A guide to the unexpected in Bermuda
The Bermuda Triangle isn’t the only trinity this island’s known for: sun, sea and sand are the main tourist draws. But there’s so much more to here than that. Bermuda has a rich culture to discover, made even more accessible thanks to British Airways’ brand-new daily flight
A British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda’s British, Caribbean, Portuguese and North American influences meld together to create a way of life that’s completely its own. From feuding fish sandwiches and sunken shipwrecks to sustainable initiatives and tours about Black resistance, here are the things you probably don’t know about Bermuda – but definitely should.
1. The sand on the beaches is pink
No, really. It’s down to the Homotrema rubrum, tiny, red-shelled single-celled organisms that get ground up by the ocean, along with bits of coral and seashells, to give the sand a rose-tinted hue that really amps up your sunset snaps. Head down to Horseshoe Bay, often praised as one of the world’s best beaches, or John Smith’s Bay for somewhere a little less crowded.
2. You can only drive electric cars here
As tourists, that is. And that’s not the island’s only commitment to sustainability. There’s also an initiative aiming to wipe out all single-use plastics, the government’s encouraging a move towards solar power, and there’s a no-wake zone 100m from the shoreline. Over at Trunk Island in Hamilton Parish, the Bermuda Zoological Society is working to rewild endemic species such as the Bermuda cedar and the skink lizard. The country has always been eco-minded, though. For the past 400 years, every house has been built with a white-stepped roof that helps to collect rainwater and pass it into a storage tank underneath.
3. There’s a fish sandwich feud
The fried fish sandwich is indisputably a Bermudian staple, but there’s much debate about where to get the best one. Café Olé near the Crystal Caves, SeaSide Grill in Devonshire and Woody’s in Sandys Parish are considered among the top three – but even that depends on who you ask. Wherever you get your fish sarnie fix, though, it’ll be a tower of filleted white fish (usually wahoo, rockfish or snapper) in spiced batter, creamy coleslaw, tangy tartare sauce and hot sauce between slices of sweet raisin bread.
Bermuda offers some of the planet’s best spots for wreck diving and snorkelling
4. It’s the shipwreck capital of the world
Whether you buy into the myth of the Bermuda Triangle or not, it’s a fact that there are more than 300 shipwrecks around the island’s coast. Marooned on its expansive coral reefs, vessels dating from 1608 to 2017 offer some of the planet’s best spots for wreck diving and snorkelling.
5. You can have a massage in a 500,000-year-old cave
We’re not talking Gollum’s cave, mind you. Grotto Bay Beach Resort’s Natura Spa is pure luxury. Descending into the stony sanctuary is a transcendental experience, where three gazebos are surrounded by hundreds of stalactites and sway gently on malachite water. The only sound is the occasional droplet making its way from ceiling to pool, and the requisite plinky-plonky spa music. Getting a good old rub down is just a welcome bonus to a visit here.
6. There are no chain restaurants
Except KFC. The island now has strict anti-franchise laws, which means there are plenty of independent restaurants – from affordable mom-and-pop shops such as Munchies by the Sea, to hipster joints such as The Pink Beach Club and Devil’s Isle Café.
7. The ocean sparkles (literally)
Between May and October, glow-worms light up Bermuda’s coves and inlets. The punctual creatures appear 56 minutes after sunset, two nights after the full moon. Book a tour with Ana Luna Adventures or look out from points such as Mangrove Bay and the bridge at Ferry Reach Park.
8. Cricket’s a big deal
British soldiers brought the sport to Bermuda in the 1840s and its popularity has continued to grow since. Ask any Bermudian about cricket and they’ll bring up Cup Match – possibly the island’s most-anticipated annual event. It’s a two-day match between Somerset and St George’s cricket clubs, but it’s much more than sport. Families fill out boxes specially built from scaffolding and spend the days drinking, eating and jibing with rival supporters. Coinciding with Emancipation Day (slavery was abolished here on 1 August 1834), it’s a true celebration.
9. You can sleep in a 17th-century cottage
Rose-hued Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa (above) down in the southwest of the island is celebrating its centenary this year, but some of its romantic buildings are actually 375 years old.
10. No two Rum Swizzles are made the same
You’ve probably heard of the Dark ’n’ Stormy, a Bermudian cocktail made with the famous Gosling’s Black Seal rum and Barritt’s ginger beer. The real local tipple, though, is the Rum Swizzle. The island’s first-ever pub, The Swizzle Inn, claims ownership of this mixture of citrus, pineapple, falernum and bitters (and rum… lots of rum), but you can try one pretty much anywhere you go in Bermuda. No two recipes are the same, though, and everyone thinks theirs is best. All the more reason to put them all to the test.
11. Bermuda is covered in free food
An eco-friendly foraging tour of Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve with vegan chef and plant expert Doreen Williams-James will show you just how abundant Bermuda is with natural food sources. From the delightfully spicy nasturtium flower and the sweet-yet-savoury prickly pear to sea purslane that tastes just like the ocean, the island’s foliage is a veritable buffet.
12. Proper afternoon tea is served
A nod to Bermuda’s British heritage, afternoon tea is still a common practice. Lili Bermuda Perfumery does a traditional high tea in its gardens on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while the Conservatory Bar & Lounge at Rosewood Bermuda adds some local flair with black rum cakes and scones served with loquat jam. At new St George’s resort The St Regis you can indulge in afternoon delights in the style of New York socialite Mrs Astor, with finger sandwiches, scones, cakes, et al.
13. There’s untold Black history to discover
Explore sites across the island, such as the National Museum, with Liana Nanang and Ajala Omodele from Unchained on the Rock. They’re all about setting the record straight when it comes to the history of enslaved people in Bermuda and beyond, and use storytelling as a way to do it. You’ll hear often untold accounts of the island’s history, interwoven with personal tales, that give a powerful insight into how present-day Bermuda became what it is.
14. There’s a natural park of subterranean caves to swim in
Head into Tom Moore’s Jungle and scramble your way through craggy caverns, go cave swimming and snorkelling, and cliff jump into an inviting swimming hole. The Jungle is technically on private land but visitors are allowed to explore – tour company Hidden Gems is one of the few outfits that has permission to take groups out there. As well as showing you how to find your way round, your guide also teaches you about the plants and animals you pass, and the history of the area.
15. Shark hash is surprisingly tasty
Made with ground meat from the dusky or sand shark, this dish originates in St David’s. Although part of Bermuda, it was once an isolated island community until a bridge was constructed in the 1930s to join it to the mainland. If you’re visiting for Cup Match, you can try it at St David’s Seafood’s stall. It’s also on the menu at new Brooklyn import The Sunken Harbour Club, which serves modern takes on Bermudian cuisine.
16. It was Mark Twain’s favourite holiday spot
“You go to heaven if you want to, I'd rather stay right here in Bermuda”. So said American writer Mark Twain, who visited the island a total of eight times between 1867 and 1910. His favourite haunts included Fairmont’s Hamilton Princess hotel and the Waterlott Inn (temporarily closed). Twain fans should pay a visit to Huckleberry in Hamilton. Named after his most famous character, the sea-and-farm-to-table restaurant serves fancy fare inspired by both his Southern background and Bermuda itself.
17. You can buy perfume from a 150-year-old shipwreck
About 12 years ago, an intense storm moved the wreckage of the Civil War blockade runner Mary Celestia, which sank in 1864. The shift meant that items once hidden were now accessible, among which were two small bottles of perfume. Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, the owner of Lili Bermuda perfumery, used gas chromatography and her keen nose to reverse-engineer the formula and recreate the scent. Named after the ship on which it was found, you can grab a bottle of Mary Celestia at the perfumery in St George’s, as well as other island-inspired fragrances.
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