Published: 11th May 2014
Your pony is very placid today,” said Natasha, the riding instructor, swivelling around at her waist like a Transformers figurine. Together we rode down trails through lush vegetation — soft fennel leaves, yucca plants, wild papaya, Mexican peppers. I leant out for an allspice leaf and crushed it between my fingers. Soon we were on the beach, with its glittering pink sand.
“Now take Tucker into the ocean,” Natasha said as we came to a perfect little horseshoe of a cove. “He loves the sea.” The horse walked cautiously into the water and, as he stopped, I patted him, feeling entirely at ease with life as I allowed him to bow his head and drink.
Here I was in exquisite Bermuda, with its pretty coves and dolly-mixture painted houses. It was clean and safe, with only a few cars; restaurant after sophisticated restaurant, such as the elegant Blu (mains from £12; blu.bm), was superb; everyone we met was friendly, intelligent and articulate. What could possibly go wrong?
The next thing I remember is my scream and the shock of cold as Tucker sank gloriously down in the refreshing water. I clambered off, jeans soaking wet.“He wasn’t drinking,” Natasha said. “He was checking out whether the water was clear for him to lie down in.”
Do not underestimate Bermuda. It is not all golf courses and bankers in silly shorts. This remote island, 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean Sea, is thought to have influenced Shakespeare’s setting for The Tempest and was the inspiration behind John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album. Behind the comfortable facade, it is a wild, magical place.
Visitors can tap into that side of the island with Hidden Gems, whose tours explore Bermuda’s network of caves. We swung from the vines of banyan trees, saw foot-long emerald lizards, turtles, crab spiders, ruined mansions and a tiny deserted beach, and crept into caves of stalagmites, gleefully wearing protective white helmets with torches attached, like chic miners. In another underground cave was the most eerily beautiful swimming pool I’ve ever seen — crystal clear, linked to the Atlantic through a network of more caves.
There’s magic in the seas here, too. Bermuda was colonised by the British by accident in 1609, when Sea Venture, on its way to Jamestown, Virginia, carrying 150 people, ran aground on the reefs. Shakespeare is said to have drawn on stories of the shipwreck.
Many other wrecks followed: there are said to be more than 300 around the chain of interlinked islands. I took a glass-bottomed boat out to one of them, drifting over giant turtles, iridescent parrotfish, brain coral, tube sponges, snappers and silver bream that darted around the portholes. At the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, in the capital, Hamilton, you can try a “virtual dive”, or cheat and see turtles in the fine aquarium.
Yet for all this exoticism, and the palm trees and balmy temperatures (as high as 23C in winter, seldom uncomfortable in summer), Bermuda is also profoundly British. It is our oldest colony, divided into parishes such as Warwick, Pembroke and St George’s. You can take afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, with scones and fruitcake; watch cricket (the Cup Match between the east and west of the island is one of the year’s highlights); and see men in blazers (albeit with long shorts and socks up to their knees).
An early photograph of the Queen in full regalia welcomes visitors at the airport, and her face decorates the coins, though the Bermudian dollar is pegged to the US currency. The British visitor feels delightfully at home, yet not at home, in this balmy paradise. Bermuda is unique. You have to visit at least once to discover this other version of England.
Need to Know
Sally Emerson was a guest of Purely Bermuda, which has three nights at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess and six at the Fairmont Southampton from £1,399pp, including flights (0800 033 6335, purelybermuda.co.uk). Or try Kuoni (0844 488 0559, kuoni.co.uk) or Tropical Sky (0843 636 4769, tropicalsky.co.uk).
The seven-hour Hidden Gems tour costs £88, including food and equipment (bermudahiddengems.com). Spicelands Equestrian Centre has trail rides from £55 for an hour (spicelandsriding.com). Island Tour Centre has three-hour glass-bottomed boat trips from £32 (islandtourcentre.com). For more on Bermuda, visit gotobermuda.co.uk.