48 hours in Bermuda

It's like Britain of old, only with dollars and a laid-back, luxury lifestyle. Lucy Gillmore makes it to Bermuda

With candy-coloured cottages, sparkling white roofs, lush, green gardens overflowing with scarlet hibiscus, a turquoise sea and pink beaches, you need sunglasses - even in the rain - in Bermuda. Not that it rains much, and even when it does, the saying goes: "If you don't like the weather in Bermuda, wait five minutes."

With candy-coloured cottages, sparkling white roofs, lush, green gardens overflowing with scarlet hibiscus, a turquoise sea and pink beaches, you need sunglasses - even in the rain - in Bermuda. Not that it rains much, and even when it does, the saying goes: "If you don't like the weather in Bermuda, wait five minutes."

Bermuda is colourful, clean and pristine; a real-life Pleasantville in glorious Technicolor. It's also (just for the record) 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean, with a sub-tropical rather than tropical climate. Just 21 miles long and comprising 150 islands, Bermuda remains a British colony and is terribly British in a way Britain no longer is - though afternoon tea is served with a rum cake, rather than a jam sponge. Bermuda is also wonderfully, unashamedly expensive.

When to goBermuda's summer is our summer and as such it's the peak tourist season when prices rise at the same rate as the humidity. August does, however, bring the annual Cup Match Cricket Festival (3-4 August); a national holiday and an all-out island-wide party. Locals take to the beaches and spend a couple of days under canvas while teams from the east and west ends of the island battle it out over the wickets. September brings the jazz festival (15-16), and is also a time when cheaper flights and less humidity are an added draw.

Getting thereBritish Airways (tel: 0845 773 3377) is the only airline to fly direct from the UK, with four flights a week out of Gatwick during the summer, from £710 return. A cheaper option is to fly via New York with American Airlines. Trailfinders (tel: 020-7937 5400) offers returns from £600. Fares fall slightly in September: Trailfinders offers returns with British Airways from £630, or Continental via Newark from £515.

Getting aroundNothing is very far away in Bermuda, but you can't hire a car - it's against the law for foreigners to hire cars. This doesn't extend to mopeds, however. A day's rental costs from around £40, including insurance. Try Oleander Cycles in Hamilton (tel: 001 441 295 0919), but expect to do two-wheel battle with American tourists (who aren't used to roundabouts or driving on the right).

Bus is the cheapest form of transport (cheap for Bermuda - the 45-minute hop from the airport is £5), but the service is efficient and easy to use. Taxis are also costly, but drivers in cars displaying a blue flag double-up as tour guides. So, with a few of you in the car, the price of a tour isn't excessive. BIU Taxi Co-op Transportation (tel: 001 441 292 4476) charges £27 an hour, with a minimum of a three-hour hire, but vehicles seat up to six.

Where to stayWaterloo House, right on Hamilton Harbour, Pembroke Parish (tel: 001 441 295 4480; www.bermudasbest.com) is a rambling, 19th-century townhouse swamped in florals, with winding corridors, cosy nooks and crannies, worn, wooden floors, sash windows and views over the harbour. Rooms start at £175 a night, including breakfast and afternoon tea.

For star-spotting potential, however, try Michael Douglas's glamorous cottage colony, Ariel Sands, South Road, Devonshire (tel: 001 441 236 1010; www.arielsands.com). Prices start from £265 a night for a deluxe ocean view room, based on two sharing. Daniel's Head Village, 4 Daniel's Head Lane, Sandy's (tel: 00 1 203 602 0300; www.danielsheadvillage.com), is Bermuda's new eco-alternative, powered by solar and wind-generated energy, and is due to open by September. Here, accommodation is in a luxury "tent" cottage (the roof is canvas). Some are perched on stilts over the sea and come complete with glass floors, offering the oddest sea view around. Prices start from £90 per day for two people, including a continental breakfast.

For a more homely alternative, Salt Kettle House, 10 Salt Kettle Road, Paget (tel: 001 441 236 0407) is an English-run guest house with a private dock on the waterfront. Cottages cost £40 per person, including a hearty breakfast. Rooms in the main house are £35 per person.

What to see and doKnobbly knees and pink sand. Locals really do walk round in smart Bermuda shorts with knee-length socks (add jacket and tie and this constitutes formal dress), and the beaches really do have pink sand, eroded from coral reefs. Horseshoe Bay is a brochure photographer's dream, but for more deserted dunes, head for Warwick Long Bay, a half-mile stretch along South Shore.

The sea bottom should be next on your list. Bermuda has the world's most northerly coral reefs, the graveyard of more than 400 wrecks, including The Constellation, a four-masted schooner which sank on its way from New York to Venezuela in 1942 loaded with bags of (now solid) cement. As a result, wreck-diving, like all forms of diving, is big in Bermuda. Try a "helmet dive" - wearing an old-fashioned helmet, you walk along the sea bed amid reefs and tropical fish - but only under some 10ft of water, so you don't have to master diving skills. Contact Hartley's USA (tel: 001 441 234 2861). For more traditional diving, try Blue Water Divers (tel: 001 441 234 1034).

If you would prefer a "virtual" diving experience, head for the Ocean Discovery Centre at the BUEI or Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (tel: 001 441 292 7219; www.buei.org) in Hamilton, where for just £6.50 you can simulate the dramas of the deep without getting wet. Another must-see is the "shark cage" - beyond the cage walls angled film screens have the sharp-toothed beasts coming at you from all directions.

The Railway Trail is a less hair-raising alternative. Ber-muda's railway was opened in 1931 but never caught on, so the government sold the carriages to British Guiana. The track, running a fragmented course across the island from east to west, is now a well-signposted path for cyclists and walkers. Pick up the free booklet, The Bermuda Railway Trail Walking Guide, at tourist offices (see Further Information).

Bermuda, in true British tradition, also has its own National Trust, PO Box HM 61, Hamilton (tel: 001 441 236 6483; www.bnt.bm) caring for 26 historic buildings. For colonial splendour and South Shore views, head for the 18th-century, antique-stuffed Verdmont House on Collector's Hill (Tues-Sat 10am-4pm). Worth a visit in St George, the old capital, is the Bermuda National Trust Museum (Mon-Sat 10am-4pm) along with Tucker House (Mon-Sat 10am-4pm) an atmospheric 18th-century merchants' house on Water Street. A combination ticket for all three costs £3.50.

Also in the old capital is St Peter's Church, one of the oldest Anglican churches in the Western hemisphere, dating back to 1612. Up a steep flight of steps the interior is scattered with old cedar pillars and chandeliers. The church was originally segregated, as was the graveyard, and a plaque in the graveyard reads: "Burial ground for slaves and free blacks." At the other end of the island, the Royal Naval Dockyard, built for the British Navy in 1809, has been converted into shops, restaurants, a craft market and is the focus for the Maritime Museum, 15 Maritime Lane, Sandy's (tel: 001 441 234 1333).

Food and drinkThink fish and rum. Like Britain, Bermuda is not famous for its local cuisine, but there are a few specialities you should try. Bermuda's fish chowder is rich, red and meaty with sherry peppers and black rum. It's usually followed by grilled wahoo, a local fish cooked with butter, bananas, lemon and almonds. Fish sandwiches are another speciality, as are mussel pies.

Traditional Bermuda Sunday brunch is a codfish and banana concoction, though locals disagree on the precise constituents. Those in the know fish-wise go to Dennis' Hideaway, Cashew City Road, St David's (tel: 001 441 297 0044) but you need to give him a ring to see if he's cooking that day. For posh nosh in Hamilton go to La Coquille (tel: 001 441 292 6122) by the BUEI. Dark rum is the island brew, the popular choice is Goslings Black Seal. The cocktails to sup are the Dark 'n' Stormy (dark rum and ginger beer) and the Rum Swizzle (Angostura Bitters, pineapple and orange juice).

The Swizzle Inn on Blue Hole Hill, Bailey's Bay (tel: 001 441 293 1854), close to the airport, should be your first and last stop for bar-hopping. It's a tradition to "swizzle in and swagger out" of Bermuda! Rum mixes well with jazz, and on Friday and Saturday nights, locals head down to Hubbies Bar, in Angel St, in the backstreets of Hamilton, for the best live music.

The Pickled Onion (tel: 001 441 295 2263) in Hamilton is another favourite for live bands (more indie rock). The onion was the first cash crop, from which Bermudians take their nickname "onions".

Deals and packagesCresta Holidays (tel: 0870 1610930) offers a three-night break from £878 per person, based on two sharing, staying at the Surfside Beach Club, on a room only basis.

Further informationBermuda Tourism (tel: 020 7771 7000; net: www.bermudatourism.com). Or contact the Department of Tourism, Global House, 43 Church Street, Hamilton (tel: 001 441 292 0023).

Lucy Gillmore travelled as a guest of British Airways.

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