Cosmopolitan Paradise

THE PINK LADY: The elegant Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel (center), first opened in 1885, offers commanding views of Hamilton Harbor, where tall ships and yachts are frequent visitors.

THE PINK LADY: The elegant Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel (center), first opened in 1885, offers commanding views of Hamilton Harbor, where tall ships and yachts are frequent visitors.

THE PINK LADY: The elegant Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel (center), first opened in 1885, offers commanding views of Hamilton Harbor, where tall ships and yachts are frequent visitors.

luxuriate: One of the bedrooms, with its own bath, in a two-bedroom residence in the fractional-ownership Reefs Club.

Top, a guest contemplates infinity—in the club’s infinite edge pool, with the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

on the rocks: The Reefs Hotel and Club, outside Southampton, Bermuda, overlooks its own private beach. Guests and unit owners enjoy food and drink service on the beach from the resort’s Coconuts restaurant.

PLEASURES OF THE TABLE: A lone picnic table provides a matchless vista at a roadside park not far from the Reefs Hotel and Club.

PRIVATE? NOT ALWAYS: You can play some of Bermuda’s most exclusive courses, including the renovated Tucker’s Point Club

I don’t know why the chicken crossed the road, but I do know why the rush-hour traffic courteously paused to let it pass—that’s the kind of place Bermuda is. The mostly shoulderless South Shore Road (where said bird was spotted) would qualify as a country lane in New Jersey. But in this island nation it is a main thoroughfare. One lane in each direction, as serpentine as Silly String, it is traveled by buzzing scooters, minivan taxis, compact cars, and the occasional hulking truck. On weekday mornings, traffic crawls into Hamilton
—Bermuda’s handsome, centrally-located capital—as scooter riders daringly scoot up the middle of South Shore Road, the women’s hair and the men’s neckties flapping gaily in the breeze.

There you have the charm, and the duality, of Bermuda. It’s cosmopolitan enough to have a rush hour, yet laid back enough to defer to peripatetic poultry. It has beautiful pink sand beaches, often with dramatic rock outcroppings, yet the climate is more comfortable than that of the Caribbean islands to the south.

And Bermuda is easy to get to—about a two-hour flight from Newark Airport to Bermuda’s spot in the Atlantic Ocean, about 600 miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.

As you would expect in a former British colony, everyone speaks fluent English. There are plenty of British vestiges, from knee-length Bermuda shorts (adapted from British Army shorts), to driving on the left, to a fascination with cricket. In fact, Bermuda claims to be the only country in the world that turns an annual cricket match (in July) into a two-day national holiday. Shopping in Hamilton, the capital, is second to none among island vacation destinations in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

There is also plenty of indigenous culture, from the colorful, tasseled costumes of Gombey dancers, an outgrowth of Bermudian slave resistance to British rule, to Afro-Caribbean art and the ubiquitous white pyramidal roofs, their sides channeled to shed water. The national drink is the tasty and easygoing Dark & Stormy, a blend of Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda Rum and non-alcoholic but frisky Bermuda ginger beer. The national restorative is Bermuda fish chowder, an invigorating chunky soup in which black rum as well as Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Pepper sauce make guest appearances, floating on top.

Buses and especially taxis are the conveyances of choice because tourists are not allowed to rent cars. Anyone can rent motor scooters, however. If you rent one (about $50-$80 a day, with discounts for multiple-day rentals), get the feel of the thing on a side street before you venture out on the main road.

Bermuda could not be a friendlier place to visit, but in terms of ownership, the island is very much for Bermudians. Citizens are allowed to sell real estate they own only to other Bermudians. The only properties outsiders are allowed to buy are those already owned by non-Bermudians. Last fall, there were only thirteen such houses and 27 condos on the market, with the cheapest having an asking price of $1.25 million. (Bermudian dollars have the same value as American dollars, and in day-to-day transactions, either are accepted.)

Fractional ownership—the old-fashioned time-share taken to new levels of luxury and service, with deeded ownership—has rejuvenated this tight market. The Tucker’s Point Club, a $350-million, 200-acre development overlooking three bodies of water near the eastern end of the island, opened in 2008, and its initial real estate offerings sold out. (There is also a golf course, hotel, and spa.) Last year the final phase of the fractional development, called Harbour Drive, went on sale at prices from $355,000 to $415,000.

For an intimate experience without sacrificing any luxury, it’s hard to beat the Reefs Hotel and Club near Southampton on the south side of the island. The boutique hotel, perched on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, dates to 1947, and has been lovingly maintained and updated by owner David Dodwell and his family. Dodwell, a Bermudian who graduated from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and later served as Bermuda’s minister of tourism, was first smitten by the cozy charm of the Reefs 35 years ago. He worked in different jobs at the hotel, eventually becoming president and, since 1981, majority owner.

The number of rooms, suites, and cottages—each with ocean views—totals 64. During the summer, per-night rates range from $615 for the smallest room to $1,785 for the largest (three-bedroom) cottage—dinner, full breakfast, and afternoon tea are included.

The three seafood-centric restaurants at the Reefs are among the most reliable in Bermuda. (Others worth a visit are the Hog Penny and the Lobster Pot, both in Hamilton, and the Newport Room or other restaurants at the Fairmont Southampton, the grande dame of Bermuda beach resorts, which is only a few minutes from the Reefs.) Coconuts, the casual beach bar, serves lunch and dinner in the open air. Upstairs in the hotel, the two main restaurants have recently been renovated: Ocean Echo, overlooking the beach, is upscale casual; Royston’s, with its open kitchen, is the more formal spot for dinner. Steaks and chops are excellent at Royston’s.

In 2003, Dodwell purchased an undeveloped parcel of cliffside land adjoining the hotel and overlooking its pink-sand beach. The resulting Reefs Club opened last July with 19 two- and three-bedroom, luxuriously furnished residences, each with an ocean view. Each owner receives a one-tenth, undivided, deeded interest in a two-bedroom unit ($350,000, plus a quarterly maintenance fee of $2,375) or a three-bedroom unit ($410,000, plus a quarterly maintenance fee of $2,875). The one-tenth fraction entitles the owner to schedule three weeks a year up to several months in advance, and to reserve on short notice (seven days ahead or less) up to a seven-day stay on a space-available basis. There is no limit on the total number of space-available days per year.

The development also includes a spa, where after massages, aromatherapy, and other treatments, you can return to planet Earth in a lounge chair overlooking the ocean.

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Author: Issue: May/Jun 2010
Credits: icnic Table: Eric Levin; Harborside: ©atlee mercer /