From an Instagram star who leads photo tours of secret spots to a herbalist who shows visitors how to cook what they forage, enterprising Bermudians are giving travellers an insider’s perspective of the island’s dynamic culture. By Jancee Dunn; Photographs by Meredith Andrews
During a catamaran cruise off the coast of Bermuda, I fell into easy conversation with Kim Duess, a young designer with sun-streaked blonde hair and a lifelong passion for the sea. She grew up on the island, then, after high school, got her BFA from Parsons School of Design and worked for various fashion companies in New York. “I was like many Bermuda kids, who long to get off the island and explore the world,” she said.
But Deuss found the pull of home too strong, and last year returned to launch Daughters of Summer , a chic swimwear brand that uses fabric made from plastics and other waste retrieved from landfills and the ocean. “Bermuda is small,” she said, “so we have this tight-knit group of creatives who are very supportive and collaborative, and that inspires me.” She gestures at the crystalline water around us, adding, “Of course, so does all of this wild beauty.”
Deuss is just one of the young Bermudians opening businesses in droves, and the influx is re-energising the once-staid country. “There really is more opportunity than ever for folks to turn their talents and hobbies into self-employment,” said Genelle John, owner of Salt Spray Soap Co. Everything from salt scrubs to body oils is handmade in the back of the brand’s St. George store, using natural ingredients such as seawater that John collects from nearby St. Catherine’s Beach.
“The days of having to stick to buying trinkets and T-shirts, choosing from a handful of hotels, and staying on the well-beaten path are long gone,” John adds. I witnessed this new energy first-hand when I visited her bustling, sun-flooded shop, where one employee was busy trimming magenta bars of Pink Colada soap (scented with pineapple, coconut, and lime) while the soulful voice of Bermudian singer Joy T Barnum played on the record player.
Myriad specialised activities and tours have also sprung up, ranging from the elegant sunset picnics thrown by artist Lizzy Blankendal to the African Diaspora Heritage Trail, which explores monuments and historic sites connected to enslaved people brought to Bermuda from the West Indies and West Africa in the 1700s. One way to seek out these kinds of curated experiences is through the travel website Winnow, cofounded by Alison Swan. Among its most popular listings: the four-hour insider photo tour led by photographer, model, and Instagram star Rachel Sawden. “Some of my favourite places are the ones even many locals don’t know about, like secret islands, or a scenic spot I found on Abbot’s Cliff,” she said as we explored the gorgeous pink- sand beach at Frick’s Point.
Bermuda’s reputation as an adventure destination is also growing. More than 300 shipwrecks can be explored in the reefs off its coast, and other aquatic pursuits include cliff jumping and helmet diving (which involves walking along the ocean floor while wearing glass-sided headgear attached to an oxygen hose).
“Jumping off the docks and rocks is a Bermudian pastime,” conservationist and free diver Weldon Wade told me. “We also have the healthiest, most abundant reef in the region.” Through his organisation Guardians of the Reef, Wade hosts an annual spearfishing tournament to tame the invasive lionfish population, as well as seasonal beach clean-ups.
To observe wildlife on the open seas, travellers can join the Bermuda Zoological Society aboard its research vessel, Endurance. A five-hour excursion on the gleaming-white, 14-metre boat offers the opportunity to see a cahow, one of the rarest seabirds in the world. It is known as a ‘Lazarus species’—thought to be extinct for more than 300 years until it was rediscovered in 1951 on the isolated and ruggedly beautiful Nonsuch Island, off Bermuda’s northeastern coast.
The country’s new energy also extends to its dynamic, ingredient-driven culinary scene, which is supported in large part by its dozen- plus farms. The Birdcage, a rooftop bar with pink chairs and dazzling views of Hamilton Harbour, uses mint and other foraged ingredients in its craft cocktails, along with locally grown passion fruit, allspice, and hibiscus. At OM Juicery, health- and-fitness coach Preston James Ephraim II whips up vegan burgers with his own special sauce, soup from homegrown pumpkins and squash, and a tart, velvety vegan blackberry cheesecake that I devoured in under a minute.
Those who want to get even more closely acquainted with Bermuda’s nascent farm-to- table scene can seek out Wild Herbs N Plants of Bermuda (tours INR 2,575, workshops INR 4,785). Owner Doreen Williams-James, who leads 90-minute foraging tours, said, “People are truly amazed at what they can find here in Bermuda that’s edible.” So far, she’s made a list of more than 60 plants and herbs, which she showcases during cooking workshops that include courses like sorbet made with indigenous prickly pears.
The number of millennial visitors is rising, thanks to several factors. Affordable Airbnbs are plentiful, zippy two-seat electric rental cars called Twizys offer an easy mode of transportation, and a new visa programme gives digital nomads the chance to spend a year working remotely from the island. Another plus: customs forms can now be completed online to whisk visitors through L. F. Wade International Airport, making the country that much easier to visit. Even Bermuda shorts are newly hip, featured in seemingly every runway collection, including Tom Ford’s.
To support the rising interest, older hotels such as the Rosewood Bermuda (doubles from INR 46,000), in Tucker’s Point, have gotten a stylish refresh. The reborn icon swapped its faded pink colour scheme for a clean, bright palette punctuated by pops of deep blue. There have also been recent debuts, like the Azura Hotel (doubles from INR 27,235), which sits on a pristine private beach but is still just 10 minutes from the capital, Hamilton. The property has 22 rooms done up in creamy white with floor-to-ceiling oceanfront windows that may afford glimpses—if you’re lucky—of migrating humpback whales.
“After being away from Bermuda and returning,” Deuss said as we towelled off from our swim, “I’ve realised that this is my happy place.”