Southampton Princess – Fairmont’s Pink Palace in Bermuda
It’s 7:00 in the morning and I’m sitting on the balcony of room 2232 at the Fairmont Southampton Princess watching the sun rise over a calm Atlantic Ocean as a large group of departing guests congregates below. Hugs, kisses and tears mark their farewells and I wonder if Alison and I will feel the same way a week from now. Only 24 hours ago we were departing the Alt Hotel at the Toronto airport for our flight, in more than one sense of the word, from Canada to Bermuda. As an aside, I highly recommend the Alt as the place to stay if you have to overnight at Toronto airport. It is directly connected to the airport by the monorail system so you are not subject to the vagaries of the off airport hotel bus schedules, much cheaper than the Sheraton which is also on site, and hip, if I might use that word at my age. We had a choice of a 5:30 A.M. flight from Halifax to catch the 8:15 flight to Bermuda or flying up the day before at a decent time. No brainer – we took a limo downtown, had dinner at Oliver & Bonancini on Yonge and Front with our daughter Lenore (very good choice by her) and caught the Raptors game where Cleveland’s LeBron James and Kyrie Irving gave the home team a lesson in passing and defense. We were back in our room at the Alt by 10:30.
The almost last minute decision to spend a week in Bermuda was taken lightly – Alison and I both had a hole in our schedules, she after three weeks of NEB hearings in B.C. and me after sloughing off things to Ian and Eugene. The airfare was reasonable and I had made arrangements with my friends at Fairmount to get a media rate at the Southampton Princess. We have a few golf games lined up, but nothing else really planned, except to explore the island for a week.
I have not been to Bermuda for decades and that was on a business trip that almost had a very memorable ending. We were staying at the Hamilton Princess where there was a complimentary evening brunch. Somehow my business partner managed to knock over a can of sterno and start the buffet table on fire. After making sure staff was alerted – “Hey, some idiot knocked over the sterno!” we hightailed it out of there for the Robin Hood pub and laid low for the rest of the evening. I’m pretty sure Alison and I won’t need to go on the lam this trip – my former partner, bless his soul, is now deceased.
The flight over is pretty full, mostly by a large group of Torontonians heading out for some type of golf tournament. I’ve never seen as many sets of golf clubs loaded on one flight. To my surprise the flight is only two and a half hours and better surprise, the weather is way warmer than I expected it to be. At this time of year Bermuda is usually in the low 70’s, but today it’s more like 76 and feels even warmer. After getting the OK to enter from a somewhat grouchy customs lady, I get some Bermudian dollars from an ATM and we take a cab to the Southampton Princess which is about a twenty minute ride through very narrow and twisting lanes. There won’t be any bike riding or walking on the sides of these roads. Cost of cab ride with tip – $50.00.
Usually I avoid huge hotels just on principle – I’m conceited enough to think that I am not one of the thousands of lemmings who pour into these places on conventions and packaged vacations and don’t really care if their room has a view of a dumpster because “How much time do you spend in your room anyway?”. Well actually, in a week long stay – quite a lot. However, when it comes to Fairmonts I make an exception. I’ve never had a bad experience at a Fairmont and it kind of makes me proud that it is, or was, a Canadian chain.
The Fairmont Southampton, is the hotel’s proper name, but everyone still calls it the Southampton Princess after its original name. It sits high atop a hill on a very narrow part of the island so that there are views of the ocean from all three sides of the triangular shaped hotel, on the one the open Atlantic, the other the protected sound, full of sailboats, smaller islands and lots of those pretty pastel coloured houses that Bermuda is famous for and the third the golf course, ocean and striking Gibb’s Hill lighthouse. To my mind the oceanside is much preferable, at least at this time of year, because you can see the sunrise in the morning and almost get the sunset at night, although those on the golf course side would definitely get the sunset for sure. You get neither from the sound side and in fact your balcony would be in shade most of the time. I didn’t know this at the time I booked, but did request an ocean view room because that can never be a bad decision. Here is the view of the ocean side of the hotel.
We are assigned room 2232 which is actually on the fourth floor. It has been recently renovated and is exactly what I want in a hotel room – good king bed, up to date electronics and a nice bathroom.
And of course a fabulous view.
After unpacking I realize that I was so wrapped up in reading and believing the weather reports for Bermuda before we left that I never considered the possibility that it might actually be hot. I didn’t pack a single T-shirt. However, one of the perks of being a member of the Fairmont President’s club, which is absolutely free to join, is that they will lend you brand new Reebok work out clothes gratis so within a matter of minutes I had a the clothes I needed to enjoy the hot afternoon.
There is a huge Christmas tree on the Great Sound side of the hotel and an obliging visitor from France takes this picture of us as we head out to explore the grounds..
Looking back from the Christmas tree here is a view of the Great Sound side of the hotel.
After exploring the grounds we walked down to the Ocean Beach Club which is the Southampton’s own little piece of Bermuda coast and we greeted with this view. Pretty damn nice, eh?
As you can see there were not a lot of people in the water. We had a nice lunch at the Cabana bar and took the shuttle back up to the hotel where I grabbed a cab and headed out for supplies. The Southampton Princess has a mini-bar and you can order room service wine for $40.00 and up, but that’s where I draw the line. The cab driver, a congenial guy named Gilbert knows a lot about Nova Scotia, points out K.C. Irving’s semi-modest bungalow where he spent his final days as a Canadian tax refugee on the side of Gibb’s Hill. The supermarket is pretty crowded as it seems to be a place where everybody knows each other and chatting seems more important than shopping. The prices are a bit high, but not shockingly so, by Nova Scotia standards. That bell weather brand Santa Margherita pinot grigio is actually cheaper here than at home. I’m starting to understand why K.C. fled. For $97.00 I get all the beer and wine required for our four day stay at the Southampton with even a few extras like milk, cookies and yogurt.
For dinner that night we tried the Newport gastro pub located right in the main building. The decor was based on what the interior of an old fashioned luxury yacht might have looked like – all teak and brass. I’m presuming the name refers to the famed Newport-Bermuda race or the Thrash to the Onion Patch as it is also known. The place was virtually deserted and we were seated in a really cozy booth from where I could slyly keep an eye on the TV screen where the Leafs were playing the Canucks. Our waitress, from Toronto, explained that a huge contingent of guests were being entertained that night on the beach and so it wouldn’t be busy. It also explained why the Leafs were on TV in Bermuda.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever eaten at a gastro pub and not had a beer. For some reason I had a gin and tonic instead while Alison had a martini that was either uber potent or she had had too much sun. Since we were only out in the sun for about an hour I’m going with the former. We knew we were going to the Waterlot Inn the next night which would be heavy on the meat so we opted for anti-beef. Tiger prawns for me, a calamari and tomato salad for Alison; all good.
Back in the room I could hear the Bermuda tree frogs making their love calls and the moon rose as if they were beckoning Selene to shed light on their nocturnal negotiations. All I could think of was the tree frogs back home, frozen stiff in their underground burrows waiting five to six more months to awaken. They should move to Bermuda and get an entire life, not just half of one. Maybe I should too.
The Waterlot Inn, Southampton Princess
On our second night at the Southampton Princes we reservations at the Waterlot Inn which is affiliated with the hotel. It’s a place I’ve wanted to get to since my first visit to Bermuda. How often do you get a chance to dine at a restaurant in the New World that dates back to 1670? They must be doing something right to stay in business that long and from the various reviews I’ve read it is one of if not the best restaurant in Bermuda. It’s also one of if not the most expensive restaurant in Bermuda, so this is a splurge meal.
The shuttle bus takes us down to the Inn which is one of those places that doesn’t really have a sign telling you ‘This is the place’. The entrance is down a flight of stairs surrounded by bougainvillea and this sign is the only way you know you are in the right spot.
To make a long story short, the meal is splendid in every respect. Our table is in a prime location and our server is a Slovakian lady who after leaving Slovakia headed to Canada and after a winter in Edmonton came to her senses and fled to Bermuda. The specialty of the Waterlot is beef and we opt to go with a traditional meal that might have been served here fifty years ago – gin martini for me and a glass of prosecco for Alison, caesar salad prepared at the table, a filet mignon with Bearnaise sauce for Alison and a tasting trio of rib-eye, filet mignon and waygu strip loin for me, followed by bananas Foster again prepared at the table. The steaks are accompanied by a Catena malbec which is a perfect match. Alison and I both agree the caesar salad is among the best we have ever had and while the filet was good, even great, it paled in comparison to the rib-eye and strip loin which are off the charts – the fat content accounting for the difference. The dessert is a great indulgence and just plain fun. A perfect meal and worth the price, but it’s not over yet.
As we head up to the large entry area where there is a fire blazing we notice a group of people sitting or standing around and are advised by a very gracious host that there has been ‘an incident’ not far outside, the road is blocked and we need to stay inside. We are offered free drinks so I get a gin and tonic and sit in a comfortable chair without a care in the world.
As we wait and listen it turns out that the incident involves the shooting of one of Bermuda’s most notorious criminals Prince Edness, in his car by two men on motorcycles who then shot at a police car and are currently being pursued in the immediate area. Wow, that’s not very Bermudian! Sounds more like Jamaica. In fairness, this is an extremely rare event here and it’s just our luck to sort of get caught up in it.
Everyone remains calm and chatty and after about an hour we are led out to a shuttle bus and taken back to the hotel with police lights flashing all around. What a hell of an interesting way to end a great day.
Turtle Hill Golf Course – A World Class Par Three
Only a few Bermuda resorts have golf courses as part of the what they have to offer their guests and the Southampton Princess is one of them, albeit in a slightly different format.
Today we start the first of five days of golf at the Turtle Hill Golf Course which is right on the Southampton Princess grounds. Although it is a par three course only, which usually means mickey mouse, this one is apparently different as it hosts the Grey Goose World Par 3 Championship here every year. Since 2015 it has partnered with the Canadian PGA to give it a distinctly Canadian flavour, so I’ll have a chance to see how I would do against the best. Our tee time is 8:30 and we are the first ones out, our clubs loaded onto a pink golf cart that matches the Fairmont exterior.
The course is extremely hilly and it is apparent after just a few holes that this will not be a cakewalk. Without a chance to warm up things get off to a slow start, but at least the scenery is great.
It turns out Alison is much better at these par threes than I am and it only takes her two holes to get her first par.
The course has great views of the hotel, the ocean and Gibbs Hill Lighthouse.
The view from the tee at #16 is simply world class.
The wildflowers that abound also add to the experience including lots of morning glories that line the hillsides beside the fairways.
It takes us less than two hours to play which leaves us plenty of time for exploring, and no I won’t be playing in the par three championship unless the object is not to make par in which case I am already an expert.
UPDATE: The pandemic has caused the Southampton Princess to temporarily close and they are using the time to do a complete renovation. The Waterlot Inn is also temporarily closed. I will definitely return when they reopen. The Turtle Hill Golf Course is open for play.
Tomorrow we’ll start exploring Bermuda beginning with a visit to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Please join us.