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Bermuda Spotlight

This sophisticated isle brims with fine pink-sand beaches and superb golf

By Jordan Simon

May 2nd, 2006

Little did the British passengers of the Sea Venture, shipwrecked en route to Jamestown, Virginia in 1609, imagine that the series of rocky reef-encircled Atlantic islets they washed up on would, nearly four centuries later, be synonymous with posh retreats and serenity. Resembling a vast botanical garden – or golf course, of which there are more per square mile here than anywhere else on the planet – as impeccably manicured as its celebrity regulars and residents (Noel Coward, Mark Twain, John Lennon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Prince Albert of Monaco, and Michael Douglas among them), Bermuda is not just Britain's oldest colony, it's also that rare destination that has managed to commercialize itself without losing its charm. And this, despite being just 650 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina – or under three hours by plane – from the bustling cities of the eastern United States.

Indeed, the genteel place seems little changed in the century since Winslow Homer exuberantly committed its primary colors – pastel cottages, green palmettos, pink oleanders, azure ocean – to canvas. Uniquely Bermudian architecture is still a delight to behold: whitewashed stepped limestone roofs, designed to catch precious rainwater, and – fitting on this friendly island – welcome-arm staircases. The surrounding waters ripple improbably from sapphire to turquoise. The loudest sounds you hear are the thwock of a cricket bat or golf club striking a ball, the clink of tea cups, the susurrus of crashing surf. There are no neon signs, limited car traffic (only one is allowed per household, and visitors can't rent one at all), and strict environmental laws, many of them dating back to the 17th century – among the first of their kind.

Even so, 400 years of recorded history and comparative isolation have also produced a vibrant culture, the patchwork quilt of inhabitants descended from West Indian and African slaves, Irish adventurers, exiled North American prisoners, English settlers, and Portuguese immigrants. This cosmopolitan heritage is reflected in the surprisingly varied dining and shopping scenes. And, despite its small size (just 21 square miles), Bermuda has wielded a disproportionately iconic influence, contributing Bermuda shorts and Bermuda grass to the resort lexicon, not to mention rum swizzles and dark ’n' stormies, all of which bespeak the good life on bountiful display.

Three days would permit hunkering down at a beach resort with forays into the delightful capital, Hamilton. If you have five days, you can easily explore each part of the island, deciding upon your favorite beach, as well as taking in the splendidly restored Royal Naval Dockyard and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of St. George. A week permits plentiful activities from golf to sailing, as well as popping into various museums and mansions.

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