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Life in the Past Lane
You don't have to be here long to realize there's much more to Bermuda than sea, sand, and rum swizzles. As one of Britain's oldest colonies, the island has more than 400 years of history and, thanks to thoughtful preservation policies, the architecture to prove it.
The jewel in the crown, in terms of period charm, is the UNESCO-designated town of St. George's. As Bermuda's original capital, it has a distinctly colonial feel, and wandering its crooked, cottage-lined lanes is akin to time travel. See the statue of Sir George Somers (who was shipwrecked here in 1609), and view a replica of his vessel before ambling over to King's Square to catch a "ducking stool" reenactment.
The British, keenly aware of Bermuda's strategic significance, kept it well protected from 1612 to 1956—which is why this tiny country has the world's highest concentration of historic forts. Start working through the list at the National Museum of Bermuda: a converted fortress that's now the centerpiece of the Royal Naval Dockyard. Fort St. Catherine, a 17th-century edifice, complete with moat and sprawling ramparts, is another must-see.
The African Diaspora Heritage Trail, part of the international Slave Route Project, shows Brits weren't the only ones who helped shape Bermuda. This self-guided tour crisscrosses the island, identifying 11 sites related to Black Bermudians. Highlights include the poignant slave graveyard at St. Peter's Church and Cobb's Hill Methodist Church, which was built by and for blacks before Emancipation.
Bermuda is a renowned golfing destination and close enough to the United States and Canada to be pitched as "putting distance" from the eastern seaboard. The courses are as scenic as the island itself. But don't let their pretty appearance fool you. Many have holes by the sea or atop ocean-side bluffs, so wind and that big water hazard (the Atlantic!) can play havoc with your game.
Laid out by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1921, the classic course at Mid Ocean Golf Club in Tucker's Town is one of the most spectacular on the island—and one of the most highly regarded in the world. If you can wrangle an introduction from a member (or have your concierge do it on your behalf), you might find yourself on the links with celebs like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who live in Bermuda.
Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton Parish is understandably popular. The affordable public property, fresh from a $14-million makeover, has an impressive pedigree: it's a Robert Trent Jones design and a favorite of Jack Nicklaus. Plus, it boasts Bermuda's most recognizable hole (the sublime 16th), which has been photographed for countless glossy golfing magazines.
You can see why they say "good things come in small packages" at the Fairmont Southampton Golf Course. The property's 18-hole par-3 executive course, designed by Ted Robinson, is on a hillside, and its challenging terrain offers a good warm-up for Bermuda's full-length courses. Better still, playing here for an afternoon won't break your piggy bank.
Just Add Water
Boat-loving Bermudians like to drop anchor, crack open a case of beer, and float the day away—an activity that should not be knocked until it is tried. Yet seeing what lies beneath the turquoise waves can be equally enjoyable. Warm, clear water with visibility up to 150 feet, rich marine life, unique topography, and perhaps most important, reliable outfitters, combine to make Bermuda an ideal place for underwater exploration.
Wreck divers know that not all of Bermuda's history lessons can be learned on dry land. Due to the island's treacherous coral reefs, hundreds of shipwrecks from various eras lie in its waters—and companies like Triangle Diving and Blue Water Divers will take you out to see them. Both operate wreck tours for experienced scuba enthusiasts as well as lesson-and-dive packages for first-timers.
Not ready to dive in? Consider taking an underwater walk. Hartley's Under Sea Adventures lets you don a specially designed helmet, then descend about 10 feet for some face time with fish. Although the equipment may look strange, the science is sound (helmets operate on the same principal as a tumbler overturned in water) and the experience is unforgettable.
From April to November, all you need are fins and a mask to enjoy the Dockyard's Snorkel Park. This sheltered, easy-to-access inlet features exotic sea creatures, submerged artifacts (such as centuries-old cannons), and even floating rest stations. You can rent snorkel gear—along with an assortment of other equipment, including kayaks, pedalos, and Jet Skis—at the site.
Many holiday hot spots invite visitors to bed down in ho-hum "all inclusives." But Bermuda is different. The island is dotted with one-of-a-kind accommodations, where big names in luxury lodging are interspersed with posh family-run resorts, old-school cottage colonies, and quaint, sometimes quirky, bed-and-breakfasts.
Bermuda is fresh off a hotel-building boom. The first to debut is the Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa, which opened spring 2008 in Paget Parish. Boutique-style decor and divine water views make it a hit with overnighters; and if you wish you were lucky enough to actually live here, fractional ownership opportunities are available.
You'd expect over-water lodgings in Bora Bora, not Bermuda. Nevertheless 9 Beaches in Sandys Parish has them: 16 funky canvas-covered cabanas (aka tentalows) sitting on stilts above the ocean. Each has a Plexiglas floor panel for viewing sea-life and a "refined rustic" ambience. There are temptations outdoors, too. In addition to the titular nine beaches, the resort has a sports center equipped with all the requisite water toys.
As its unusual name suggests, Salt Kettle House in Paget Parish isn't your ordinary bed-and-breakfast. Set on a peninsula overlooking Hamilton Harbour, it has cabbage-rose upholstery inside and colorful lounge chairs outside that combine to give it a "Laura Ashley Goes to the Beach" vibe. However, it is British-born owner Hazel Lowe—famed for dishing out advice as well as breakfast—who really keeps visitors coming back.
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