A friend, fed up with her job, described the environment as a “Brave New World,” and we knew just what she meant. Ever since Aldous Huxley’s novel was published in 1925, its title has stepped out becoming an ironic label for a future dominated by technology and peopled by spiritless automatons.
But in their original usage, the same three words appearing in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” have a very different meaning. “O, wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is!/ O brave new world/That has such people on it!”, says Miranda, the young heroine referring to the remote island where she, her wizard father, et al have been stranded after their ship was wrecked in a storm.
It is believed the Bard based the setting for what would be his final play on the North Atlantic island named Bermúdez after its Spanish discoverer, but not settled until a century later when a group of Englishmen, en-route to Jamestown, Virginia, found refuge there from a storm.
We are reminded of this as our plane lands. We’d been to Bermuda years before, but at this moment, it seems like we never left. The ride from the airport along roads that wind up and down, the low stone walls containing them, the view of the sparkling sea from every rise, the tumbling bougainvillea along the way – bright and blooming even in January, the sense of order and cleanliness — all of it was so pleasing, so familiar.
And then, a bend in the road, up a drive past several islands of palms, and there on the summit a castle of yellow and white stone looking out over the trees to a panorama of sky and sea. Once again, Elbow Beach.
It is the oldest hotel on the island, having celebrated its centennial in 2008. We pass through the porte-cochere into the entrance hall and think how its elegance and grace have remained intact. The marble floors are shining like mirrors. The front desk, the concierge’s desk, the bell station are just where they used to be.
So are the glass French doors, wrapping around the façade, opening to a length of terrace looking down the hillside to the sea.
We exit through one, walk down a bit, and enter through another. This would be the Grand Bar and beyond would be the equally grand dining room. A brief memory-picture of guests in evening dress flits across our minds.
Only the Grand Bar is the Library now, paneled in rich wood with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. There’s an antique billiards table, deep leather sofas and rattan chairs set into conversation areas, and posters from the Grand Epoch era advertising cigars and Gosling Black Seal, the classic Bermuda rum, displayed across a wall. There’s also an Internet station.
“In 2010, we did a large repositioning,” said Sophie Dier, the tall and attractive director of communications for the Elbow Beach, who doubles as a dancing teacher with a specialty in salsa. “At the same time, we began a $5.5million refurbishment of the entire property. All the roads and pathways were re-paved. New lounges, new beach chairs, interior renovation, the works. Everything was fresh.
“At the same time, we closed the big restaurant in the main building and decided not to sell the guestrooms there for the time being. All our accommodations now are in cottages. They’re more intimate, more private.”
We were walking with Sophie down the hillside to the beach, having exited the main building onto the expansive pool complex where, happily, the glamorous free-form pool set into a stone-paved terrace was a perfect match to our memory.
As we descended along wide stone stairways and turning roads, punctuated by whimsical bronze statues of children (the work of sculptor Desmond Fountain whose gallery we had passed in the main building moments before), we could see the pretty limestone cottages painted in soft pastel colors with roofs of four white stone triangles meeting at a peak.
They were set into recesses or amidst a grove of trees, arranged in groups of six to eight, with names like Poinsetta, Alamanda, Poinciana, Jasmine, Oleander — a nod to the flamboyant blossoms one sees throughout the beautifully landscaped property.
Bird of Paradise captured our imagination in particular. One of three storybook-like cottages that stand on their own private plot, Bird of Paradise has a fireplace in the living room and a steep stairway at the rear which travels down the dunes to the hotel’s half mile-long beach. “It’s a favorite for honeymooners,” Sophie notes. “We’ve even had small weddings here.
“All the cottages were upgraded in 2010 with new, contemporary-style furniture, marble floors, art work, and accessories that reflect the sea theme,” she continues. “They all have docking stations in the rooms, espresso machines, separate shower and tub in the renovated bathrooms, and an entertainment system that features 200 television stations. But who wants to watch television when they’re in Bermuda?”
Indeed. Our cottage was the last in the Sea Grape cluster that stretched across a bluff above the beach. It had a large living room replete with sleeping couch and an adjacent equally-sized bedroom, both opening to a smartly furnished patio.
At night, we would leave the drapes undrawn and the blinds open, ready and willing to be awakened the next morning by the rising sun. We would walk out onto the patio, ascend a little grassy hill, and there before us would be the pink sands of Paget Parish and the Atlantic beyond. The wonders of Bermuda.
Transport around the property is swift and comfortable. A call to the front desk results in a van’s arrival within minutes and a ride to the pool, spa, tennis courts, putting green, main building or beachfront area.
But whenever possible, we chose to walk, even up the steeper roads and especially to the beach area which is the center of the resort with restaurants, bar and, of course, the beach itself. It was a short stroll from our cottage door along a path that paralleled the shore, a perspective we remembered very well.
The horizon was marked by a perfect arc, so wide it seemed to embrace the entire earth. The sky was an ever-changing canvas. At night, it was lit by brilliant stars and a sliver of a new moon every night of our stay. During the day, it was a dynamic scene of long lines of white puffy clouds stretched against a background of a blue deeper than the sea and the sudden appearance of dark clouds rolling on stage only to be cut through by slashes of sunlight that spilled through the trees. In all our travels, nowhere is the sky so commanding a presence as in Bermuda. It casts a spell.
As does the Spa. In 2000, the Elbow Beach became a Mandarin Oriental property, Sophie had told us, joining the international family of 42 high-end properties whose motto is “East meets West,” and it is in the spa that an Asian ambience is most keenly felt.
Accessed from the pool terrace, the Zen-like space has bamboo floors, slatted wooden screens, fragrant candles, large clay urns on pebbled surfaces, vases with long-stemmed blossoms, and in the background, serene music that puts one in a state of utter relaxation.
We found it difficult to choose among the spa’s twenty odd treatments based on Chinese, Ayurvedic, Thai and European traditions, and so we purchased time instead — two-hours and fifty-minutes which, in consultation with our therapists, we filled with rituals that seemed right for us. After the diminutive Phunpaka Sornkaew, from Thailand, and the effervescent Leah Furbert, from the Philippines, welcomed us with cups of aromatic tea and helped us plan our treatments, they ushered us into a couples’ suite.
There our Elbow Beach spa-time began with a relaxing foot bath, a traditional Eastern act of welcome and respect, followed by a personalized full body message with Mandarin Oriental’s essential oils, and for one of us a customized holistic facial.