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Bermuda: Insider’s Guide

WendyPerrin.com | September 6, 2014
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Where to Stay and Eat

Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
The iconic Fairmont Hamilton Princess, known as the Pink Palace, is one of the oldest hotels on the island; the Bermudian owners are finishing up over $100 million in renovations to freshen up this grande dame. The upgrades include an infinity pool, a complete overhaul of all guest rooms, a new spa wing and marina, and a restaurant from celeb chef Marcus Samuelsson—which I can personally say is one of the most creative culinary experiences on the island. The hotel is right in town, so it’s a quick walk to shops and restaurants, and you can take a free ferry to the Fairmont Southampton if you want some beach time. My guests receive a room upgrade (if available), free breakfast, and a $100 resort credit.

Restaurant the locals love
Tom Moore’s Tavern. I have been going to Tom Moore’s since I was a child, and I love the charming ambiance of this seventeenth-century private home, with its cedar walls and fireplaces in the various dining rooms. Closed for many years, it was reopened by Italian partners Bruno Fiocca and Franco Bortoli in 1985, and today it’s one of the most popular restaurants in the St. Georges area. Seafood is its specialty; I always order the local rockfish when it’s on the menu.

Must-have dish
A trip to Bermuda is not complete without sampling the national dish: fish chowder. It’s on every menu, and chefs compete for the best-tasting recipe. There must be whole pieces of fish, and the stock has to be rich and full, with a splash of Bermuda’s indigenous seasonings: dark rum and sherry pepper (a staple sauce made of pequin peppers and sherry). Hamilton’s Lobster Pot wins the award for best fish chowder nearly every year. 

What to See and Do

Kayaking in Bermuda

Kayaking near the National Museum.

Don’t miss
The National Museum, formerly the Maritime Museum, located in the citadel that once protected the Royal Naval Dockyard. Every room in the Commissioner’s House is stuffed with maritime artifacts, and exhibits cover Bermuda’s role in the slave trade, the role of local forces in the world wars, and more.

The Aquarium in the Flatts Village. Sure, you can see a great variety of sea life by snorkeling, but if you take your family here before or after heading underwater, you’ll have a much better appreciation for what you’re swimming among. With a sound stick in hand (a wireless speaker that narrates the exhibits), you will learn about the native fish in the many tanks—especially the North Rock tank, a living replica of Bermuda’s spectacular coral reefs.

Don’t bother
Shopping in the town of Hamilton, once a highlight, is no more. Although the storefronts nicely reflect the architecture of Bermuda, their merchandise decidedly does not; most of them are similar to what you’ll find in the United States. One recent exception is the Island Shop, with its colorfully hand-painted housewares. Owner Barbara Finsness has even brought back the “Bermuda bag”—a small purse with wooden handles that’s a relic of the past.

Hidden gem
The Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Nestled in the botanical gardens, the Masterworks Museum has collected more than 1,300 paintings, drawings, and photographs from artists who have been inspired by the beauty of Bermuda, including Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Henry Moore. Aside from the permanent collection, there’s always a temporary exhibit and a little café for a cup of tea.

The Spirit of Bermuda

The Spirit of Bermuda, disembarking from Hamilton Harbor.

Cheap thrill
Seeing Bermuda from the water is a must for any visitor. But instead of booking a private cruise, take a local ferry from Dockyard to Hamilton or, in the summer, from Dockyard to St. Georges. They’re inexpensive—especially if you have bought a Transport Pass (see “Biggest Rookie Mistake,” right)—and the views from the open-air top deck clearly show the natural beauty of the island, as well as a glimpse of the elegant houses on the hillsides.

 

Best golf course
You’ll find world-class facilities and spectacular views at the Mid Ocean Club, which has a long history of hosting golf greats. It’s a private course, but visitors are welcome on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (provided there’s not a member event). I’ve always liked Riddell’s Bay Golf & Country Club; the yardage is short, but the course is challenging for a midlevel player. The holes are perilously close to the ocean, so bring lots of balls!

Horseshoe Bay

Horseshoe Bay.

Best beach for swimming
Horseshoe Bay is by far the best public beach, with a wide swath of pink sand that stretches for a mile down the South Shore. It’s perfect for children, as the waves are gentle, the water is crystal clear, and the entry is gradual. From April through September, come after midafternoon, when the cruise-ship crowds leave for the day.

Best beach for snorkeling
Church Bay in Southampton Parish, at the bottom of a long set of steps. Just off the narrow beach, the shallow reef has a multitude of parrotfish, sergeant majors (named for their insignia-like black stripes), and angelfish, with the pink sand reflecting from below. The water is calmest and warmest from May through September. Just keep your eye out for the occasional barracuda, and head back to land if you see one.

Best Time to Go

Savvy visitors come to Bermuda from November through March, because the hotel rates are half their summer peak and temperatures in the low 70s make it a great time for golf and tennis. This is called rendezvous season, and there are free tours, lectures, and arts demonstrations all over the island. It rains more often in these months but only in short spurts.

Worst Time to Go

Though the months from April through September get the best weather, you’ll also find the highest rates and the biggest crowds—many from cruise ships that let off up to 4,000 passengers at a time. If you do go then, steer clear of the Royal Naval Dockyard and public beaches like Horseshoe Bay until mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, when the greatest concentration of cruisers are milling about.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Renting a motorbike! Although the speed limit on Bermuda is 25 miles per hour, it is often exceeded by local drivers. You also have to drive on the left and deal with roundabouts. Put this together with rather heavy motor scooters and the result can be road rash—or worse. There are no rental cars, and taxis are expensive (although I cannot say enough about their drivers, who are fine ambassadors of Bermuda and love to share their local information with you). The answer? Get yourself a Transport Pass—you can buy one at the bus or ferry terminal in Hamilton—and use it for unlimited rides on the ferries and pink buses that go everywhere on the island.

Bragging Rights

For guests interested in government, I can get you in to see a session of Parliament and then meet with one of its members for a special briefing on Bermuda’s system of government and the island’s ongoing connection to England—or whatever other political issues might interest you.

I can also arrange a daylong tour of gardens belonging to some of the oldest families in Bermuda—whose properties are not open to the public—including lunch with the president of the Bermuda Garden Club at her home. The conversation typically covers not just flora but also the island’s rich history, told from an insider’s perspective.

For those more interested in the arts, I can arrange a meeting with a prominent local artist, such as Sheileigh Head, one of the island’s top impressionists.

Instagram Moment

Capture all of Bermuda’s colors with a single shot in St. Georges: pastel homes with shuttered doors and windows, white stepped rooftops, the turquoise sea, and the sapphire sky.

Tipping Tip

Be sure to check all restaurant bills; tips of 17 percent are usually included. There’s no need to add anything else unless the service has been exceptional. I always tip taxi drivers a few dollars for the trip to or from the airport.

Airport Intel

When departing, you go through customs in Bermuda rather than at your port of entry to the United States. Get to the airport two to three hours early with your customs form filled out (you’ll receive one upon arrival), check in, go through customs, and then have a last cup of tea in the café while you wait for your flight to be called.

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