Finding Heaven in Bermuda

Mark Twain once said, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay here in Bermuda.” So I’m blaming the island’s amiable ambiance for the easy way I did something stupid: I climbed into a car with a stranger. Luckily, the kind gent who offered a ride to Hamilton, the island’s only city, was Raymond Ming, 61. An award-winning doorman at the Elbow Beach Hotel, Ming expertly puts people at ease. By the time we got to Hamilton, I knew more about Bermuda and felt I’d found a friend.

Before international financial and insurance companies came to dominate the island country’s economy, tourism was its most important industry. And no wonder. Graceful seabirds — Bermuda longtails — skim over turquoise water as visitors run pink sand between their toes at picturesque beaches. The surf boils past reefs that have sunk many a vessel but are the habitat for the colourful fish that enchant snorkellers. Ashore, lush trees and flowering shrubs spice the air with fragrance. At The Reefs, a popular seaside hotel, the double-tiered deck overhanging rocks at water’s edge has been dubbed Caso’s Point, for the guest who has returned at least 125 times.

Time makes the difference between heaven and hell on a volcano. Bermuda’s 138 divine islands are actually the limestone tips of a 4,000-metre volcano that last erupted 30 million years ago. The climate is subtropical — warmed by Florida and Gulf Stream currents — yet this paradise is only a three-hour flight from Toronto.

In the town of St. George , a World Heritage Site, you can buy fragrant bath gel at the Bermuda Perfumery and admire the bronze statue of Admiral Sir George Somers, who saved all 150 aboard the Sea Venture, wrecked on the island’s treacherous reefs during a storm 400 years ago (believed to be Shakespeare’s inspiration for The Tempest). My favourite attraction is the Rogues and Runners exhibit in the Bermuda National Trust Museum. It describes Bermuda’s role in supplying the Confederacy, defying the Union blockade during the American Civil War.

Visitors can only drive scooters, but taxis are plentiful. Taking the bus is easy; transportation passes (for up to seven days) are good for bus and ferry. One day, I wandered through shops on Hamilton’s Front Street, then took the ferry to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Its sturdy buildings house restaurants and attractions ranging from an art centre, shopping mall, glassworks and pottery. The Commissioner’s House, completed in 1827, features an exhibit on slavery; the Keep, a stronghold enclosing an extensive maritime museum also has a dolphin centre where the marine mammals seem delighted to swim with humans. Passengers from the nearby cruise ship terminal enjoy the area.

Foreign ownership of property is restricted, but new fractional arrangements make it easier. The Reefs Club, a new oceanside development of 19 two- and three-bedroom fully furnished luxury units, takes advantage of the services and amenities of The Reefs Hotel, with its new La Serena Spa and three fine dining areas. Watch the surf from the club’s infinity pool or a private hot tub on your veranda, or try knocking a ball around the putting green on the roof if you don’t feel like playing one of Bermuda’s famous golf courses. Then you could meander next door for dinner at The Reefs, where you might see actor Michael Douglas — his mother is Bermudian — and his beautiful missus, Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Douglas owns a home on the island.) The Reefs Club residences start at $350,000; the price of rubbing elbows with the stars? Priceless. For more info:

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