I’m intrigued by the fashionable buzzwords in “experiential travel.” “Isn’t all travel based on experience?” I wondered before my recent trip to Bermuda. My purpose? To experience the island like a native by celebrating the Cup Match Cricket Festival, a two-day public holiday held every August.
(And it’s certainly worth mentioning that I flew to the island from New York’s JFK Airport in less time than it’s taken me to drive to the Hamptons.)
My hotel, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, was a perfect pink confection – one of the first Fairmont hotels and one of the only ones that serves a lavish High Tea in the Heritage Court in the afternoon. Just a short walk from Hamilton’s downtown shopping district where pastel-colored shops offer luxury linens and the latest fashions, the hotel overlooks Hamilton Harbour and a lush garden filled with palms, hibiscus and bougainvillea. A complimentary ferry takes guests to the Hamilton’s sister hotel, the luxurious Fairmont Southampton, with its private oceanfront beach club, golf course, spa and array of restaurants. The Newport, a Gastropub, is the newest dining option, inviting guests to dress casually and enjoy a charcuterie, fresh raw bar (delicious oysters!), and modern twists on English pub fare. Think tomato tart, salmon succotash, mile-high lamb ribs and drunken mussels for starters.
Buoyed by the spirit of Cup Match, the hotels overflowed with guests and high energy. The Festival’s first day, called Emancipation Day, honors the abolition of slavery in 1834; while the second, Somers’ Day, heralds Admiral Sir George Somers, whose 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda led to the island’s British colonization. Though I didn’t quite get the hang of cricket – perhaps because I was having too much fun looking at the colorful cheering crowds and eating snacks – I was charmed by some of the game’s lingo, words like “sticky wicket,” “silly fielders,” and “golden duck.”
Foodies, rejoice: The cricket match is home to food stands serving local fare such as mussel pies, conch, macaroni and cheese, and peas and rice – cooked right before your eyes. I was lucky enough to be with a Bermudian and trusted her to guide me through the tents to one of the best offerings. That turned out to be St. David’s Food, where I ordered my friend’s recommendation: a fried fish sandwich with tartar sauce on raisin bread. What had seemed like an unlikely combination turned into the most delectable sandwich I’ve eaten in many years!
When later I met Hope Lowe, whose son owns St. David’s, I asked about the moist and flaky fish. Surely, it must be local and freshly caught. No, she replied; the fish, called swai, is frozen and imported to meet huge demands of the hungry crowds. But no worries; local, fresh fish can be served on special request, she added.
If you crave a break from cricket and food, you can try your luck at Crown and Anchor, a game of dice invented by sailors in the British Navy and played under a tent on the stadium grounds next to the match. Gambling is illegal in Bermuda with the exception of the two days of Cup Match. Of course, I played – and lost. On average, I learned, a player will lose 92.1 percent of the amount he bets. But in my quest for experiential travel, my purpose was to experience the revelry and camaraderie of Cup Match, not to fret over a few lost dollars.
If you can’t wait till next summer, you may consider Bermuda in the fall, a favored time to visit. On Sept. 21, International Peace Day, the island will celebrate the memory of John Lennon and the unique bond it has with the composer. That’s when a group of local and international artists – including Heather Nova, Maxi Priest, Biggie Irie and Judie Tzuke, among others – will perform his music in a benefit concert in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens.
Lennon had sailed by yacht to Bermuda in the summer of 1980 and rented a waterfront home outside Hamilton. He especially enjoyed the lush Botanical Gardens and its double fantasy freesia flowers. Against this setting the composer wrote 25 songs in just six weeks, an amazing accomplishment considering that he had been unable to compose anything for five years! His final album, “Double Fantasy,” was recorded in New York in August/Sept. 1980. In December, he was fatally shot.
“It’s time for Bermuda to honor him,” says Tony Bannon, a producer of the event. “We plan to do so every Peace Day.”