Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017

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Putting around Bermuda

With plenty of direct flights, Bermuda's breezy pace and great golf are more accessible than ever

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Bermuda golf

Mark Twain, the ever articulate, globetrotting American humourist, once remarked, “You take heaven, I’d rather go to Bermuda.”

Indeed, tiny, pristine Bermuda, a fishhook-shaped island is blessed with an abundance of charms. It has the turquoise waters, blissful beaches and tropical flavours you’d find in the Caribbean, but without the rough edges. Bermuda is clean, orderly and polite with a proper British accent.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually not part of the Caribbean; it sits out in the Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina. However its shared history and cultural similarity with nearby island nations means that it is often colloquially referred to as part of the Caribbean.

Although Bermuda doesn’t compete with cheap all-inclusive sunspots such as Cuba or the Dominican Republic, you get much better rates during the low season (November to March) when the temperature may not be suited to sun bathing but it’s ideal for golf and sightseeing.

Bermuda is also just a two-and-a-half-hour non-stop daily flight from Toronto. Now that both Air Canada and West Jet fly there, flight prices have become competitive.

My friend Margaret and I decided to take advantage of the savings and enjoy what the locals (known as onions) have coined a “Bermudaful” long weekend.

Tempestuous history

Claimed in 1505 by Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez (hence the name), Bermuda's colonial history actually began in earnest a century later. In 1609, Admiral George Somers and his crew, en route to start a British colony in Virginia, foundered on one of the many reefs off the east end of the island. They came ashore and stayed there. Some speculate that William Shakespeare based his play The Tempest on this happenstance. Once declared a British colony, settlers began arriving in 1612.

The best way to explore St. George’s, the original capital, is to take a tour with its jovial town crier, David Firth, who knows the windy maze of streets with names like Old Maid’s Lane and Shinbone Alley like the back of his tricorn hat. He’ll point out St. Peter’s, the oldest Anglican church in continuous use in the Western hemisphere with its impressive Bermuda-cedar ceiling built like an inverted ship, and take you round back to the ancient cemetery. You’ll stop at the gardens where George Somers’ heart is reputedly buried.

The exuberant Firth will climb ladders or trees plucking such local fruits as loquat, Surinam cherries, mulberries and figs to give visitors a taste of Bermuda. You'll finish off at the White Horse Tavern where you might catch a reenactment of 17th-century community life, including the dunking of the town gossip on the Ducking Stool in King’s Square.

A golf trifecta

Bermuda boasts more courses per square kilometre than any other place on the planet — which is why I agree with Mark Twain’s quip about heaven but disagree with his remark: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Of the island’s seven courses, the top three are Mid Ocean, Tucker’s Point and Port Royal — but not necessarily in that order.

Just 10 minutes from the airport, Tucker’s Point (tel: 011-441-298-4000; tuckerspointhotel.com; from $375 double), a stylish boutique hotel that opened last April, makes the ideal base for avid golfers. Guests can use the hotel shuttle to play both Tucker’s Point Club and neighbouring Mid Ocean. Both are exclusive, private clubs but open to island guests on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Advanced bookings are advisable and caddies are available.

Framed by crystal blue water at almost every turn, Tucker's Point was originally mapped out back in 1932 and then revamped in 2002 by architect Roger Rulewich. Huge elevation changes are a feature on all three of Bermuda’s top courses. On the number 12 par-four at Tucker’s, take advantage of gravity as you hit your blind tee shot from elevated tees far down to a green that sits over a pretty cove.

The formidable Mid Ocean Club (tel: 011-441-293-0330; themidoceanclubbermuda.com) was originally laid out by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1921. Robert Trent Jones tweaked it in the 1950s. The opening and finishing holes perch on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean while the rest of the routing meanders along rolling terrain highlighted by exceptional bunkering and impeccable greens. Flat lies are few and far between.

Tread Mid Ocean’s fairways and you’ll be following in the footsteps of the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, The Duke of Windsor and Babe Ruth, to name a few. I wonder if they had as much trouble as I did on the signature number five that plays over and around Mangrove Lake, a veritable ball magnet! Surprisingly, it's the Port Royal Golf Course (tel: 011-441-234-0974; www.portroyalgolf.bm), a public facility, that is the crown jewel of the golf offerings and the island’s best value. The Robert Trent Jones design re-opened in 2009 after a $14.5-million renovation and hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2009 and 2010.

Port Royal ranks among the best public courses in the world. Several holes provide marvellous sea vistas but number 16 is a true drama queen — a par-three set across the ocean cliffs on its own snug peninsula. Be prepared to make an ocean offering to Neptune. The entire 6,842 yards (the longest course on the island) will both challenge and seduce. Inquire about twilight rates for savings on greens fees.

Flowery pursuits

Fifty-four fairways later, Margaret and I decided we deserved some rehydration and relaxation at the Spa at Tucker’s Point where the philosophy is to incorporate many of the island’s tropical plants into unique therapies using lavender, lilies, citrus fruits, marine extracts and even a dash of rum.

Their Bermuda Collection is a three-step treatment starting with a honey-and-sugar cane scrub using honey harvested from the resort’s own property and followed by an invigorating shower with 18 massage heads. The grand finale is a massage using a silky balm of indigenous aloe, lavender and coriander. The Spa’s walled reflecting pool area is the ideal place to enjoy a cup of tea and chill out after your treatment.

For those curious about how botanicals wind up in bottles, a visit to the 300-year-old building housing Lili Bermuda Perfumery (tel: 011-441-293-0627; lilibermuda.com) in St. George’s is in order. There French Canadian owner and “nose,” Isabelle Brackstone, works with oils and essences from all over the world to create unique scents. Drop in for a fragrant tour.

Home sweet homes

The thing about living in paradise is that there's usually a catch. In Bermuda, hurricanes in summer and fall can tear off roofs. Plus, there's the absence of any freshwater source on the island. As a result, Bermuda's stepped limestone roofs have evolved over four centuries to do two things: protect houses against gale-force gusts and funnel rain down into large cisterns that feed household taps. By law, every house must collect 80 percent of the water that falls on its roof. The locals will caution you not to accept an invitation to tea from a homeowner whose roof is dirty.

The lovely palettes of pastel shades in which Bermudian homes are painted perfectly complement the gleaming white roofs and lush foliage. For Canadians fleeing from dreary grey winters, Bermuda is truly a sight for sore eyes.

Home and garden buffs should contact The Bermuda National Trust (www.bnt.bm) about tours of some of the island’s most notable architectural and botanical highlights.

In the pink

Thanks to a tiny sea creature, Bermuda’s 42 kilometres of beaches are blush pink. Calcified foraminifera, attached to the reefs, are broken loose, crushed by the waves and washed ashore. The beaches on the south side of the island are unforgettable, the most famous being Horseshoe Bay. Walk along the path and discover your own personal hideaway among the grottoes and rock outcroppings.

Up the wahoo

When it’s time to make dining reservations, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Seafood figures prominently on the menus. Most chefs have their own “secret” recipe for Bermuda fish chowder — a slow-simmering soup made with white fish stock, onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, celery, bay leaves, more spices and a liberal dash of rum. Traditionally, the chowder is served at the table with bottles of Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers sauce and black rum so you can spice it up to your liking. Wahoo, a game fish from the mackerel family, also stars regularly on menus here.

Bermuda has no lack of star chefs. Jean-Claude Garzia at the helm of Beau Rivage Restaurant (tel: 011-441-232-8686; newsteadbelmonthills.com) at Newstead Hotel was awarded the Meilleur Ourvier de France in 1997, France’s most coveted culinary honour. Margaret and I sampled his retro feast of fois gras, Beef Wellington and Lobster Thermidor while enjoying the view of the twinkling lights of Hamilton Harbour.

On our last evening we tried Tucker’s Point’s we tucked into some of Executive Chef Serge Bottelli’s Mediterranean fare. I recommend the grilled vegetable-and-truffle terrine followed by the porcini-crusted sea bass. Be sure to save room for Bottelli’s frozen spiced chocolate soufflé and a nightcap of Bermuda’s national libation, the Dark ’n Stormy.

The cocktail began in the ginger beer factory that was run as a subsidiary of the Royal Naval Officer's Club. The sailors soon discovered that a splash of Gosling’s Black Seal rum and a slice of lime greatly enhanced the ginger beer.

The name is said to have originated when one old salt observed that the drink was “the colour of a cloud only a fool or dead man would sail under." Anyway, it’s a fitting drink for an island that got its start due to a shipwreck.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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