Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve spreads across 12 acres of woodland area with a coastline of pristine beaches off-limits to boaters. Photograph by Kira Zalan.
Direct From Washington: St. George’s, Bermuda
By Kira Zalan
Bermuda’s original capital, the four-century-old Town of St. George—informally known as St. George’s—has recently emerged as a low-key destination, close to pristine, near-empty beaches. New, larger cruise ships can’t access the once-popular port; while that restriction has wreaked havoc on the local economy, it has restored the town’s charm.
St. George’s is situated near green hills on the eastern shores of Bermuda, a direct two-hour flight from Baltimore and minutes away from the airport. Beach season in this semitropical destination starts in April, when temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees, and hurricane season officially begins in June. AirTran is offering direct service April 7 through October 24 starting at $159 each way.
Around St. George’s
Almost every resident will greet you on the street and ask if you need directions. Though that hospitality adds to the small-town ambiance, directions are usually unnecessary—there’s only one main road, the two-lane Duke of York Street, and everything is a stroll away.
You may want to wander off the main road toward the hills to explore narrow residential alleys lined with pastel-colored houses. You’ll probably notice that the ocean breeze is scented with hibiscus, frangipani, and oleander—native flowers often used in signature Bermudian fragrances. Curious how it’s done? Learn the process at the island’s Bermuda Perfumery (5 Queen St.; 441-293-0627).
Back on the main road, you can stroll past centuries-old coral stone buildings with informative plaques. Did you know that Bermuda assisted George Washington in the American Revolution and then helped the Confederacy obtain supplies during naval blockades in the Civil War?
In the middle of town is St. Peter’s Church—originally constructed in 1612, it’s the oldest working Anglican church in the Western hemisphere. If you cross the road, you’ll be in King’s Square, where replicas of tools used for public punishment during Colonial times are displayed. Water Street, a cobblestone alley leading from King’s Square to Somers Wharf, is lined with boutiques selling local art, souvenirs, and British brand-name clothing—including properly tailored Bermuda shorts.
About 20 minutes north of town by foot is serene Tobacco Bay beach, where you can snorkel with Technicolor fish. A paved road leads from Tobacco Bay through a lush golf course to historic Fort St. Catherine. You may want to relax at lovely Achilles Bay beach, directly below, and contemplate the fact that you’re perched on top of a coral reef that mushrooms from a dormant volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Nearby St. David’s Island is worth the 25-minute bus ride. Here you can tour the grounds around a working lighthouse built in 1879, then sip a rum swizzle cocktail while listening to reggae at Gombey’s (908 Cooper’s Island Rd.; 441-293-5092). A five-minute walk will bring you to Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve—a long stretch of pristine beach, free of boaters and vendors. This spot is perhaps where Mark Twain made his famous declaration from Bermuda, “You go to heaven if you want to—I’d rather stay here.”
Where to Stay
St. George’s has five museums but only three hotels. 1 Nea’s Inn (rates start at $190) is on enchanting Nea’s Alley, just off the main road. The clean, family-owned 18th-century guesthouse provides all the basic amenities for a comfortable stay.
The more upscale St. George’s Club (rates start at $385 in April), a cottage-style hotel and timeshare, sprawls over Rose Hill and has spectacular views with more luxurious amenities. Or if you’re splurging, stay at Grotto Bay Beach Resort in Hamilton Parish (spring rates start at $279), ten minutes by bus or taxi from St. George’s. This modern resort, with on-site activities including scuba diving and teatime, has a small private beach and all-inclusive packages.
Where to Eat
You won’t find fine dining in St. George’s, but there are eateries with character and ambiance. Locals will direct you to Mama Angie’s Coffee Shop (48 York St.; 441-297-0959) for breakfast and lunch. Ask the owner/chef at this 100-year-old cafe for the whitewater snapper. Try wahoo, another local fish, at brand new Wahoo’s Waterside Patio (36 Water St.; 441-297-1307). Enjoy a traditional Bermudian fish chowder garnished with rum at Tavern by the Sea (14 Water St.; 441-297-3305). Watch the sun set over the Atlantic while sipping on Sunset Punch from a cliff terrace at Blackbeard’s Hideout (Achilles Bay; 441-297-1400).