Afternoon tea in Bermuda perfectly encapsulates the entire vibe of this island. A pot of Earl Grey and a shrimp and watercress-stu!ed mini-croissant, plus a rum scone with Devonshire clotted cream and lime jam: everything is properly British – yet with a distinct island accent.
Though Bermuda’s stormy beginnings are rife with stories of treasure-laden galleons and plundering pirates, civilized serenity reigns here today, as evidenced by its neat lines of colonial cottages in sherbet shades overlooking the crystalline Atlantic. The 54 square-kilometer (21-square-mile) archipelago is the oldest of the British overseas territories. Yet still, like the Bermudian businessmen I see everywhere wearing smart blazers with colorful knee-socks and the country’s namesake shorts, beneath its orderly Anglo-Saxon-isms, the maverick origins of this place are ever present.
After nibbling on sweets and savories, I take in the sights of the capital city, where my teatime oasis, the resplendent Fairmont Hamilton Princess hotel, is situated. The bustling capital is flush with restaurants and boutiques. Mopeds zip by and cruise ships rest in the ferry terminal. The venerable hotel, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, is a beloved fixture of this urban environment. The “Pink Palace,” as it’s known locally, was bestowed its offcial moniker in honor of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, who had extolled the glories of Bermuda as a kind of paradise. True to form, The Fairmont Hamilton Princess has its own dishy history. During World War II, it was intelligence HQ for allied secret agents and served as temporary home to a real-life Commander Bond (reportedly the basis for Ian Fleming’s rogue agent 007).
As the lazy afternoon melts into evening, teatime gives way to happy hour. Now I find those Bermuda-clad %nanciers in relaxation-mode, mingling with women in breezy casual-chic attire while children scamper on the lawn. The live band lets loose with Fleetwood Mac and Coldplay covers, and I get into the local sway, ordering a Dark ’n’ Stormy, the island signature made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Stormy Ginger Beer. Settling into a seat on the terrace, I cap off the evening by dreamily watching boats breeze past Hamilton Harbour.
The feeling of Bermudian intrigue resonates with me again the next day as I explore the sprawling Fairmont Southampton, a few parishes and an entire mindset away from Hamilton. The country resort, set on the island’s highest point, overlooks the pink-sand idyll known as the South Shore. Here, I join 11th-generation Bermudian Peter Frith and his wife, Chrissy, on the outdoor terrace of the Ocean Club, where we hoist signature Ocean-tinis (vodka, rum and vibrant blue Hpnotiq liqueur). My host (who happens to be the resort’s former director of sales) is descended from legendary seafarers: Christopher Carter, one of two Brits who settled in Bermuda after the shipwreck of their vessel, the Sea Venture, off the east coast in 1609 and Hezekiah Frith, a plucky privateer. “That’s like a legal pirate,” winks Frith naughtily. “The King of England gave them permission to raid any ship with which they were at war.”
My own treasure arrives on a plate: harissa-spiked tuna tartare, and rockfish, in a complex kaffir lime leaf sauce, revealing the worldly palate of Sanjay Leeme, senior chef de partie, whose résumé includes a stint working with a French master chef.
Tableside, the Sri Lankan talent confides that he uses local catch whenever possible and “mixes Asian flavors into European cuisine.” Each bite is as transcendent as the view of towering black rocks over azure water.
By day, the seascape is just as mesmerizing. As I splash along Horseshoe Bay Beach, near the Fairmont Beach Club, the ocean, like the Miles Davis classic, is a harmony of blue in green. I saunter along the pinkish, powdery sand of one of the world’s most photographed coastlines, then up the dunes, encountering dramatic coves that create pockets of privacy dotted with sun worshippers and shutterbugs. This beach reminds me of the dreamy interlude I enjoyed at the luxe Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Southampton: the smooth stones used in my hot-stone massage were black like the island rock; the rose- and cedar-scented oil reminiscent of Bermuda’s heady flora. A facial with sea algae and the invigorating salt used in a body scrub are both inspired by this sea and this air. A bikini-clad adventuress ambles atop a striated black boulder, waving her arms. She’s the queen of the world, for a moment in time.
Another sensory encounter awaits in the Town of St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in St. George’s parish. The town crier is off duty as I walk past King’s Square and follow the narrow, cobblestone streets, past storybook houses, to Stewart Hall. Here I find The Bermuda Perfumery, which has been making its own distinctive fragrances under the Lili Bermuda brand since 1928.
Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, the French-Canadian owner and master perfumer, leads me to the maceration room, where essential oils commingle in enormous bottles, then to an atmospheric, cedar-beamed room boasting perfume-making paraphernalia from bygone eras and jars stu!ed with orrisroot, oak moss and musk seeds. As I sniff paper blotters infused with single notes, Ramsay-Brackstone explains how she strives to capture the island’s “lush greeneries and flowers, the ocean, the fruits,the wind, the sand and the sun” in her artisan fragrances. One of her latest is South Water, a coconut milk, sea salt and juicy guava blend. “I call it Liquid Bermuda because to me it smells like the beach. It’s incredibly sultry and flirty.”
I dab it on my wrist; like Bermuda itself – from its blush-hued beaches to its unconventional cuisine – it’s perfection, with just a hint of wild abandon.