Three of the four roofs above our heads were made of slate and painted white. My wife, Juju, and I ran around for a week, sampling places to stay, and most had in common those white slate roofs.
The exception? I'm not sure what material they used on it, but the thing managed to stay put during 40-knot winds one dark and stormy night.
Because tropical gales do hit Bermuda now and then, the building code calls for sturdy, whitewashed roofing that laughs at hurricanes. The whitewash purifies rainfall, the only intrinsic source of fresh water on the islands. The heavy slate partners with gravity to keep roofs from blowing away.
That one roof deviated from the norm because it was stretched over a sort of tent and therefore the entire "room" had the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast. I'm referring to our cabana at the 9 Beaches resort, where 84 cute little units wear cloth walls and roofs stretched over metal frames.
9 Beaches falls into a specific Bermudan lodging slot called Cottage Colony.
For its size (only 24 miles long and a mile wide at its widest), Bermuda offers sleep options in six categories, most of them expensive, but all precisely defined in Department of Tourism listings.
Besides Cottage Colonies--which can range from those tent-like cabanas to fair-sized detached houses--those categories are Bed-and-Breakfasts; Inns; Cottages, Suites and Apartments; Resort Hotels, and Small Hotels. (Private Clubs would be a seventh category--but only for the chosen few.)
In such a short time, we couldn't even get a feel for all of the lodging segments, let alone take a good look at every facility. But Juju and I did stay at a Small Hotel, a B&B and a Cottages, Suites and Apartments (a Cottage in our case), as well as the 9 Beaches Cottage Colony.
Of course, 9 Beaches is almost all about those beaches--some long, some tiny, but every one a suitable playground for people who come to Bermuda for sun, sand and sea. The colony is about as far west as one can get--out on a peninsula called Daniel's Head.
The nine beaches aren't covered by that famous but elusive Bermuda pink, but they squish pleasingly between the toes anyway.
Guests at 9 Beaches find most of their amenities in an all-in-one resort building, a sort of hilltop mother ship. Inside, the Hi Tide Dining room handles breakfast (included) and dinner (extra). The main building also houses the main cocktail lounge and the only TVs. Dark `n' Stormy--a beachside bar named for Bermuda's trademark rum and ginger-beer libation--serves up drinks and light meals all day.
For room service or beach service, a meal cart makes deliveries around the resort. At check-in, the staff reveals how you summon the cart, reserve dinner, call a taxi or seek out anything else on the 18-acre spread. They hand over a cell phone with all pertinent numbers on speed dial. No charge for local calls.
That explains the lack of a land-line telephone in the cabana. A portable, floor-model air conditioner takes the edge off a really hot day--just barely. The bathroom--shower only--was small enough that the Essence of Bermuda after-sun lotion and Lord & Mayfair conditioning shampoo stood within easy reach.
We stayed in a Top Banana cabana, top of the line with a rate of $375 a night in high season (June 1 through Oct. 31) last year. Other cabanas went for $240, $280 and $335.
Our cottage stood on pilings directly over the water. A 2-by-4-foot Plexiglas panel in the floor allowed a view of the ocean below. We thought it might compensate for the lack of television, but nary a fish appeared during our stay.
Since our stay, there's been a name change for the former six Top Banana cabanas that stand directly on the water. They're now called Paradise Pier. The 10 Top Bananas are scattered on the coastline and are partially over the water--but all have Plexiglas viewing panels.
While poking around the islands, we looked in on a few of the other Cottage Colonies. They offer more solidly constructed white-slate-roof cottages, some of which had the substance of Caribbean villas. Most include the full complement of amenities and luxuries, beach access and high-priced views. Rates tell the tale: Nothing under $300 a night in high season, and at Cambridge Beaches (near 9 Beaches) and Pink Beach Club and Cottages (South Shore) you can spend well over $1,000 a night. Only Willowbank (far west)--a faith-based, non-denominational Christian colony--charges less than $200 a night.
For a Small Hotel exemplar, we chose the pink/peach-painted Waterloo House hotel just outside the capital city of Hamilton. We peeked at enough rooms and suites there to get the idea that the hotel's 30 units vary significantly in size, luxury touches and decor. But that really isn't the point with the Waterloo House, because customers have access to a wonderfully decorated series of public rooms, cozy courtyards and a harborside terrace, constant reminders that they have arrived at a special place. Our room was No. 15, and had a small balcony and harbor view. The rate was $430.
Waterloo House attracts business types as well as vacationers. It sits in the midst of Hamilton's office buildings, which hum with off-shore financial deals. Yet, once inside the entranceway, we found ourselves in a secluded oasis. And it was immediately clear why it was named best in the Caribbean by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
Waterloo House also has a fine gourmet restaurant going for it. The Wellington's $25-plus entrees are served either on the terrace or inside the lush, red-walled dining room. After a swim in the small but well-appointed pool, we dressed up and enjoyed an al fresco dinner. Both at poolside and near the terrace, we saw flowers everywhere--on vines, in shrubs and elaborate arrangements.
Nine other Small Hotels occupy nooks and crannies around the islands, most of them so tucked away that we never did find them. But we did get a look at the regal Rosedon, just down the street from Waterloo House. The imposing white mansion looks down upon Hamilton's outskirts from a hilltop. A circular drive leads to a portico-shaded entrance punctuated by a series of archways. The 47 rooms focus mainly on the rear garden and the pool, rather than the broad front lawn. Rosedon also can draw a business crowd because of its proximity to the financial centers, but it does offer free round-trip transportation to a private South Shore beach.
We spent part of an afternoon lingering in the Coconuts Bar at The Reefs, another Small Hotel, its 67 rooms and suites strung across a sprawling, hill-climbing pink structure. The sand below was the pinkest we'd seen on the South Shore-- a hue dramatically augmented by pink and white beach umbrellas. As we sipped our rum swizzles, we watched bus boys set up tables and candles on the space so recently vacated by sunbathers. Ah, candlelight dinner under the stars with the rippling of surf as mood music!
I'm sure the magic would have been similar at the Coco Reef Bermuda, the Grape Bay Beach Hotel or the Pompano Beach Club, but we had to allow time for exploring Bermuda's other attractions. Generally speaking, we came away with the impression that Small Hotels can offer big rewards.
Bed-and-Breakfasts rate seven mentions in the encyclopedic Bermuda Department of Tourism lodgings brochure. Again, they all were tucked away and unobtrusive, the way B&B aficionados like it. Consequently, we saw only one, and that's where we stayed. We found Granaway Guest House & Cottage on the south shore of Hamilton Harbor, facing Harbour Road.
The pink manor house with white roof (of course) was built in 1734. Our room--one of five--showed its age in a nice way, spacious and comfortably furnished with antiques. It had lime green walls and a ceiling supported by heavy cedar beams. The rate was $169.
The whole place turned out to be informal and friendly. The main foyer greets guests with vivid orange walls. A sizable garden leads to a tranquil pool, where statuary keeps bathers company. Bathrooms en suite, natch, and cable TV.
The cottage part of Granaway refers to former slave quarters converted into a separate suite complete with full kitchen and a view of Hamilton across the harbor.
Actor Michael Douglas and his family have a place just around the corner, we were told, so that assured us we were in a classy neighborhood.
We also felt a touch of elitism when owner Michael Ashton cooked and served breakfast in the upstairs dining room--with another stunning harbor view. He made the muffins, cooked the soft-boiled eggs and prepared the coffee, juice and fruit. It was simple fare, but served with real silver service and china. Carol Ashton, Mike's spouse, takes on a variety of other chores around the place, but usually takes the time in the morning to schmooze with guests as they eat and plan their day.
We had hoped to spend a third night at Granaway, but it was booked. The Ashtons treated our mild dilemma as a family crisis. They arranged for a suite at nearby Greenbank Guesthouse & Cottages, which would allow us to sample another lodging category, Cottages, Suites and Apartments.
Michael Ashton made the transfer simple. He drove us to Greenbank and introduced the owners, Michael's brother David and David's wife, Cindy. David showed us to our unit. Out of 11 rooms and suites at Greenbank, nine have kitchens, and ours was one of them. The rate for our waterside unit was $190.
The green and white cottages face a lawn and the Hamilton Harbor waters surrounding Hinson Island. Because the Salt Kettle ferry dock was just a short walk away, the location made it easy to revisit Hamilton by boat and spread out from there to other parts of the country.
This was our last night in Bermuda, so we spent little time in the room. A television in the 200-year-old main house served the couch potatoes, but our unit lacked TV, and we didn't miss it. After all, this was a place with some history to it, dating back to the days of Bermuda's salt panning industry.
Our week ran out before we could explore every lodging category. The five Resorts we looked at resembled the big luxury facilities you see at any warm-weather location that features beaches and an adequate airport. There were some moments when we hungered for the kind of pampering those places take pride in.
The two Private Clubs--Coral Beach & Tennis Club and Mid Ocean Club--require introductions from members before outsiders are allowed stay.
Inns also escaped us, but rest assured, Bermuda's accommodation standards are high, and, generally speaking, so are the prices--no matter what the category or whether the roof happens to be slate or fabric.
No scooting around for them: Why they took the bus
The spouse wanted to give it a try. "We will rent one of these before we leave," she declared, pointing at the motorbikes and scooters that buzzed all around us as we made our way (by cab) from the Bermuda airport to downtown Hamilton.
Those little bikes did look like fun, promising freedom and mobility on a tightly wound series of roadways. Besides, we soon learned that Bermuda--only about 24 miles long--isn't as walkable as one might think.
Sure, we could mosey around Hamilton all right, but beach-hopping without wheels was a non-starter. We would have to climb hills, some of which end in steep cliffs. Most of the roads lack shoulders, let alone sidewalks, and we had to stay alert because vehicles drive on the wrong side of the street.
That left-side British quirk alone might have kept us from renting a car, but the government made the decision for us. Non-residents aren't allowed to own, rent or drive four-wheeled vehicles in Bermuda.
Scooters and bikes were looking more and more attractive, until we visited one of the ubiquitous Oleander Cycles offices. In a nearby vacant lot, an Oleander employee tried to acquaint tourists with the workings of their newly rented motorbikes. He looked like a ringmaster in the middle of a circus clown act.
Comically helmeted visitors were skidding, tipping precariously, stalling and stirring up clouds of dust. One guy did wheelies--apparently by accident. For this adventure they would pay Oleander $50 for the first day. Daily rates do decrease, depending on the number of days riders manage to survive.
I usually take State Department travel warnings with a grain of salt, because they're evidently written by a thousand overly cautious lawyers. Still, a few sentences from a consular information sheet did stick in my mind as I watched renters flounder in that vacant lot:
"Traffic is moderate, but road accidents--particularly involving motorbikes--are common and often result in serious injuries or death. Motor scooters provide the biggest road peril in Bermuda; local operators tend to abuse the speed limit [20 m.p.h.] more than other drivers, and they will often pass on the left or right with no warning."
The wife and I--after one grueling hike in 100-degree heat--took public transportation everywhere. We found the bus system runs with brisk efficiency, and rides cost from $2.50 to $4 per token, depending on the distance traveled. Ferries provided welcome shortcuts and unbeatable scenery for $2.50 to $4 each way. A $12 one-day pass covered both modes of transport.
Taxis were pricey. But drivers almost always would chat about cricket, must-see landmarks or favorite restaurants. Cabbies became our favorite locals, even though they charged $5.75 for the first mile, $2 for each mile thereafter and expected tips as well. Most of the cabs were huge, fully accessorized, air-cooled and clean.
Against one of those babies a motorbike wouldn't have a chance.
IF YOU GO LODGING
Although we lack the space to publish all the details about Bermuda's variety of accommodations, the Bermuda Department of Tourism can get you started: 675 3rd Ave., New York, NY 10017; 800-223-6106.
Call 800-237-6832 (BERMUDA) for general information. For help with trip planning, call 800-506-6215; www.bermudatourism.com
Here are some details on the lodgings where we stayed.
April 1-May 14 (shoulder season) $185-$355.
May 15-Oct. 31 (high season) $250-$450.
Nov. 1-Jan. 2, $185-$355. Closed Jan. 3 to April 1.
Box MA 238, Sandys, Bermuda MA BX; 866-841-9009; www.9beaches.com
Through March 31, $325-$660.
April 1 to Nov. 30, $420-$810.
December 2007 rates not yet posted.
P.O. Box HM 333, Hamilton, HM BX, Bermuda; 800-468-4100; www.waterloohouse.com
Granaway Guest House & Cottages
Cottage: $200-$280 in high season (April 1-Oct. 30).
$150-$200 in fall, winter.
Rooms: $130-$180 in high season.
$100-$160 the rest of the year.
Rates may vary slightly, depending on demand or other factors.
Harbour Road, P.O. Box WK 533, Warwick, Bermuda; 441-236-3747; www.granaway.com
Greenbank Guesthouse & Cottages
April 1-Nov. 30 $140-$320.
Dec. 1-March 31 $110-$275.
Salt Kettle Road, P.O. Box PG 201, Paget, PG BX, Bermuda; 441-236-3615; www.greenbankbermuda.com
Prices, subject to change, do not include daily 7.25 percent government tax and service charge, which usually is 10 percent. U.S. and Bermuda dollars are of equal value and equally accepted.