Imagine this: boarding a plane in Toronto, ON, and landing on a sunny, secluded island – with golf club or rum-laced cocktail in hand – in just over two-and-a-half hours.
Some people spend that amount of time commuting to work in the morning. But for the sun-seeking traveller, it's also about the time it takes to land in beautiful Bermuda.
The idyllic, 21-square-mile island that blends British, North American and Caribbean influences is, depending on one's gateway, closer than many tend to think, Jill Dill of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, told PAX on a recent press tour of the island.
“Out here, it’s different,” said Dill, a PR projects manager who spent two days showing us around her dynamic, sun-kissed community. “It’s not your ordinary island.”
The phrase “out here” is a tag line used by the tourism authority – a playful phrase designed to connect tourists with Bermuda’s rich mix of cultures and charming mystique.
It also alludes to the fact that Bermuda is, well, not in the Caribbean, but rather, out there in the North Atlantic Ocean – some 1,070 kilometres east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to be exact.
And take our word for it: out there, interesting things are afoot.
Bermuda’s big comeback
Bermuda’s earliest anecdotes of tourism date back to Victorian times to the early 20th century when it was first promoted as “Nature’s Fairyland” to the well-heeled.
In those days, Bermuda was playground for the elite, attracting high-profile regulars, from businessman Vincent Astor to actress Helen Hayes.
By the 1950s and 1970s: “We were leaders of the island destinations,” said Dill.
But once the ’80s and ’90s came calling, tourism entered a decline as Bermuda steered its interests towards a growing insurance industry. After the U.S. economic downturns of the mid-2000s, the Bermudian government realized it would have to nurture its tourism model beyond “old-hat beach sales tactics” in order to stay viable, Dill explained.
And so, the tourism authority that exists today was formed, and the results, since its inception, have been plentiful.
Major turning points
One of Bermuda’s major scores, in recent years, was securing the 35th staging of America's Cup yacht race in 2017, which was held in the island’s Great Sound.
One year after the America’s Cup, total air visitor arrivals increased by 4.6 per cent, according to the Bermuda Tourism Authority’s latest stats. In fact, the 203,697 leisure air arrivals to Bermuda in 2018 represented the highest since 2002.
“It put us on the map again,” Dill said of the world-famous race. “Sailing is part of our DNA.”
Big-time events play a huge role in the marketing of Bermuda (which is, notably, also set to unveil a brand new, $280 million airport terminal in July 2020).
This past summer, the Bermuda Tourism Authority was the exclusive tourism partner of the U.S. Open in New York City (Bermuda’s top source market for visitors).
Bermuda also hosted its first-ever Pride parade in August.
Held in the capital of Hamilton, the rainbow-covered celebration reportedly drew 6,000 attendees, painting a progressive picture of an island that, one year prior, passed a law repealing same-sex marriage after legalizing it just nine months earlier.
The repeal sparked calls for an international boycott of Bermuda (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, notably), a reaction that tempered in November 2018 when Bermuda, admirably, reversed it's decision and reinstated legal protections to same-sex couples.
The island’s recent Pride celebration, combined with the rainbow-coloured stickers that can be seen on storefronts along Front Street, Hamilton’s main strip, point to an island that’s ready to move forward.
Not just sand and sun
Experiencing Bermuda, today, extends beyond the magnificent beaches – all of which are national parks, open to the public and free for everyone.
While Bermuda’s some 34 sparkling beaches are indeed grand (you haven’t touched heaven ’till you’ve sunken your toes into the glorious pink and white sand at Warwick Long Bay), a modern-day visit to the island wouldn't be complete without a little cultural, historical and culinary intrigue.
There’s the African Diaspora Heritage Trail (which traces Bermuda history of black slavery) and notable institutions, such as the National Museum of Bermuda near the Royal Naval Dockyard, which is a port for cruise ships.
Here, visitors can find maritime artifacts and an incredible, 1,000-square-foot mural by artist Graham Foster that portrays 500 years of Bermuda’s history. The painting, which was unveiled in 2009, took 3.5 years to complete!
Eco-friendly and active activities, from water sports to horseback riding to golf, cricket and tennis, are big business, too.
Bermuda’s Railway Trail, for one, is an abandoned railbed that can be explored by foot or bike. It spans 18 miles across the island, passing turquoise shorelines, white-roofed, pastel-coloured homes, and blooming bright flowers.
If your clients are looking for swoon-worthy locations to take Instagram photos, it’s here!
“Think of Bermuda as an international botanical garden,” Dill said, noting how many of Bermuda’s plants are imported.
A new app called Winnow, created by Bermudans, offers many curated "off-the-grid experiences" that can be booked directly from the app.
Bermuda’s climate is subtropical, which means average temperatures hover, warmly, from around 23°C to 30°C in spring and summer.
The climate dips in winter (January to March), ranging from 15°C to 21°C, roughly. However, there is no frost or snow in Bermuda due to its proximity to the warm Gulf Stream. (This is also the best time of year to scuba dive with a wetsuit as the water is clear).
For travel agents with heat-sensitive (or elderly) clients who want a comfortable island experience without the sweltering heat, Bermuda, during winter, is a viable option.
Electric cars, like “The Twizy,” rule the roads
Bermuda is leading the charge, so to speak, in sustainable tourism through the introduction of eco-friendly electric cars that visitors can rent during their stay.
Two years ago, “The Twizy” - a play on the words twin and easy - was introduced, breathing new life into the way tourists navigated the island.
Designed by Renault’s Formula One racing team, the Twizy, offered by Current Vehicles, is a two-seat, tandem-style microcar that can travel up to 88 km per charge.
It’s small (measuring just under four feet wide), but perfect for zipping around Bermuda’s sublime coastal roads.
There's a hotel that moonlights as a modern art museum
The Hamilton Princess Hotel and Beach Club is an iconic, Fairmont-managed property that also goes by the name “Pink Palace” for its palatial-pink exterior.
We’d reached the private dining room of Marcus’ – the hotel’s Marcus Samuelsson–helmed eatery – and staring back at us, much to our amazement, was four of Andy Warhol’s original Mick Jagger screen prints (signed by the Rolling Stones frontman himself!)
It’s an exciting sight (after all, it’s not every day you see a Warhol hanging freely in a hotel), and it’s one of many gems that belong to the hotel’s incredible modern and pop art collection.
Some 300 original pieces by some of art’s greatest names – Picasso, Henri Matisse, Christo, Ai Weiwei, René Magritte, Banksy, Jeff Koons, and the aforementioned Warhol, to name a few – adorn the hotel’s contemporary common spaces.
The collection is owned by the Green family, who purchased the 400-room property overlooking Hamilton Harbour in 2012, and then spent a reported $100 million on renovations.
Guided art tours of the hotel offered every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. for $25 USD (but are free for hotel guests).
The Hamilton Princess, which has its own marina, shares a Canadian connection, too. The hotel's pink-popped Trudeau Ballroom is, you guessed it, named after Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s former Prime Minister and father of Canada’s current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Eating like a local is easy
Codfish breakfasts, rockfish (black grouper), yellowfin tuna and black rum cake are just a few local bites one will find in Bermuda.
Village Pantry in Flatts Village, where only grass-fed beef, certified-humane chicken, locally-grown vegetables and locally-caught fish is used, is a convenient spot to dine as The Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo is nearby.
It’s also been said that Bermuda’s classic fish sandwich is a national obsession. Trust our taste buds and try one at Woody's, a waterside no-frills dive bar in Somerset Village that packs a tangy-tartar punch with its jam-packed, fried snapper, wahoo and grouper sandwiches.
For a more up-scale experience, brunch at the Rosedon Hotel, a boutique, old-world escape in Hamilton, does not disappoint. (It's also an excellent spot for afternoon tea).
There’s also Beau Rivage, an authentic French restaurant located in the stunning Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa (our relaxing, waterside host hotel).
Here, Chef Jean-Claude Garzia (who actually worked at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City in the late ’70s) offers a “Chef’s Table” option for groups where no two dinners are the same.
The male staff (here and at many other hotels and restaurants) wear traditional Bermuda shorts and kneesocks, adding to the experience’s authenticity.
Wash everything down with a local cocktail, that being a Dark 'n Stormy (ginger beer and rum) or a Rum Swizzle (fruit juices, rum, triple sec and bitters) - using local Gosling's Black Seal Rum, no less! - and you’re set.
Yes, The Bermuda Triangle is a thing
Whether you believe it’s a paranormal phenomenon or a series of human errors, The Bermuda Triangle (a region in the North Atlantic Ocean where many planes and ships have vanished under mysterious circumstances) is a long-time cultural obsession.
It’s also something Bermuda embraces: BUEI’s Ocean Discovery Centre has an exhibit that unlocks the secrets of the triangle with well-researched, highly-immersive installations, theories and shipwreck artifacts that examine the myths and realities of the mysterious region.
The Bermuda Tourism Authority doesn’t downplay the phenomenon either – there’s a reason why the “A” in their corporate logo is shaped like a triangle.
“What you’re seeing today is a resurgence of what we always were,” said Dill.
Then and now: a beautifully fascinating island.
For a list of Bermuda’s upcoming events and festivals, click here.
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