Closer to Paradise
Forget flying halfway across the world to stay in Tahiti's famed stilted cabanas. In Bermuda, there's a copycat resort (and crystalline waters and pink sands) that will knock your flops off.
There were many things I planned to do during my week in Bermuda. Petting a sea slug was not one of them.
But when Fantasea watersports (fantasea.bm) co-owner Michael Heslop gently pried the velvetysoft creature from its rocky nest about 12 feet beneath the water's calm surface and handed it to me, I was helpless to resist. It was an enchanting moment on an island that already had me under its spell.
Heslop was introducing me to Snuba - a sort of "scuba lite" that's perfect for beginners. We set off from shore to a depth of about 20 feet as a small, inflatable raft carried the air tanks above us. Though I dive whenever I visit the Caribbean, I relished the feeling of freedom that comes from being tankless. "I love leading the tours," says Heslop, who notes that about 95 percent of his clients have no prior know-how. "So much better than being in an office."
Also better than being in an office is being at 9 Beaches, one of Fantasea's two Bermuda bases and a resort unlike any other in this sophisticated British territory just two hours by air from Boston. Since the tiny island's per-capita income is one of the highest in the world, it's no surprise that many of its more traditional hotels work hard to surpass one another with everposher services and accommodations. But 9 Beaches envelops you in something with which no amount of thread-count can compete: nature.
Rather than being closed off from the air and sea, you feel a part of them as the breeze huffs and puffs at the canvas walls of your cabana. Most of the resort's 84 cottages have direct water views, with windows facing not the neighbors but the open horizon. Some are even built on stilts directly over the water, South Pacific-style, with a "viewing panel" in the floor that lets you catch glimpses of turtles snacking on the seagrass below and schools of fry passing through.
There's a reason the place is called 9 Beaches, rather than 2 or 3 Beaches, and there's one for every taste within its 18 acres. Though the largest stretch of shoreline is usually bustling, it's not hard to find at least one sandy strip that's uninhabited, where you can spread your towel on a chaise under a thatched umbrella and settle in with a good book or take a private swim. When you need some action, snorkel over to Daniel's Head Island, a rocky outcropping just 100 feet from shore.
A short taxi ride away, the Royal Naval Dock- yard makes a nice day trip, with shopping, a maritime museum, parasailing and other activities, and dinner and drinks at the Frog and Onion Pub or Bonefish. For nightlife, head to Hamilton, the island' s largest city, where there are dozens of fine dining options and many of the bars are open until 3 a.m. Daytime, Hamilton offers high-end shopping as well as attractions such as the National Gallery and the Historical Society Museum. At lunchtime, forget about the fancy restaurants: Grab a sandwich to go at The Lemon Tree Cafe and enjoy it in the peace and quiet of gorgeous Par-LaVille Park on Queen Street.
When you return to your cabin under 9 Beaches' black night sky, you'll be amazed by the sense of serenity as you pad down a sandy lane, lulled by the chirping of crickets and the bleeping of tree frogs. Watch the moon dapple the surf white, and try to name constellations in the near- as-your-hand Milky Way as you sip a nightcap on the back porch. In the morning, despite the country's many temptations, you won't be in any rush to get out the door.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
9 Beaches has a formal restaurant, a bar and grill at its dock, a takeout shack near the main beach, and room service, but you'll want to venture out of the resort for dinner. Little Venice (441-295-3503; littlevenice.bm) is the place for seafood and homemade pasta; the mixed grill's pan-seared octopus is the best you'll ever taste. For stunning ocean views, try Ocean Echo, Royston's, or the al fresco Coconuts, all at The Reefs resort (441-238-0222; thereefs.com).
There are several large resorts on the island; one of the priciest, Elbow Beach (441-236-3535; mandarinoriental.com/bermuda) - on the south shore, not far from Hamilton - has suites priced as high as $4,000 a night. 9 Beaches (866-841-9009; 9beaches.com) is in the midrange, with cabanas costing between $195 and $570 per night, depending on the season and whether or not you choose to include meals. If you prefer homier accommodations, privately owned guesthouses and efficiencies (416-232-2243; bermudarentals.com) can run as little as $100 a night.
Dockyard's Dolphin Quest (441-234-4464; dolphinquest.org), offering a controlled setting in which to nose-kiss, belly-rub, and cavort with the puppylike creatures.