Bermuda offers uncommon sophistication | Calgary Herald

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This isn’t your kind of all-inclusive, pool-and-bar Caribbean island, writes Robin Robinson.

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Bermuda is rightly famous for its pink sand beaches, legendary shipwrecks and coral reefs. But it’s the whitewashed stepped roof atop almost every stone house that catches my eye as I navigate the back roads.

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Like the icing on a pastel-colored cake, the stepped roof is not only an architectural feature, but also a clever rainwater harvesting system, explains Larry Rogers, my experienced driver-guide.

“Bermuda has no rivers, streams or lakes,” says Rogers, and most homes outside Hamilton, the capital, are not connected to a water supply.

Some houses have wells, but the water is brackish and undrinkable. Owners must therefore provide their own fresh water and save every drop! To this end, a traditional Bermuda house has a sizable reservoir below or beside it to catch rainwater. The stepped roof slows runoff and the whitewashed limestone roof ‘slates’ act as a filter. This system provides 50 to

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70% of fresh water used by households. And because these homes are built of stone, they also hold up well to hurricanes.

That’s the second surprising thing I’ve learned since arriving the night before to a mad chorus of gleep, gleep, gleep.

“Crickets? I ask, en route to my hotel.

“Whistling frogs,” is the answer. The tiny creatures – the size of a penny – are often heard but rarely seen. They burst into song on warm evenings, after heavy rains and sometimes on dark days.

Before long, I begin to see that Bermuda isn’t your kind of all-inclusive, pool-and-bar Caribbean island. In fact, the self-governing British Overseas Territory is not in the Caribbean; it’s in the Atlantic, and less than three hours on the Air Canada Rouge flight from Toronto. And it’s not an island, although the locals call it that: it’s an archipelago of 181 islands, the main ones of which are connected by roads, bridges and ferries.

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People stroll the brick-lined streets of St. George
People stroll the brick-lined streets of St. George Photo by Robin Robinson

Plus, Bermuda has a sophistication not always seen in sun destinations, so there are great attractions, cultural activities, and great restaurants. With over 100 km of coastline and dozens of dream beaches, including Horseshoe Bay and Elbow Beach, swimming and water sports are prime pastimes. April to October is mild, but the winters are cooler. Average temperatures are 15 to 22 C from November to March, still warm enough to play golf, tennis or cycle.

The Royal Naval Dockyard is a historic gem. Originally built to maintain Britain’s maritime supremacy and service the fleet, today it is a bustling cruise port and public park with a beach, mini-golf course, jet ski rentals and Moreover. The shipyard’s stone buildings have been converted into shops, a craft market, restaurants and the National Museum, which includes the lavish mansion that once housed the shipyard commissioner. The shipyard is also the staging area for sightseeing tours such as the Famous Homes & Hideaways cruise, which passes beautiful waterfront properties.

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More history is on display in the small town of St. George, where Bermuda began in the 1600s. Colorfully named lanes – Old Maid’s Lane, Featherbed Alley or Needle & Thread Alley – are lined with 17th- and 18th centuries. The town hall is still in use for its original purpose and, if council meetings get rowdy, there are antique stores, a pillory and a whipping post nearby.

Canadians will want to pass by Stewart Hall, an elegant 18th century building. It is the head office of Lili Bermuda Perfumery, owned by Montrealer Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone. After moving to Bermuda in 2003, Ramsay-Brackstone trained in – then bought – the perfumery and remodeled it according to his own vision.

Perfume names include South Water, Bermudiana, and Mary Celestia (named after a bottle of perfume found on the sunken ship).

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“Our perfumes really tell the story of the island,” says the master perfumer. “It’s not just the plants, but also the lifestyle, the music, the beach and the ocean – the joy of living.”

Ramsay-Brackstone, who says she wears “many hats” in Bermuda, is also Canadian consul.

There are free tours and on Wednesdays and Saturdays local caterer Sweet P serves traditional English tea in the garden (reservations required).

No story about Bermuda is complete without a little mention of the Bermuda Triangle. A major exhibit at the Ocean Discovery Center at the Bermuda Institute for Underwater Exploration (BUEI) does an excellent job of exploring this legendary region of the Atlantic. Kids will love the simulated submarine gone wrong that takes visitors to this exhibit and other marine exhibits that feature gold doubloons and other shipwreck artifacts, marine geology, and organisms.

Another type of institution is my last stop before returning home. Bermuda’s oldest pub – the Swizzle Inn – has been called the “unofficial arrivals and departures lounge” at the nearby international airport. Adorned with dollar bills, the watering hole is also the birthplace of Bermuda’s iconic Rum Swizzle.

Here too, there are Canadian connections. Owner Jay Correia’s mother was Torontonian and his father was Bermudian. July 1 is therefore Canada Day in this corner of Bermuda, with Canadian beer and poutine.

—Robin Robinson

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