WV Travel Team
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Half past 2 is tea time at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, where homemade scones and pastries are served alongside piping-hot English tea presented in fine Belgian kettles.
Nearby shops offer English bone china, Irish linens and Scottish tweeds. Pubs with names like The Hog Penny and Frog & Onion dot idyllic streets, promising bangers and mash and steak-and-kidney pies just inside their welcoming doors.
Less than three miles away, in Saint George’s Town, Saint Peter’s is the oldest surviving Anglican church outside of the British Isles.
Yes, outside of the British Isles indeed, as this quintessentially British country is nearly 3,500 miles from London, in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda.
Often mistaken as being located in the Caribbean, Bermuda is actually approximately 800 miles off of the coast of North Carolina.
With all of its European charms, Bermuda is also home to spectacular pink sand beaches, cerulean waters, breathtaking coral reefs and crystal caverns — and steeped in history, with UNESCO World Heritage sites dating back to the 17th century.
Settled in 1612 as part of the Virginia Company, Saint George’s Town remains the oldest continually inhabited British settlement in the New World.
Bermudan tourism began in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, visited in 1883, inspiring the name of the famed hotel.
In 1867, beloved American author Mark Twain made his first visit, and noted, “Bermuda is the right country for a jaded man to loaf in.”
His infatuation with the island became an intimate part of his life, and the islands would become his second home.
His extensive writing about the seductiveness of Bermuda brought new throngs of tourists to the islands, as he touted their charms to Americans. “There is just enough of a whispering breeze, fragrance of flowers, and sense of repose to raise one’s thoughts heavenward,” he famously mused, and at the end of his life and his last trip to Bermuda he wrote, “You go to heaven if you want to, I’d rather stay here.”
Twain’s handprint remains throughout Bermuda, from a bronze statue of the writer sitting on a park bench to the fact that you cannot rent a car while visiting. Twain, it seems, lobbied heavily to prohibit all cars; now, tourists have the option of renting scooters to explore the country’s many delights.
By the 1930s, the destination had caught the imagination of America’s wealthy elite, with “Millionaires’ Ships” carrying notable passengers such as Clark Gable, Gertrude Lawrence and T.S. Eliot to the islands.
It was at this time that Bermuda became the refuge of the great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Following the tragic diagnosis of his wife Zelda’s schizophrenia, a doctor recommended the couple go to Bermuda to calm her nerves.
“Bougainvillea cascaded down the tree trunks and long stairs passed by deep mysteries taking place behind native windows … cats slept along the balustrade and lovely children grew … we rode bicycles along the wind-swept causeways and stared in a dreamy daze at such phenomena as roosters scratching amidst the sweet alyssum,” he wrote in his memoirs.
There, Fitzgerald wrote the final chapters and revisions of “Tender is the Night,” his poignant nod to the experiences of his marriage to Zelda.
Bermuda does inspire a sense of magic and otherworldliness, the “deep mysteries” and “heavenward” thoughts of Fitzgerald and Twain.
At once anachronistic and cosmopolitan, Bermuda provides a unique opportunity to experience an Old World feel in the New World, set against spectacular natural beauty. Inherently romantic, honeymooners love the destination for the quietness and privacy afforded them.
(Fitzgerald wrote on this too, musing “The Elbow Beach Hotel was full of honeymooners, who scintillated so persistently in each other’s eyes that even we were cynically moved.”)
Hotels, upon request, will provide a picnic lunch and scooters to visit tucked-away volcanic beaches.
And, with a nearly nonexistent crime rate and easily accessible public transportation system, tourists are free to explore the country’s many charms at their own pace.
For golf lovers, Bermuda boasts the highest concentration of golf courses in the world, with seven nestled within its 21 square miles.
Belmont Hills, located in Warwick, is currently ranked as the fifth best course in the world.
Other world-class events draw tourists year-round, including the famed Newport Bermuda Yacht Race in June of each year, and the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts in January and February.
History buffs will also find no lack of sites to visit.
Stately historic homes, churches, military forts and the Maritime Museum illustrate the long history of the country, and provide an insight into its unique culture.
Crystal cave tours take visitors through hauntingly beautiful underground mazes with stunning azure-blue pools.
The year-round pleasant climate makes the Bermuda Botanical Gardens a must-see destination, and family members of all ages enjoy the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo.
Luxury, upscale shopping opportunities are prolific in downtown Hamilton, where businessmen hurry out to lunch in suit jackets and Bermuda shorts, completing the familiar yet foreign atmosphere that is Bermuda’s magic.
While hotels in Bermuda do not offer popular “all-inclusive” options commonly provided in Caribbean destinations, the vast array of restaurants beckon travelers to sample the local cuisine. British, French, Italian, Portuguese, American, Caribbean, Indian, Chinese and Thai menus blend seamlessly into Hamilton’s international climate as palatable reminders of the country’s colonial history.
The country offers travelers something very different from the Caribbean islands it is often mistakenly associated with.
Many travelers discount Bermuda as too expensive, fearing the lack of an all-inclusive option will incur too many unpredicted expenses. Nevertheless, the experience of a vacation in Bermuda is far worth the added expense, as the islands perfectly combine a taste of Europe with breathtaking island vistas.
From most Northeast U.S. cities, Bermuda is less than a two-hour flight; from Charleston, flights typically route through Washington, D.C., with a total flight time of only four hours.
Tickets are reasonably priced, beginning as low as $340 round-trip, and packages for five days, including air, at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess come in under $2,000 per person.
Bed and breakfasts are popular on the islands as well, providing local charm and a unique stay for as little as $100 a night.
And, while five-star restaurants abound, there are plenty of casual dining options for more budget-conscious travelers. In many ways, a shorter trip to Bermuda to accommodate budget is a more valuable trip than one to a Caribbean counterpart.
“There are no harassments; the deep peace and quiet of the country sink into one’s body and bones and give his conscience a rest.” — Mark Twain, “Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion”
Ted Lawson in the president and CEO of Charleston-based National Travel and a member of the WV Travel Team who contributes regularly to the Life & Style travel page.
Follow National Travel on Twitter at @NatlTravel and on Facebook. For questions or comments on this article, contact Ariadne Moore, executive assistant at National Travel, at email@example.com.