, pristine pink-sand beaches, sparkling aquamarine waters, and well-groomed gardens and golf courses, Bermuda’s caretakers have been careful to keep their gem as polished and perfect as possible. Legislators first imposed environmental measures 400 years ago when the island was discovered. Today, only one car per household is permitted, tourists are allowed to drive only motor scooters, signs are kept to a minimum, and neon signs are prohibited. You won’t see billboards touting the largest casinos or hippest dance clubs. Instead, there’s a certain formality, and traditions hold strong. Afternoon tea is served throughout the island. Gentlemen are required to dress for dinner in many restaurants, though after May 24, local businessmen are allowed to bare their knees by sporting a pair of their well-known knee-length shorts with a jacket, tie, and knee-high socks. Entertainment may center around an afternoon cricket match, one of many sailing regattas (the famed biannual 635-mile Newport-Bermuda Yacht Race just celebrated its 100th anniversary), or a gathering at the local pub to enjoy a pint of ale, a Rum Swizzle, or a Dark ’n Stormy.
Out of the spotlight
Bermuda’s low-key ambience and shortage of nightlife differentiate the island dramatically from Caribbean destinations that are popular with the motoryacht crowd, but that’s the very reason others choose to spend time here. “Bermuda is not necessarily the place to see and be seen,” says Adam Barboza, manager of sports promotion at the Bermuda Department of Tourism. Bermuda hosts thousands of boats and does see its share of superyachts come through, he says--and more and more facilities are being built to keep pace with them—-but “it’s not a place to come if you want to show off.” Instead, those aboard are usually the owners——people who want to “just hang out, get away from it all and relax.”
Barboza says most yachts stay for about a week, making short trips between the island’s three major harbors: historic St. George, Bermuda’s first capital, with restaurants and shops set amongst quaint buildings and narrow cobblestone streets dating back to the 17th century; the Royal Naval Dockyard, the former headquarters of the British Navy on Bermuda, now partially renovated to house artists, shops and restaurants; and the capital city of Hamilton, with its thriving world financial center, shopping district, historical sights, restaurants, and pubs.
When yacht guests decide to head ashore, they can hop on scooters (driving is on the left-hand side of the road) to zip around the island and, at whim, stop to explore the lovely towns and revel in the natural beauty that lies at every turn. (Don’t be too intimidated by the T-shirts in the windows of souvenir shops along Front Street in Hamilton, that read “I survived a Bermuda scooter!” Though unnerving at times, scooters truly are the best way to view the island.)
Fun in the sun
There are, of course, a multitude of beaches to choose from, and Bermuda lives up to her picture-postcard reputation. Pull over at Somerset Long Bay in Sandys Parish, for instance, and you’ll most likely be alone on the wide crescent of pale pink sand. Walk several hundred yards down the beach, and you’ll come upon a private, secluded cove, surrounded by rocky boulders—-a private sun-warmed swimming hole filled with calm, multihued azure water that will take your breath away. Afterwards, drive down a narrow winding road and admire the vibrant bougainvillea climbing the stepped white-roofed homes, lush gardens in front filled with lilies, oleander, and hibiscus.
Craving a long walk or a bike ride to work off some of that curried conch or seafood chowder you’ve indulged in? You can actually walk the entire length of the island via Bermuda’s Railway Trail, the remains of the Old Bermuda Railway, which was in existence only from 1931 to 1948. When cars arrived in Bermuda, train transport was no longer needed, and the railway was disassembled. But the trail now provides great walking and cycling opportunities—-and magnificent vistas of forest, harbor, and sea along the way. Hike the entire trail or pick it up at one of the many trailheads across the island.
For an up-close look at one of Bermuda’s often overlooked natural habitats, not to mention great bird watching, head out to Spittal Pond Nature Reserve in Smith’s Parish. Here, a path winds through about 60 acres around a large pond, and onto coral cliffs rising high above a crashing Atlantic.
Back on board
Visitors to Bermuda who do not have a yacht at their disposal should make an effort to spend some time on the water. This can be accomplished even from a ferry system that runs throughout Bermuda’s parishes. It’s also possible to explore Bermudian waters by kayak or by chartering a catamaran or a monohull for a day or evening. Unlike other islands, there are no bareboat charter companies, and, according to Barboza, only one or two charter yachts are available for extended periods. But there are almost unlimited opportunities to discover secluded coves and colorful vistas—and to dive the many wrecks in the area.
When I ask Barboza, a native Bermudian and avid yachtsman where his favorite anchorage is, he says proudly that the entire island is “a don’t miss!” but whenever possible, he says he heads to Mangrove Bay, in Sandys Parish near the Royal Naval Dockyard. “It’s absolutely beautiful there, a real getaway,” he says somewhat dreamily. “You feel like you’re in another world. Up there, you can have a little runabout or a kayak, go snorkeling . . .
Paradise Lake, in Warwick Parish, is another place Barboza frequents. He says it’s a favorite with locals, a little inlet amongst six to eight islands, that’s very quiet and beautiful, very serene. A perfect place to sail away from it all.
A-Listers Call Bermuda Home
While tourism is still a major component of Bermuda’s economy, it falls second to industry--industry as in finance, insurance and Internet banking. Bermuda has become a world financial center, and boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. In addition, attractive tax advantages have undoubtedly added to the lure for millionaire and billionaire homeowners, including:
Michael Douglas: Raised on Bermuda, the actor still maintains a home there as well as a partnership in Ariel Sands, a popular beach resort known to draw fellow Hollywood stars.
Ross Perot: The billionaire and his son own lavish side-by-side homes.
Michael Bloomberg (and his daughters): The current mayor of New York City has a pilot’s license and a fleet of planes, so he can arrive at this home-away-from home in just a few hours.
Warren Buffett: Worth over $30 billion, Buffett is CEO of Bermuda-based Berkshire-Hathaway.
Bill Gates: Microsoft’s founder and CEO is said to have financial holdings here.
Charlie Watts: former drummer of the Rolling Stones likes to relax in Bermuda.
Marion MacMmillan: Worth billions through Cargill, Inc., she also owns Perot’s Island in Bermuda’s Great Sound.
Silvio Berlusconi: On-and-off again Prime Minister of Italy and Italian media magnate, he’s rumored to be one of the island’s wealthiest citizens.
Frequent visitors to Bermuda include: Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Danny Glover, and avid sailor Morgan Freeman.