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Destination: Bermuda

A Very Proper Island : Don't tie him down with etiquette rules when the sun and sand beg for shorts

May 25, 1997|ADAM Z. HORVATH | NEWSDAY; Horvath is deputy Long Island editor of Newsday, a Times Mirror newspaper based in Long Island

HAMILTON, Bermuda — I began to worry about Bermuda the day that the hotel's confirmation notice arrived. It came complete with an unexpected warning: "Jacket and tie are required in the evening after 6 p.m."

I knew the customs of this self-governing British colony were on the stuffy side--afternoon tea was in, nude sunbathing was definitely out. But in the evening after 6, I expected still to be floating in the green-gold ocean and sinking in the pink-flecked sand--which was sure to get that fancy attire all damp and mussed.

When I called the hotel for clarification, a desk clerk admitted that I probably wouldn't be ejected for committing a tie tardiness. But in formal-yet-friendly tones, she added her own admonition: "You ought to know, sir, for your own information, that most of the gentlemen guests do wear them."

I found myself timidly asking what kind of shoes were most appropriate, and wondering whether Bermuda was balmy in more than one sense of the word.

But I needn't have been concerned about island etiquette, even in a place famous for finding a way to incorporate shorts into three-piece suits. Yes, many local restaurants do expect evening apparel, and certainly Bermudans overdress the local fish in heavy sauces. But other than that, the island is as casual as bougainvillea waving in a cool breeze, as easy as its warm waves sloshing onto soft sands. On Bermuda, at least when you get all dressed up, you have someplace to go.


Just 500 miles off the coast of North Carolina, the rough, cold Atlantic is transformed around the isolated island into a warm and gentle saltwater pool. Bermuda's transparent, reef-encircled waters--a sort of private tropical ocean--remain in the Caribbean-like high 70s from late spring to early fall.

After our afternoon arrival last spring at the Pink Beach Club and our first invigorating swim at one of the hotel's two crescent beaches, my girlfriend and I settled into a pair of deck chairs and a daily rhythm.

We had breakfasts on our patio, prepared to our specifications by our maid, the pampering feature that had led us to choose the hotel in the first place.

We eyed the fast-flying clouds and surveyed the weather map in the local paper--a hand-drawn affair that managed each day to seem to place the tiny dot representing Bermuda in the path of some new storm front as large as the East Coast.

And then we tried to decide which was more true to the island's carefree spirit: to casually explore the various attractions, or to casually lounge right where we were.

The truth is, we spent more time at our own hotel than on any vacation we can remember. That's partly due to the charms of the Pink Beach, a cottage colony that has hosted the late Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada.

Our room was the size of a suite, and our patio led onto a landscaped lawn that in turn led onto an ample cove beach. The hotel's hillside string of pink-and-white cottages, graced with the trademark Bermudan stepped-pyramid roofs (grooved in order to channel rainwater) provided views combining nature and architecture to compete with any on the island.

As a cottage colony--a Bermudan innovation meant to combine the low-key atmosphere of a housekeeping cottage with the amenities of an exclusive hotel--Pink Beach was somewhat too casual when it came to service. Procuring a cold drink meant a long trek uphill from the beach to the clubhouse or the tennis shop, neither of which was always open. And when it was time to leave, the front desk had trouble getting us a cab to the airport in time to make our plane.

But those complaints weren't what drove us off the grounds to explore the rest of the island. The lure of a mere 21 square miles of land linked along a fishhook-shaped archipelago--Bermuda is actually made up of seven major islands and about 143 smaller ones--proved as irresistible as baking on our own beach.

Then there was the mode of travel, an adventure in itself. There are no rental cars on Bermuda's network of two-lane, 20-mph roads. Visitors either learn to drive mopeds or rely solely on taxis and public buses. We opted for a two-person moped, trusted to fate, and tried to ignore the minor moped accidents we witnessed. Soon, we were zipping along past the palms and bluffs and lighthouses, getting as much of a kick out of the cycle as the scenery (this being part of Britain, driving is on the left side of the road).

We snaked our way to Bermuda's western tip one day and the eastern end the next, measuring our progress beach by beach and cataloging them along the way. There was Elbow Beach, a wide but windy stretch of white sand so large that two huge hotels at each end virtually disappear into the background. Farther west was Warwick Long Bay, even longer than Elbow, but more comfortable and cozy, with its grassy hills and well-protected waters.

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