Despite popular conception, Bermuda is not the Caribbean, neither geographically nor culturally.
The spectacular islands are nearly 800 miles north of the Bahamas, 650 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and 800 miles south of New York City.
This 21-mile cluster of islands has a rich history -- dating to the early 1600s -- and is a major international business center for banking and insurance, known as well as a corporate and tax haven.
Yet the misconceptions about Bermuda persist. I recently returned from a winter getaway, and my friends at home expressed surprise at my lack of a tan. I knew in advance this wouldn't be a snorkeling or sunbathing vacation, though.
Unlike high season (April-October), winter temperatures in Bermuda are springlike and, to me, ideal.
Besides the temperate climate, the best aspects of a winter trip to Bermuda are the smaller crowds and lower costs. You may spend more time soaking in the sun and swimming if you visit in summer, but the humidity and thick crowds can be unpleasant.
In contrast, here's what you can expect this time of year: little difficulty snagging prime restaurant reservations, reasonable hotel rates and airfares, easy access to the famous spas and quiet enjoyment of the island's amazing historic sites and beautiful beaches.
Flora and Fauna
Upon arriving, the visitors will note the charming uniformity of Bermuda's colorful limestone buildings and distinctive white-terraced roofs, which collect rainwater, the islands' main source of drinking water.
The Town of St. George, established in 1612, has a fascinating collection of historic buildings and churches. Hamilton is the island's busy commercial hub. However, don't expect to find bargains among the Hamilton boutiques; Bermuda has steep value-added taxes and is not a duty-free destination (like many Caribbean islands) for U.S tourists.
Bermuda hosts two notable art events during the winter. The seven-week
Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts (mid-January to early March) draws top-notch dancers, musicians and actors from across the globe. The
Bermuda International Film Festival shows more than 70 films over nine days each March, with support from Bermuda's resident Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Other top attractions include the
Crystal Caves ($12), which feature dripping stalactites and underground tunnels. This is found in Bailey's Bay, where you can eat at the
Swizzle Inn (slogan: "Swizzle Inn, swagger out"), a local hangout named for the island's favorite drink, the super-sweet rum swizzle.
Bailey's Bay also houses the peaceful and uncrowded
Blue Hole Park, a nature preserve where I saw a mighty yellow-crowned heron basking in the quiet; the park is located just west of the airport causeway.
Flatts Village is the site of the
Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo ($10); it has one of the most diverse collections of creatures I've seen in one place.
Rustico, a fine Italian restaurant open for lunch and dinner, and three miles of the scenic
Railway Trail, beginning on the grounds of the Bermuda Railway Museum (free admission).
No Bermuda trip would be complete without taking in the outdoors, even in winter.
To appreciate the sand and salty air, visit the absolutely stunning Horseshoe Bay and walk the miles of secluded coves and bays to be discovered nearby on the South Shore Park Trail.
For four centuries, Bermuda -- England's sole remaining colony -- played a central military role in defending the interests of British merchants and the Royal Navy, especially against Americans, Spaniards and pirates.
Today, many of the island's parks are former forts.
At the island's far east end, near St. George, is
Fort St. Catherine, which dates to 1614.
Aside from the eye-popping vistas atop the ramparts, the fort has a maze of tunnels, a drawbridge, five 18-ton muzzleloader guns and a quirky museum ($5). Nearby is the lively and affordable pub
Blackbeard's Hideout, which is located on a bluff above Achilles Bay, a great place to enjoy a seafood dinner and sunset.
At Bermuda's far northwestern tip is the gigantic Royal Naval Dockyard, the costliest military installation ever built for imperial Britain, begun shortly after the American Revolution.
Today, Dockyard is a major tourist draw, home to the massive
Bermuda Maritime Museum ($10). Two other buildings, the Cooperage and the Clocktower, have been converted to shopping centers. Because of Dockyard's remote location, the fastest route is via ferry.
Lodging in Bermuda falls into four categories: resorts large and small, boutique hotels, cottage colonies and bed and breakfast inns (check out the
Department of Tourism for booking rooms).
Towering, quite literally, above others is
The Fairmont Southampton resort (winter rates from $249 per night), which has several restaurants, a golf course and the fabulous
Willow Stream Spa, where my wife and I enjoyed a couple's massage followed by a full day of lollygagging in hot tubs.
A smaller resort is the
Grotto Bay Beach Hotel ($180 per night), which has spacious grounds and is at a convenient location in Bailey's Bay for hitching the frequent buses between St. George and Hamilton.
Bermuda's top cottage colony is still the old
Cambridge Beaches, which recently renovated its outdoor pools ($350-$1,175 per night). Located on its own peninsula, the colony has five private beaches, a fine spa and special ferry service to Hamilton -- welcome as it's on at Bermuda's far western edge.
Another top colony, on the south shore in Devonshire, is
Ariel Sands (starting at $300 per night). Owned by Diana Dill (Michael Douglas' mother), the colony's restaurant Aqua is one of island's finest eateries; the lobby decor utilizes an odd collection of photos of the actor and his kin.
Seven U.S. airlines operate daily flights to Bermuda, mostly from East Coast cities. The cruise line companies that haul hordes of tourists from the U.S. don't operate in the winter months (what a relief).
In a recent policy change, U.S. visitors are required to possess passports for entry. U.S. currency, both bills and coins, is accepted and is equal in value to the local currency, the Bermuda dollar.
Bermuda has a strong cultural identity and conservative norms. Modest attire is required; many restaurants expect men to wear jackets and ties at dinner, even in the blistering heat of summer.
Transportation is a major concern for tourists, who cannot rent cars.
The options are motor scooters, taxis or buses and ferries. Regardless of the means, expect the pace to be slow. But hey -- you're on vacation.
scooters is one of the more popular options, but beware of the left-hand-side driving and the curvy, narrow roads and rotaries.
Taxis are plentiful but costly; fortunately, the public bus and ferry system is convenient and easy to use.
Fares vary based on distances traveled. Multiday passes are sold (cash only) at bus depots and many hotels. Enjoy your trip!
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Martin Stolz is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City. He previously worked as a newspaper reporter in New York and California.