Melissa Twigg finds an island brimming with fresh life almost a year on from the America’s Cup.
Sport can have an enormous impact on a destination. As anyone who has wandered around London’s pre-Olympics Stratford or Cape Town’s pre-World Cup Greenpoint can attest, the right event can build essential infrastructure and allow an entire city – or in this case an entire island – to blossom into a hub of creativity.
Bermuda has flourished since the America’s Cup arrived on its shores last summer. Once maligned as a pretty but old-fashioned backwater, famous for English afternoon teas in the sweltering sun and retirees strutting about in brightly-coloured shorts, today’s Bermuda is fast becoming one of the globe’s premiere yachting destinations. And where the international boating crew leads, culture often follows, with galleries and museums popping up like rainbow-coloured sweets around the island.
I arrived in Bermuda on what should have been a cool midwinter’s day with a few preconceptions in place. I expected intense prettiness, and I got it. Bermuda is uniformly beautiful – think idyllic bays peppered with sail boats, pink and yellow colonial-era towns, and coral sand fringed with palm trees. Everything is sumptuously manicured, from the magazine-worthy roadside verges to the perfectly-crafted rum cocktails.
This feast for the eyes didn’t surprise me. But what I wasn’t expecting were world-class marinas dotted around every corner and one of the most dynamic cultural scenes I have experienced on a tropical island. Bermuda’s new energy is attracting the international jet-set, with recent guests including Princess Anne, King Juan Carlos of Spain and even Larry Ellison – who had a casual security team of 12 checking that his rib was secured when he visited for the Cup.
“AC 35 really helped increase the awareness of Bermuda as not only a vacation destination but also a sporting one,” says Diarmaid O’Sullivan, the general manager of local luxury hotel the Hamilton Princess. “This weekend, for example, Bermuda is host to the ITU World Triathlon Series with several hundred elite athletes competing.”
Tourism has increased to the island every quarter since last June, and the demographics are far younger than they once were – shaping the entire identity of Bermuda, which was once regarded as a place reserved for honeymooners and retirees. New York’s glossy set has also fallen back in love with the place – perhaps helped along by the island’s micro-climate. A mere 90-minute’ flight from the Big Apple, it was a balmy 24C in December, while New York was snowing.
I spent the weekend at the Hamilton Princess, the bubblegum pink grande dame of the Bermuda hotel scene, which shimmers like a birthday cake on the outskirts of the town of Hamilton. Bermuda’s smartest hotel since 1885, it has rose-filled gardens, infinity swimming pools overlooking Mark Twain’s house, soothing spas and colonial-style verandas.
It also has one of the most extraordinary collections of art I have seen in a private hotel. Work by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Banksy casually lurk in the lobby while a Rene Magritte sits inconspicuously next to the cash point. In new-fangled, arty Bermuda, this is far from unusual. There are galleries dotted around Hamilton, while the Bermuda Art Centre at Dockyard on the far western tip of the island is housed in an old-fashioned boatyard. Inside are all types of contemporary art, from experimental textile wall hangings to traditional watercolours.
The America’s Cup has also prompted an update of the islands boating capabilities to an extraordinary extent. People have been sailing to Bermuda for centuries, but over the last two years, the 21-mile island has become home to some impressive marinas. “In order to ensure that the island’s facilities were up to par for AC 35, several marinas underwent extensive upgrades in order to accommodate the superyachts that visited,” explains O’Sullivan. “This infrastructure now ensures that Bermuda is well-positioned to continue to welcome them to the island.”
The brand new 60-berth Princess Marina at the Hamilton Princess can host an impressive range of vessels, from 30-foot pleasure boats to superyachts spanning 600 feet. And the full-service hotel marina offers other frills beyond the necessities – think room service to your boat, high-speed wifi and even on-board massages.
Then there’s the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club; established in 1844, it was the 20th Royal Yacht Club in the world and is now one of the oldest in the hemisphere. Since the Americas Cup, it has grown to 130 berths and can accommodate yachts up to 150 feet. And then there is the brand new Caroline Bay Marina, the island’s largest luxury yacht marina. A Ritz-Carlton Reserve will be arriving there next year offering swanky residential properties for those who wish to make this resort their home.
And who wouldn’t? In just one year Bermuda has gone from retiree retreat to sleek Silicon Valley favourite – all thanks to the America’s Cup.
This article has been republished from www.thesuperyachtlife.com