For visitors it's like entering a fairy-tale world, a marzipan island of pastel houses, powder-pink beaches, golf courses as green as shamrocks, and flowers and shrubs in exuberant profusion.
The pace is unhurried, the air fragrant, the sun generous. True, the weather can be spotty and the coral reefs treacherous but, on the whole, Bermuda is a pleasing respite from the real world.
I spent five days in Bermuda, staying in cottage colonies in Paget, a popular tourist area, as well as a small hotel in the capital city of Hamilton. I was, I discovered, something of a tourist rarity, a single woman traveling alone. Still, from my obviously cursory observation, a man traveling alone was an even more exotic bird. There were none, at least in the places I got to.
My choices were based on reputation, recommendation and price, the latter taking in a range of accommodations, none of them inexpensive. Bermuda is not generally what might be called a budget destination.
The first view of Horizons, about a 40-minute drive from the airport, is perfect, imagination fulfilled. The main house, one of the oldest in Bermuda, is perched on a hilltop, set amid 25 acres of lawn and gardens.
Within minutes of registration, I was being escorted through corridors and cozy public rooms with knee-high fireplaces, past pool and terraces and down, down, down -- about 100 steps in all, angled at various intervals -- to Skylark II, my $352.64-a-day (with breakfast and dinner) cottage. All hotel rooms in Bermuda are subject to a 10 percent service charge and a 6 percent government tax.
My spirits, on a high with the landscaping, the sun, the shimmering pool, took a small nose dive when the door was opened. Nothing terrible but not what I expected.
With the profusion of flowers everywhere, where was the color -- a bouquet, a nosegay, a floral spread or upholstery, something? What I got was a large room dominated by a generous bed covered with a utilitarian white spread.
A flick of a switch started an old-fashioned ceiling fan but there was also a combined air conditioner and heater in the room, which didn't work immediately but was promptly fixed. My cottage, unhappily, didn't have a fireplace although many of the 39 apparently do -- and a few peeks through open doors indicated that some cottages had more verve and color than mine did.
My adjoining dressing room and bathroom were considerably more impressive -- a navy blue terry cloth robe, enough hangers for a substantial wardrobe for two or three people, extra pillows ,, and blankets, good light, plenty of room for cosmetics and toiletries, and the usual assortment of goodies -- shower cap, bubble bath, soap, shampoo, body lotion and a mending kit.
Perhaps only in Bermuda would there be a trouser press in the room but no television or radio. A television set could be requested and was free if one was available (one was sent to my room immediately after I ordered it).
There could be no quibbling about Horizons' public areas and facilities -- library, lounge, game room, nine-hole mashie golf course, putting green, tennis courts and heated pool. Or the guest beach and dining privileges available at Coral Beach and Tennis Club, a walk of about 10 minutes. It has a wonderful surf beach, which is spectacular and uncrowded. (A typical lunch in the lively glassed-in area at Coral Beach ranged from $5.50 to $9.50 for sandwiches, hot dogs and salads.) Elbow Beach, which is even closer and also has a beautiful beach, closed for renovations late last year and is scheduled to reopen Wednesday.
At Horizons complimentary tea is served in the main house at 4 p.m. with a variety of small sandwiches, scones, poundcake and big cookies and, in the early evening, there are free hot and cold hors d'oeuvres for guests who gather in the tartan-upholstered pub for a drink before dinner.
Both during cocktails and at dinner (cold grape soup, crispy duck or lamb vindaloo, salad and dessert -- [excellent, at] $47.50 plus 15 percent service) in the pink-hued dining room, I was asked by different couples to join them.
I didn't, but the gesture was indicative of the caliber of guest, many of whom have been coming to Horizons for years.
It's not easy to classify Marley Beach Cottages, a colony of housekeeping units, with names perhaps grander than the physical premises merit -- Halfway to Heaven, Next to Heaven, Bit of Heaven. Some people would consider that the general ambience leaves something to be desired; others would label it unassuming and a perfect vacation retreat. It is, except for room cleaning, a complete do-it-yourself retreat.
There is no laundry, dry cleaning or meals, no central lounge or meeting place, no guest programs or facilities other than a pool.