To mark the Queen’s recent visit to celebrate the island’s 400th birthday,Ben Ross prescribes the perfect location for a mid-Atlantic winter break
Why go now?
Because you fancy a bit of pre-Christmas shopping in New York with the chance of some mid-Atlantic winter sun thrown in en route. Sir George Somers had the right idea 400 years ago when he crashed his ship, the HMS Sea Venture, on to a nearby reef. Admittedly, he had hoped to relieve starving colonists in Virginia rather than buy a cheap iPod in the US, but he immediately realised Bermuda's stopover potential and waded ashore to claim it for the British Crown. Celebrations to mark the anniversary have been held throughout 2009, with the Queen herself arriving to join in the festivities. A boat parade (bermudaboatparade.bm) brings things to a close on December 12.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) is now the only carrier to offer non-stop flights from Britain, from Gatwick daily except Mondays. To travel on to New York from Bermuda, buy a return ticket from the ‘Book multi-city’ section of the BA website (typically for £403 at the start of December), then make your connection from Bermuda to New York with a carrier such as jetBlue (jetblue.com), which is offering one-way fares of about $180 (£120). The Bermuda dollar, incidentally, is on a par with the US dollar and the two currencies are freely interchangeable on the island.
Bermuda's LF Wade International airport is 10 miles north-east of Hamilton, the capital and only city. Buses 1, 3, 10 and 11 connect the airport with Hamilton for $4.50 (£3) in about 40 minutes. A cab will be quicker; expect to pay about $35 (£23).
Get your bearings
Bermuda's main ‘island’ in fact a thin, fish-hook shaped collection of eight atolls linked by causeways and bridges into a 22-mile-long whole. It is divided into nine tiny parishes, with St George's Parish and the town of St George (3) constituting the East End, and Sandys (pronounced ‘sands’) at the West. Here the island tapers to a point at the Royal Naval Dockyard, where the cruise ships arrive. Bang in the centre lies Hamilton, which — slightly confusingly — is in Pembroke Parish rather than Hamilton Parish (which is farther east).
Buses provide a cost-effective way of getting around. All bus stops have a pole that is either blue or pink: if it is pink, the bus is travelling towards Hamilton; if it is blue, it is heading away from the city.
Top-end accommodation in Bermuda is based around resort complexes, of which the 200-acre Tucker's Point (5), at 60 Tucker's Point Drive, Hamilton Parish (001 441 298 4000; tuckerspointhotelandspa.com) is the newest: it opened in April. Part hotel, part golf/tennis/country club and residential community, its 88 rooms have views of Harrington Sound or the Atlantic. Doubles from $340 (£227), breakfast excluded.
More venerable is the Fairmont Southampton at 101 South Shore Road, Southampton (001 441 238 8000; fairmont.com). Big on golf, it also has easy access to Bermuda's best beaches. Doubles start at $244 (£163), not including breakfast.
A cosier option in the island's capital is the Rosedon Hotel (7), a grand guest house at 61 Pitts Bay Road, Hamilton (001 441 295 1640; rosedon.com). Double rooms from $240 (£160) including afternoon tea, breakfast and a taxi voucher to the beach.
Take a hike
A stroll round Hamilton is a neat introduction to Britain's oldest remaining overseas territory. Start at the visitor information centre, part of the Ferry Terminal building, at 8 Front Street (001 441 295 1480; bermudatourism.com), which is open 9am-4pm Monday-Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturday. Here you can get information on attractions such as the Crystal Caves (001 441 293 0640; caves.bm), a pair of illuminated caverns dripping with stalactites (open 9.30am-4pm daily, admission $23/£15.30 for both caves), or the tiny Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo (10) (001 441 293 2727; bamz.org), with its ‘island environment’ exhibits (open 9am-5pm daily; admission $10/£6.60), both of which are in Hamilton Parish.
Carry on along Front Street, where the shops face the busy harbourside. Here the Cenotaph in front of the Cabinet Building is a replica of that in London. Take a left on Court Street, then turn left again into Church Street, past the grand Sessions House, Bermuda's parliament, where the vexed question of the island's possible independence from Britain is periodically raised. Pass the neo-Gothic Anglican Cathedral and continue on to the white façade of the City Hall and Arts Centre, which houses the National Gallery (001 441 295 9428; bng.com), currently showing an exhibition entitled ‘Four Centuries of Evolving Art’ (open 10am-4pm Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm on Saturday; admission free).
Finally, take a left down Queen Street, past the well-manicured Par-La-Ville Park, to the Perot Post Office. Here, a sign reveals that the first Bermudan postage stamps were issued from the building in 1848. You can still buy stamps here — but only on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.
Bermuda is no place for bargain-hunters, even if the shopping options are more than a little reminiscent of home: an outpost of Marks & Spencer faces French Connection on Reid Street.
For the full Bermudan couture experience, deck yourself in colourful shorts, complementary shirt, blazer and long socks at the English Sports Shop at 49 Front Street (001 441 295 2672), open 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. The full ensemble should come in at just under $400 (£265).
Lunch on the run
A couple of doors down from the English Sports Shop, the Pickled Onion at 53 Front Street (001 441 295 2263; thepickledonion.com) is a lively first-floor restaurant-bar with a balcony offering great views of the harbour. Fish chowder costs $7 (£4.60), blackened tuna Cobb salad is $18 (£12).
Take a ride
The Sea Express ferry's ‘blue route’ departures leave Hamilton's terminal building on the hour from 9am-10pm at weekends ($4/£2.70 single) and take 30 minutes to get to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Parts of this fortress, with its crumbling Victorian storehouses and cannon emplacements, now comprise the Bermuda Maritime Museum (001 441 234 1418; bmm.bm). Make for the Commissioner's House: the verandas command panoramic views. Inside, exhibitions chart the island's historic role as a military stronghold. Open daily 9.30am-5pm (last entry 3pm), admission $10 (£6.60).
Take a view
Bus 7 or 8 takes you back to Hamilton. Break your journey at Gibbs Hill Lighthouse on Lighthouse Road in Southampton Parish (001 441 238 8069). From the top you'll have views out over to Hamilton to the east and to the Dockyard due north, while Bermuda's verdant green shores and offshore islands dazzle in the middle distance. Open daily 9am-4.30pm, admission $2.50 (£1.60).
The Hog Penny at 5 Burnaby Street (001 441 292 2534; hogpennypub.com) in Hamilton is a dimly lit but welcoming pub where a pint of beer will set you back $6.50 (£4.30). The local cocktail speciality is a Dark 'n' Stormy (dark rum and ginger beer) which costs $8 (£5.30).
Dining with the locals
There are plenty of ways to sample fine dining in Bermuda. One popular option is Fourways Inn at 1 Middle Road in Paget Parish (001 441 236 6517; fourwaysinn.com), where the menu includes the likes of sautéed scampi and scallop brochette for $38.95 (£26). For fewer frills, try the lively Portofino at 20 Bermudiana Road in Hamilton (001 441 292 2375). Here a bowl of penne alla arrabiata eaten among traditional trattoria clutter costs $17.95 (£12).
Sunday morning: go to church
The ‘orange route’ ferry from Hamilton to the town of St George doesn't run in the winter, but the East End of Bermuda is easily accessible by bus. St George, established in 1612, was once the capital of the island, and most of its old colonial buildings are still intact; the town was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2000.
One building that hasn't fared quite so well is the Unfinished Church on Kent Street. A plaque details its travails: begun in 1874, it took 20 years to construct, but trouble broke out among the parishioners and it was never completed. Hurricane damage did the rest. Now a national monument, the walls still remain, although the roof is notable only by its absence.
Out to brunch
Sunday brunch is big in Bermuda, both in popularity and calorific value. The Carriage House restaurant (001 441 297 1730) at 22 Water Street in St George is an 18th-century warehouse building at the harbourside.
The fixed-price Sunday brunch buffet is served from 11.30am-2.30pm and consists of a carvery, fish dishes, pasta and salads, with a complimentary glass of champagne. It costs $41.40 (£27.60) per person, including service.
There's plenty to explore in the narrow streets of St George, although some historic buildings are open only on Wednesdays in winter. Start at the replica of the Deliverance that lies off the tiny Ordnance Island in the harbour. The original was built to carry survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck on to Virginia. Pass the pretty town hall on King's Square and turn east on King Street. Here lies one of the town's most impressive buildings: the Italianate State House, once home to Bermuda's first parliament.
Meanwhile, off Church Lane lies the diminutive St Peter's Church, reputed to be the oldest continuously used Anglican church in the western hemisphere. The churchyard was segregated: slaves were buried at the western end; their owners at the eastern.
A walk in the park
Bermuda's only railway line, from St George to Somerset Parish in the West End, was constructed between 1926 and 1931. Each of the 21 miles cost $2m, making it one of the most expensive railways ever built (a title now held by London's Jubilee Line extension). However, it lasted for just 17 years before the arrival of the car rendered it obsolete. The route has now been reinvented as a walking and cycling path, with green segments running through each parish. For more information, see the Bermuda East To West guide, available from the visitor information centres in Hamilton, St George and the Royal Naval Dockyard.
Icing on the cake
Bermuda's naval history is evident in the disused forts and gun emplacements scattered around its coastline. But its shores also possess stunning pink coral sand beaches. A long stretch runs from the broad sweep of Warwick Long Bay in Warwick Parish, past Jobson's Cove, Stonehole Bay and Chaplin Bay, and on to Horseshoe Bay , Bermuda's most popular beach. All are linked by a path behind the dunes running through South Shore Park.
Bermuda is warmed by the Gulf Stream and, with the hurricane season drawing to a close, the weather should be mild. However, bear in mind that you're still more than 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean, so the water will be chilly at this time of year.