Curved like the tail of a scorpion and situated 1,046 kilometers east of North Carolina and 1,377 kilometers south of Halifax—Bermuda is a captivating study in contrasts. Thanks to its history as a strategically important English colony, threads of Britishness remain in the form of red post boxes, grand Victorian buildings and a national obsession with cricket. But there’s a distinctly tropical languidness to the pace of life that makes it feel more like the Bahamas than Blighty. Palm trees wave lazily by pink-sand beaches, cheerily painted limestone homes in a spectrum of shades from pale sorbet yellow to fuchsia cascade down gentlegreen hillsides, and gleaming white yachts bob in the harbours.
I arrive on this charmed island equipped with little more than vague notions about men in wacky shorts, groomed golf courses and the dreaded Bermuda Triangle—said to swallow planes and ships without a trace. My husband, Adam, is plotting to explore some of the island’s famed shipwrecks. Bermuda is renowned for its incredible wreck diving, with more than 400 ships coming to their final resting place on the treacherous reef. I’ve barely opened my book before we touch down safely (the flight is less than three hours from Toronto), with no mysterious technical failures to report. An auspicious start.
We check into the Fairmont Southampton, an imposing pink pile prettily marooned in a sea of manicured jade-green that turns out to be a golf course. The view from our sixth-floor suite is of Little Sound, a serenely lovely harbour dotted with jagged outcrops and bristling with boats. The laid-back, beachy atmosphere of Bermuda might be reminiscent of the Caribbean, but the topography is far lusher than the islands further south; vivid green Norfolk Pines and Casuarinas (or Sheaoaks) with their slender outline and feathery leaves, populate the island’s shores and hillsides. The rich foliage creates a striking tableau when seen against the startling blue sky and the distinctive whitewashed Bermudian rooftops constructed to resemble tiered pyramids.
We set out to explore, catching one of the hotel’s charmingly old-fashioned blue trolleys, which ferry guests to and from the beaches and restaurants. A steep, short journey down to the harbour brings us to the Bermuda Railway Trail, a railway line running the length of the island that was abandoned in 1948 and is now an 18-milelong walking track. We scramble up an embankment and along a lofty part of the trail that runs past Bermudian homes, some painted a shade of blue that blends so closely with the sky that they seem to disappear. Glimpses of sparkling water flash through the trees and a brisk breeze ruffles the early blooms growing wild by the side of the sandy path.
We eat dinner that night at the Waterlot Inn, a historical manor house dating back to 1670. The restaurant is painted in a typical whitewash and sits right at the edge of the water; from our corner window seat we can practically reach out and pluck the catch of the day from the harbour ourselves. It’s helpful to have the clear water as a reminder that you’re in subtropical climes. Otherwise, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a gentlemen’s club in London. The upstairs bar, especially, is a study in English gentility, with Chesterfield lounges, chintzy fabrics and model ships behind glass. Pre-dinner, we settle in front of the fire to sample one of Bermuda’s two famous cocktails—the Dark ’N Stormy, made with local rum and ginger beer. (The other is the Rum Swizzle, a lethal concoction I’ll leave to the experts.)
One of Bermuda’s most appreciated assets is, of course, its beaches, and Fairmont guests are privy to one of the best. A two-minute trolley ride and we’re dropped off at an arc of pale-pink sand, flanked by rocky headlands and dotted with thatched beach umbrellas. Craggy rocks rise from turquoise water so clear you could count the grains of sand on the ocean floor. A sign warns swimmers to watch out for the fearsome Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish. A laconic blond teenager at the dive shop assures us they haven’t seen any of the monsters “for days,” so armed with this cold comfort we rent some snorkels and ins and head out into the still-chilly Atlantic. We soon forget about venomous jellyfish as we kick around in the water, watching parrot fish, angel fish and baby groupers investigating a sunken cannon. The waters all around the island are strewn with poetically rusting debris and enough pirate’s booty to fill a museum—a bane for sailors but hugely fortunate for divers. Our dive shop friend signs Adam up for a snorkeling expedition the day before we’re due to leave, promising the gusty winds will have died down by then. We chat for a while with Wendy Tucker, director of the institute and daughter of Bermudian legend Teddy Tucker, famed for discovering most of the shipwrecks scattered around the archipelago. (The museum holds a replica of the famous “Tucker Cross,” a priceless treasure Tucker salvaged in 1955, only to have it stolen in 1976, never to be found.)
After this encounter, Adam is keener than ever to get a wreck dive in, but at the last minute the dive shop calls with some bad news; all reef excursions have been cancelled due to inclement weather. I expect him to be downcast at the news but there’s a strange, enthusiastic gleam in his eye when he puts down the phone. “Oh well,” he says casually, “guess this means we’re just going to have to come back to Bermuda again.” When he puts it that way, it does seem like good news, after all.
“Bermuda: Tropics and Tradition” has been edited for FLARE.com; the complete story appears in the October issue of FLARE magazine.