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Footloose in Bermuda

Royal Treatment With the Common Touch

December 13, 1987|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers

ST. GEORGE'S, Bermuda — When His Worship the Mayor greets visitors personally and invites them to wander the narrow streets of his town--streets with names like Old Maid, Needle and Thread, Aunt Peggy's and Featherbed--you have a strong feeling that this isn't exactly one of the world's most cosmopolitan communities.

Not that the place is all cobblestones, costermongers and donkey carts, but it is still an early 17th-Century town with stocks, pillory and whipping post, plus a ducking stool, described as a "fiendish contraption used to punish wags and noisome wives."

Bermuda was discovered in 1503 by Juan de Bermudez, a Spaniard who tarried only long enough to lend his name to Britain's oldest colony. A century later it became a way station of sorts for colonists sailing to the Jamestown Settlement when they were shipwrecked here and established a village before sailing on.

Shakespeare's reading of accounts of his contemporaries' storm-vexed venture led him to write "The Tempest," saying: "The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not." Mark Twain went even further, writing: "Americans on their way to heaven call at Bermuda and think they've arrived."

Here to there: Pan Am will get you here in time for dinner; American, Delta and Eastern also fly, but their connections are not nearly as good. Don't plan on picking up a rental car, as they don't exist here; scooters, mopeds, bikes, buses and taxis are plentiful.

How long/how much? A week makes sense if you're into beach lazing, sailing, diving or snorkeling or shooting a few rounds of golf at one of the eight clubs near here or Hamilton. Dining and accommodations run from moderate to expensive.

A few fast facts: Their dollar is pegged to ours, so the latter's tailspin isn't a factor here. Temperatures average 85 in summer, 63 winter, and rains are spread evenly through the year, a good thing, as they're the only source of water. Buses are $1 a hop, $2 across the islands. But we lucked onto Vince Cann, an affable and informative cabbie-guide, for tooling about. Reach Vince by phone at 63040.

Getting settled in: Fewer lodgings in St. George's Parish (its formal name) than in and around Hamilton, but proximity to the delightful little town and better golfing make up for it. St. George's also has outposts of Hamilton's finest shops.

Hillcrest Guest House (Box GE 96, $65 double) is an early 18th-Century home on Nea's Alley off Old Maid's Lane in Old Town, a short walk to shopping and a tiny pink-sand beach. This gracious old place fairly glistens, rooms simple and neat, a homey living room and garden courtyard. No meals, but restaurants close by.

The St. George's Club (Box GE 92; $200 for one-bedroom cottage) gives you a lot for your money: fully equipped kitchens with flatware and crystal, children under 12 free. Cottages are typical Bermudian, rooms and baths marvelous, color TV, the works. There are also three pools, all-weather tennis courts, a private beach club and adjacent 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course. Dine in the Margaret Rose restaurant and relax at the English tropical pub. This is a first-class layout from end to end.

Marriott's Castle Harbour (Tucker's Town; $120-$150 double until March 30, 1988, half-pension required for high season beyond then to mid-November) is a huge place right on the bay, one wing the sort of Aztec-modern tiers you see in Mexico. They miss very little in amenities: 18-hole course and PGA staff; all-weather tennis courts; two private beaches, three pools and a like number of restaurants. The marble lobby with Bermuda pink-green carpets is most imposing, rooms with balconies and great views.

Regional food and drink: After you've had your first hearty bowl of fish chowder laced with rum, move on to other Bermuda specialties: mussels steamed, in pies or fritters; codfish cakes made with potatoes, eggs, onions, thyme and parsley; grouper and shark. Codfish cakes reach their zenith at Dennis' Hideaway, a local institution and very informal.

Hoppin' John, an old African dish also famous in the U.S. South, is an addictive mix of rice, black-eyed peas, bacon, chicken and onion. And syllabub, Bermuda-style, combines guava jelly, cream and wine into a lovely dessert. Visitors are drawn to a Dark 'n' Stormy (rum and ginger beer) or Swizzle, a mixture of rum, brandy and who knows what else, to get them into the island mood. One will do it.

Moderate-cost dining: Right on main King's Square you'll find the oh-so-atmospheric White Horse Tavern, a pub-restaurant that could be in Cornwall. The square is on the water, so sit at an outdoor table for your meal of fish either broiled or pan fried into a complete dinner for $13.75, excellent seafood sandwiches for $5.50. This is the town meeting place.

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