Your personal Bermuda
Discover the best of the island with an insider's help
By Steve Millburg
Bermuda's water views make for a dazzling visit.
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(Coastal Living) -- Before you unpack, before you see your room, before you can begin to sort out your kaleidoscopic straight-from-the-airport impressions of water everywhere and lush flowers and semitropical semiformality, Hazel Lowe sits you down at her dining room table. She brings you a cool drink. She unfolds a map. And then she plans your visit to Bermuda.
The wise traveler listens carefully and follows each recommendation. Hazel has coddled guests at Salt Kettle House since the 1970s. She knows everyone and everything worth knowing on Bermuda. And she makes it her mission to ensure that her guests have a wonderful time.
Not that it's hard to have a wonderful time on this Atlantic Ocean outpost. Bermuda, some 600 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, encompasses a cluster of more than 300 coral islands and islets, with most of the substantial ones linked by bridges. Together they add up to less than 20 square miles. Well-heeled travelers have long congregated here. Golfers enjoy water vistas from practically every hole of every course. Sunbathers bask on the famous pink-sand beaches (well, pinkish beige at least) along the southern shore.
Lodging options include resorts, hotels and cottage colonies (cottages built around a main house). They tend to be luxurious and pricey. Salt Kettle House belongs to a more intimate category: the guesthouse, equivalent to an American bed-and-breakfast. Salt Kettle House sits on a tiny peninsula in the middle of Bermuda, a six-minute ferry ride across the harbour (this is a British territory with British spellings) from the capital, Hamilton.
Despite a gradual drift toward informality, dressing for dinner remains the island norm -- especially at such establishments as the chic Barracuda Grill just off the Hamilton waterfront. Hazel, a native of England with a penchant for dry understatement, admits that after the restaurant's 2002 opening, it took her a while to visit. "I finally tried it," she says, "and I was agreeably surprised. Agreeably surprised."
You might want to order the fish chowder and the grilled rockfish and butter-poached lobster. Definitely agreeable. (Also expensive, as is everything in Bermuda, which must import most of what it consumes.) Downstairs rests the more relaxed Hog Penny Pub, constructed from actual pubs dismantled and shipped from England. It also supplies excellent food and live music -- a relative rarity, but you don't come to Bermuda for the nightlife.
As you explore, you'll notice the island's quirks. The water views, tropical blossoms and balmy climate remind you of the Caribbean. The road signs, left-side driving and air of polite reserve seem eminently British. One native jokes that Bermudians compromise between "island time" and British punctuality by always arriving 15 minutes late.
The Royal Naval Dockyard, once an outpost of British military might, occupies Bermuda's northwest tip. You can see glassblowing demonstrations at Dockyards Glassworks or stop by Bermuda Arts Centre, where the artists include Hazel's daughter, Suzie Lowe. Part of an old fort is now the Bermuda Maritime Museum. Youngsters might prefer the dolphin shows, which are free with museum admission.
To the northeast, at Bermuda's opposite end, lies the historic enclave of St. George. You can get an idea of its low-key character from the fact that it counts the ruins of a never-completed church as one of its chief tourist attractions. Hazel recommends The Book Cellar, underneath the Tucker House Museum. "Do introduce yourself to Gill," Hazel suggests. "She buys well." Indeed. Gillian White's two cozy rooms hold a browse-worthy assortment of British, American and Bermudian fiction and non-fiction, most of it aimed at thoughtful readers.
Hazel will steer you to some other culinary treats, such as Mickey's Beach Bistro, the shoreside outdoor restaurant at the elegant Elbow Beach resort. She might suggest admiring the view from the top of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, or wandering through the Botanical Gardens.
But the best part of each day awaits back at Salt Kettle House. From the blue Adirondack chairs on the lawn, you sip a cocktail as dusk spreads over the water and the lights of Hamilton begin to sparkle. You chat with Hazel and your fellow guests about this and that. You relax. You laugh. You realize why more than 90 percent of Hazel's clientele consists of return guests -- and you resolve to be among them.
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