Fitting that Bermuda viewed from the air resembles a giant fishhook. It has been capturing the hearts of visitors for centuries.
Admiral Sir George Somers’ love affair began by accident 400 years ago.
More than two centuries later American author and humorist Mark Twain famously declared, “You can go to heaven if you want to. I’ll stay here in Bermuda.”
As for me, I was instantly smitten by the spectacular view from my Grotto Bay room. Bonus that the next few days of a trip in July were virtually picture- and people-perfect.
Sir George, the captain of the Virginia-bound Sea Venture — shipwrecked on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609 — became so enamoured with the land he requested his heart remain after death. Locals will tell you it’s buried in Somers’ Gardens in St. George — the oldest English town in the Americas.
Today the thousands of tourists and business visitors who flock to the beautiful island country do so intentionally, drawn by Bermuda’s twinkling turquoise sea, pink sands, and year-round sub-tropical climate.
Just a three-hour flight from Toronto, Bermuda, consisting of 181 islands and islets, is about 1,046 km east of North Carolina.
Once here, visitors are further reeled in by a unique blend of sophistication, old world charm and environmental savvy.
— Businessmen striding smartly in Bermuda shorts and knee-high stockings.
— St. Peter’s Church continually welcoming the faithful for 400 years. (Established in 1612, it’s the oldest Anglican Church outside the British Isles. It’s in the Old Town of St. George, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
— Choice of fine dining and luxury accommodation fit for royalty or casual eateries and cozy inns.
— Only one car permitted per household and no rental cars for environmental reasons. (Other options: Taxis, buses, scooters, bicycles.)
— Mandatory stepped-limestone roofing system withholds hurricane force and collects drinking water. Each house must collect 80% of water that falls on the roof. It’s the law.
Cool caves will rock your world
Forget air-conditioning. Or a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. The coolest place to chill in Bermuda is underground.
The island’s caves are unforgettable natural wonders where I and two travel companions enjoyed a spa treatment, swam and simply marvelled at 30 million years of magic.
All the better that we could walk to two caves within the grounds of the Grotto Bay Beach Resort and access the third just a few blocks away.
Our first encounter with the subterranean found us stripped down on a trio of beds beneath an airy tent. Relaxing massages were administered overlooking a dimly lit lake while soft music played. With the spa cave to ourselves, all was calm and a little surreal. Seems the perfect setting for a spa, yet we were told the cave was equally successful as an edgy nightclub decades earlier.
The reward for venturing into a second cave property was a refreshing dip in crystal-clear water surrounded by stalactites and ancient rock formations. It seemed a guilty pleasure to have the dark wonder to ourselves, save for a few other use-at-your-own-risk patrons.
However, the cavern was quickly transformed with the arrival of a rugby team. These “cavemen,” bent on building team spirit, were rushing in for a dip of their own when the coach called the troops to a halt to politely inquire whether we women were offended by nudity. Seems a few rookies were shedding their trunks as an initiation to the team.
Post-cave we joined the guys for a team photo and wished them well at the next day’s game.
Sports played a role in the original discovery of the next cave, the result of an errant cricket ball in 1905.
One of two 12-year-old lads playing cricket climbed through a hole in the ground in pursuit of their ball. He discovered an underground world of wonders which today is known as Crystal Caves, Bermuda’s most famous subterranean cavern attracting thousands of tourists each year.
Located in Hamilton Parish, it’s a short walk to the limestone caves from the resort and well worth the organized tour.
Guide Dylan is a fountain of information about the history of the spectacular stalactites (formations that hang from the cave ceiling like icicles) and stalagmites (formations that grow upward), but first advises visitors to descend the 83 steps cautiously as eyes become accustomed to the dimly lit cave. And, with the exception of handrails, don’t touch.
Visitor-friendly additions have made the cave more accessible, but preserving the national treasure is regarded as a sacred trust. Permission to scuba dive in the crystal-clear lake is occasionally granted — but only with a good scientific reason, Dylan says.
The cave, viewed from floating pontoon pathways, is about 36 metres below sea level. Its lake is some 17 metres deeper, but so clear you can see to the cave floor.
But the coolest memory? An ice-cold cave kiss.
Need to know
— Bermuda Shorts are worn as casual and formal. The hem should be 7.5-cm above the knee on men (but length discretional for women). Shorts should be worn with button-down shirt. For shoes, always choose a closed toe. Never flip-flops.
— Bermuda’s people are descendants of slaves from the West Indies and West Africa, English settlers, Irish adventurers, exiled North American native prisoners and Portuguese immigrants.
— Bermuda’s pink beaches are a combination of crushed coral, calcium carbonate and the shells of dark red, tiny single-celled animals call Foraminifera that grow on the underside of Bermuda’s coral reefs.
— Bermuda bills itself as the wreck-dive capital of the world, with more than 518 sq. km of coral reef surrounding the island
— Bermuda’s botanical garden features a statue of John Lennon marking the singer/songwriter’s perilous 1980 voyage to the island, which is attributed with helping him overcome a five-year writer’s block to produce his final album, Double Fantasy, named after flowers he saw in Bermuda. (Source: Bermuda Department of Tourism)
— Air Canada and WestJet have direct flights from Toronto to Bermuda.
— Grotto Bay Beach Resort: grottobay.com.
— For travel info, contact the Bermuda Dept. of Tourism: GoToBermuda.com