By Katharine and Eric Fletcher
Morning at Daniel's Head Village. Photo by Eric Fletcher.
Ottawans enjoy a unique link to Bermuda. In January 1883 Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's daughter, set sail from Canada for this island, hoping to escape the capital's wintry chill. And, due to the protection of the Gulf Stream, she found her hearts desire: glorious sunny skies and moderate temperatures greeted her, day after day.
The Princess, wife of the Marquis of Lorne, then Governor General of Canada, hated Ottawa winters and Bermuda beckoned with its solid reputation as a semi-tropical winter destination.
"Her arrival caused an enormous stir" writes William Sears Zuill, prominent Bermudian historian in his book, The Story of Bermuda and her People.
This "stir" reverberated throughout the western world and suddenly, Bermuda became a trendy travel destination for North Americans, Brits and Europeans. Perhaps America's most-beloved author, Mark Twain, quipped, "Bermuda is paradise but you have to go through Hell to get to it." Hell must have been worth it: Twain visited often.
Today's Bermuda remains a special paradise. Its delicate sea-shell pink sand beaches embrace turquoise-coloured ocean waters. Moreover, echoing nature's extraordinary beauty is the delightful friendliness of Bermuda's people.
Everywhere, we were greeted by a warm welcome - which at first took us aback. (How many times have you heard a bus driver say "Good morning, Madam! Are you enjoying your day with us so far?")
Far from saccharin, similar expressions of interest became the heartbeat of the island.
But so much for historical perspective and overall impressions. Why should Bermuda be firmly placed on your travel radar as a "must-see" destination?
Tops in our opinion is Daniel's Head Village, or "DHV." Bermudians think it's weird. Ottawans will adore it.
Situated on the western arm of this fish-hook-shaped island, DHV represents a first for Bermuda. It's an eco-friendly resort on 20 acres of designated protected coastline. Here we found a tranquil community of 64 "tent cottages" whose canvas-like sides breathe with the warm breezes. The most sought-after cabins are built on stilts, right over the ocean and feature "windows" set in the floor of the tents. It's a blue-sea world, inside and out. Awesome.
Bermudians cannot quite get over the "tent-cabin" conundrum. Are they pup tents blowing about on a headland, they muse?
We wondered too, but it's only the fabric-like siding that resembles a tent. Otherwise you'll discover a queen-size bed awaits you inside the cabin along with a private bathroom complete with shower, plus a good-size table and futon. Our cabin overlooked the ocean and like all of them, featured a full-length ocean-side porch, which is where we hung out, sipping "Dark and Stormy" drinks of ginger beer mixed with Black Seal rum (Bermuda's signature drink). Paradise found? We think so.
If, like us, you happen to visit Bermuda during September's hurricane season, don't fret: enjoy storm-watching that rivals any on British Columbia's coastline. We can now claim we survived not one but two Hurricanes because this September both "Erin" and "Gabrielle" tossed the ocean to a frenzy in Bermuda… The experience is unforgettable: we recommend that DHV sell tee-shirts with "I survived a hurricane at DHV." Richard Quinn, General Manager at DHV, reassured us: "Don't worry: the bed vibrates and we don't charge for that! But honestly, we wouldn't let you stay if the winds get above 80 mph."
And that, we think, is a good thing, don't you?
Notwithstanding the possible attraction of storm-watching during hurricane season, DHV boasts ten beaches of various sizes and shapes. Some are intimate small spaces with photogenic outcrops of rocks creating private nooks. Not surprisingly, DHV attracts honeymooners seeking an unforgettable getaway. Other beaches stretch invitingly along an expanse of ocean front where longtails (sea birds) swoop then dive into the waves.
Such a beach is where you'll find DHV's water sports centre. We enjoyed exploring nearby Daniel's Head Island in a double kayak. Just beyond it lies the Vixen, a ship scuttled in 1896 because it was too slow.
Yes: too slow! Designed as a ramming vessel intended to ram into and sink other ships, its maximum speed was 4 knots. Talk about a design flaw: all her prey simply sailed away unscathed. Someone got the bright idea of scuttling it offshore of Daniel's Head Island where today it's the home of a variety of tropical fish and corals.
Bow of the Vixen, scuttled in 1896, off Daniel's Head Village. Photo by Eric Fletcher.
Tying our kayaks to the Vixen's bow, we donned our snorkelling gear and plunged in to explore the wreck. Striped sergeant majors, brilliant parrotfish and others swirled about us in the waters while anemones waved their arms in the current, their base firmly affixed to the ship. Amid the coral we spied angelfish and squirrelfish as well as the apparently aptly named slippery dick (but who wants to touch a fish with that name?). Not us..
If you don't want to kayak, try snorkelling to the wreck and around the island… we did this another day because there is so much to see. DHV's environmental guide, Graeme Outerbridge offers several daily guided outings, including a snorkel around the island. He showed us the caves where spiny lobsters dwell, and some lucky snorkellers found both a green sea turtle and an octopus.
Another guide is a hoot. Tim Rogers has a PhD in plant Biology but folklore, legends, history and architecture of Bermuda are among his passions. Tim leads informative if not oft-hilarious walks to Somerset, adjacent to DHV. "Cut up this root, eat a bit and you'll explode from every orifice" was his charming aside describing the medicinal properties of a lily we examined (but didn't taste).
One night, Tim regaled us with folk-tales and legends of Bermuda. Beyond DHV's entrance lies Skeeter's Corners, where Anna Skeeters mysteriously disappeared in 1876. Husband Edwin eventually confessed to murdering her, and was hung on nearby Burkes Island where hapless Anna was also buried.
But we mustn't forget about DHV's cuisine at immensely popular Daniel's Restaurant. Although (sadly) not much on the menu is local fare, the offerings are unerringly fresh, presentation appealing and service attentive but never ever overpowering. Locals have discovered the restaurant and reservations for dinner are now a must: this is excellent news for the property, which has only been open since April 2001.
Ghosts swirl, cheerful sounding whistling frogs sing a chorus come nightfall, ocean breezes blow warmly… and Bermudians welcome you to their island home.
Mark Twain and the Princess were right: Bermuda is a little piece of paradise waiting for you.
We flew US Air which flew Ottawa-Philadelphia-Bermuda. Air Canada offers direct flights from Toronto.
Daniel's Head Village
Richard Quinn, General Manager
4 Daniel's Head Lane
P.O. Box MA341
Sandys MABX Bermuda
Tel toll-free: 877-418-1723
Tel: 441-234-4272 or Fax: 441-234-4270
Golf course at the Fairmont Southampton Princess. Photo by Eric Fletcher.
Golf, anyone? The Fairmont Southampton Princess offers an outstanding counterpoint to DHV, being a property that has won many awards including the 2001 AAA 4 Diamond Award Winning Resort. This year it was also named one of the top 200 "Best Places to Play" in the World by Golf Digest Magazine. Named for Princess Louise, this pink hotel dominates the western sector of the island in Warwick Parish and is close to Bermuda's delightful Railway Trail, now a walking trail which also links to DHV. The Southampton offers many packages, has a private beach where you can rent snorkelling gear, and overlooks a magnificent golf course. (Did you know that Bermuda offers more golf courses per square mile than any other country in the world?) Contact: www.fairmont.com
Snorkelling, scuba-diving, kayaking, para-sailing, deep sea fishing are all available from a variety of outfitters.
History buffs will enjoy the UNESCO heritage site of St. Georges or the newly restored Dockyards. Both should not be missed and despite being at either end of the island, are easily visited by local bus or ferry. Absolutely don't miss Dockland's Maritime Museum which gives highly detailed explanations of slavery through to gun running.
Fortified walls at the Royal Naval Dockyard. Photo by Eric Fletcher.
Birdwatchers and nature lovers mustn't miss Nonsuch Island, where dedicated environmentalist Dr. David Wingate will explain the Living Museum. He has almost single-handedly restored the natural vegetation as well some of the fauna of this island (just off St. George's on the eastern tip of Bermuda) to what it was 400 years ago. Tours are Thursday mornings and are $75 per person. Contact: 441-297-1880 Extension 0 to book. (Credit card bookings only). Boat leaves from the Bermuda Biological Station for Research at 9:00 a.m. and returns to the BBSR at 1:30. A must-see.
Also visit Spittal Pond, a refuge for wildlife where we only spied one jogger in almost two hours. Night herons, teal, and the ubiquitous kiskadee are here. Outstanding, rugged headlands jut into the ocean while tranquil ponds shelter behind the woods.
The many public beaches offer excellent surfing through to paddling about with youngsters.
You can get married in Bermuda! Ask the Fairmont Princess what steps are required… and then plan your wedding.
Buses and ferries are inexpensive. Buy a pass which can be used on both. Taxis are everywhere and the drivers are likely to resemble your favourite aunt, all dressed up in a hat, looking ready for church on Sunday.
Bermuda Website: http://www.bermuda.com/
Currency: Currency is US dollars or Bermudian dollars. Both are ubiquitous and interchangeable. Spend your Bermudian dollars before leaving.
Katharine and Eric Fletcher are authors of Québec Off the Beaten Path whose second edition will be published spring 2002. They write from their electronic farmhouse located north of Quyon, Québec. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org