Escaping Winter In Balmy Bermuda

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A portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II gazes over all who pass through security at Bermuda's LF Wade International Airport, a royal welcome for visitors to Britain's oldest overseas territory in a room that wouldn't look out of place in an English stately manor.

The airport's runway sits seemingly inches above the waves on reclaimed land at the north-east point of the volcanic archipelago, providing a spectacular ocean landing that puts you in mind of how earlier nautical travelers once reached these pristine shores.

Arriving on the Bermuda Islands or 'Somers Isles' is an experience all of its own: passing through a time-warped gateway echoing colonial days past, built with cutting-edge engineering, into a giant clubhouse where some of the wealthiest people on the planet live and play...

It's an easy choice, if you can afford it. The average cost of a house on any of the eight main islands is around a million dollars, and patches of coastline without an adjoining jetty cram-packed with luxury yachts are few, though unspoiled beaches are still to be found.

While closer to Canada than the Caribbean (and just a 90-minute hop from New York's JFK), Bermuda's winter-busting climate is kept warm by the Gulf Stream. So, while the US east coast was being lashed by Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers with money to burn were golfing or paddling about in a pool here, taking care to avoid sunstroke.

My arrival at The Reefs, while minus the pink carpet, was capped off with a deftly prepared Dark 'n' Stormy highball, the national drink of choice mixed with ginger beer, rum and lime, accompanied by a warm sea breeze and ocean views, and home, feeling an eternity away.

For a sub-tropical island, these are a common quirk in restaurants and hotel lobbies, just for the look. But it's hard to imagine Bermudians huddling around one, rubbing their hands together for warmth on any day of the year...

Pampering features highly at The Reefs, and when you're not letting your afternoons drift by in the cliff-edge Infinity pool (a sweet spot at sundown), or swimming in the sea, you'll be in and out of the hotel's spa centre taking advantage of some seriously relaxing holistic treatments.

Perched on limestone cliffs overlooking its own secluded beach, the family-run Reefs spa hotel provides a relaxed island welcome at the opposite end of the 'mainland' from the airport (Bermuda actually comprises more than 300 islands), though the transfer is brief: the entire landmass being just 21 square miles.

The Reefs offers privacy and outstanding views over the pink-sand coastline below, formed of pulverised corals and mollusc shells. Bermudians take great pride in their unique rose-tinted beaches, even defying royal protocol to pay tribute to the sands in the form of a pink welcome carpet laid out for the Queen on her last visit.

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Serving the local catch and imported steaks, the hotel's Royston's restaurant (one of three) is a European-style grill house with an open kitchen, allowing diners to watch the chefs do their thing from the comfort of tables by ... the fireplace.

A mile-long path in Paget resembles a veritable herbal garden, through which you can be guided by a former Miss Bermuda, Dr. Kuni Frith-Black, who will explain how the vast array of flora that surrounds you is used to cook all manner of dishes, as well as to cure common ailments.

For horse-lovers seeking al fresco action, Spicelands Riding Centre in Warwick provides a scenic hack across the tranquil south shore, including the picture-postcard Jobson's Cove and Chaplin Bay, where sparkling waters crash against circles of rocks to form sandy secret gardens.

Experienced riders should be sure to book a private ride if they want to gallop along the sandbanks though, or else risk an hour-long plod with newbies.

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Swapping the surface of Bermuda for the world beneath, the stunning Crystal Cave -- found by chance a hundred years ago by boys searching bushes for a cricket ball -- is a must.

Descending into the depths, a floating pontoon pathway carries you over deep azure pools to inspect its 30-million-year-old chandelier clusters of pristine white stalactites and delicate crystallized soda straws, hanging majestically at every turn.

Back in the built environment, at the northern tip of the tongue-twisting Ireland Island, the Royal Naval Dockyard within the 500-year-old Keep citadel is worth a visit, although seeing large parts of this former flagship port's magnificent stone yards and warehouses in a state of disrepair was a bit sad.

The redevelopment of this former colonial trading outpost is a priority for the island authorities however, and a number of businesses are already setting up shop, there including craft shops and an arts centre. Lovers of the life aquatic will also enjoy the hands-on Dolphin Quest, offering dolphin swimming and training.

But the nearby Commissioner's House in Casemate Barracks is the true success story of this neglected area's painstaking renovation. Fully-restored to its former splendor, the building now houses an elaborate museum allowing visitors to take in the island's rich history.

A must-see inside is Bermudian artist Graham Foster's grand mural of the nation, Hall of History, which covers 1,000 square feet of the basement walls. Having taken the artist three years to complete, the mural truly puts you in the picture of what these unique islands are about, which once led Mark Twain to quip, somewhat more concisely: "You go to heaven... I'd rather stay here."

Richard's Bermuda Photos can be viewed here: http://www.facebook.com/Haute.Lifestyle.com1

For more information on Bermuda: www.gotobermuda.com

For information on The Reefs: www.thereefs.com

Richard Powell is the Public Relations Director for Presswire in the UK and also a freelance journalist and travel writer.