This past year saw me traveling around the globe and this past Christmas was no exception. Those of you that follow me regularly know that I am married to a Bermudian so Bermuda is a destination that we visit with some frequency to see family and friends. For the holidays we alternate between our families and this year it was our year to head-off to Bermuda.
Bermuda is a British Commonwealth that most people think is in the Caribbean. Well, that’s not quite correct. You see, Bermuda actually lies in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean parallel with North Carolina. It enjoys the benefits of a warm Gulfsteam keeping temperatures moderate even in the Winter months. It is a quick hour and a half flight from New York making it ideal for a quick getaway. The fact that you also clear U.S. Customs in Bermuda on the return makes it even more appealing for a fast foreign getaway as you arrive back in the States as a domestic flight.
I have been visiting regularly for close to fifteen years and from a Celiac perspective have seen great changes in the gluten-free landscape on the islands (yes, Bermuda is actually made up of several islands). This trip saw perhaps the most impressive leap in gluten-free availability and recognition that I have seen since I first set foot on the island. This is not to say that Bermuda was in the gluten-free Dark Ages because that was certainly not the case. I never went hungry in the past but I feel that it has really grown as of late and gluten-free has mainstreamed and still continues to gain momentum. Bermuda, from a product availability standpoint benefits from the importation of goods primarily from both the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as other countries adding to the product mix.
So what new finds did I come across this most recent trip? Well, I am glad you asked…
Having family there definitely is a major plus as my in-laws do a bit of gluten-free leg work and shopping prior to arrival so I always have delicious goodies to enjoy while visiting. This trip some of the nibbles my mother-in-law picked up included cookies from Mrs. Crimbles, breads from French Meadow and rolls from Against the Grain (that would also make its way into my father in-law’s gluten-free version of his famous stuffing).
When In Rome
Now when traveling, the first thing I do is look for local markets in the area that carry gluten-free items. Bermuda, despite being a small place actually has quite a few options for the Celiac traveler. There are food markets such as Miles Market, Harrington Hundreds (Smith’s Parish), and the food shop at Marks & Spencer (I scored GF Christmas pudding, Mince Pies, and fruit cake this year). Additionally there are pharmacies that carry a range of gluten-free snacks for munching. Snacks imported from the U.K. actually have “Suitable for Coeliacs” printed right on the package making them easy to identify. If staying in Hamilton the Miles Market is just next door to the Fairmont Hamilton Princess on Pitts Bay Road has a range of gluten-free products. The entrance is kind of hidden if you are a first-time visitor so look for signs directing you to the store. Food is in Bermuda is expensive as most items have to be imported but if you are from a major metropolitan area like New York or Los Angeles the prices are really on-par with what you are used to.
It is important to note that tourists are not allowed to rent cars in Bermuda but can rent bicycles (Bermudian for scooters) though in all my years I have yet to ride on one. Depending on where you stay may impact the level of mobility and options you have access to. Taxis are expensive but could be well worth it for a one-off trip to a market to pick-up a few gluten-free goodies.
Dining out in Bermuda can also be expensive but there are more and more gluten-free options popping-up. For Italian there is Little Venice (which is part of a larger restaurant group with several restaurants including La Trattoria) which serves up fantastic gluten-free pasta. I recommend calling ahead to make sure that they have it in stock and then making a reservation so they can note your request. I did have a conversation with our waitress who did say that if they do run out of traditional pasta they usually can substitute with rice noodles but I got the impression those might be more of the Asian variety but again, that would be in a pinch. I called last minute and they had gluten-free pasta on offer. Just tell your server of your dietary restrictions and they will be more than happy to walk you through the menu and let you know what will or will not work.
There are two Fairmont hotels in Bermuda – the Hamilton Princess and the Southampton Princess. The Hamilton Princess is located in Hamilton and provides easy access to shopping and restaurants in Hamilton. The Southampton Princess is more of a resort location with private beach. There is a private hotel ferry that runs between the hotels and guest of one can of course enjoy amenities at either location.
Both locations, as do all Fairmont hotels, now offer Fairmont’s Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menus that cater to a range of dietary restrictions and preferences including gluten-free, vegan, and diabetic. Be sure to ask for the separate menu (it is different than the Lifestyle Cuisine notations on the regular menus) that offers a starter, main course, and dessert focusing on local ingredients for each specific diet type. It takes the guesswork out of what to order but as it is Bermuda many of the items are made with local fish or shellfish which I am also allergic too. But fear not, just talk to your server and they have always worked with me and the kitchen to identify and recommend what will work based on my individual needs. I can honestly say that I have never had any issue at any Fairmont I’ve visited around the world because the staff is well-trained and very accommodating in working with food allergic or restricted guests. The Southampton Princess offers more dining options than its sister in Hamilton and Bacci – the Italian restaurant – offers some delicious gluten-free risottos and pasta on its Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu. Also, all of the restaurants have individual Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menus so there is a huge selection of gluten-free items. You could stay a week and never eat the same gluten-free item.
There is no shortage of restaurants in Bermuda and an increasing number have gluten-free options or are more than willing to deal with specific dietary restrictions. For Indian there is House of India which is allergy-friendly and most items are already gluten-free but also point out ingredients on the menu. A favorite local place for great food is the Mad Hatters which has a very knowledgeable staff and many items that are already gluten-free.
2014 Restaurant Update: A recent visit yielded some fantastic new finds — the first of which is the Lido restaurant at the Elbow Beach Hotel. You can read about my experience here. More restaurants to be included soon.
Bermuda is known for its fish and seafood as well as some more British-influenced foods. There is no shortage of restaurants ranging from reasonable pub-fare to fine dining. It is relatively easy to dine gluten-free when you keep to simply prepared grilled dishes. Some not to miss local gluten-free favorites are fish chowder (don’t forget the sherry pepper sauce); Hoppin’ John (a rice and bean dish); cassava pie (seasonal and my favorite at Chirstmas); Pawpaw Montespan (unripened papaya casserole, here is my mother-in-laws recipe); and Codfish and Potatoes (a popular breakfast or brunch item) – just to name a few. On the cocktail front no visit to Bermuda is complete without the Dark & Stormy (Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Ginger Beer) or Rum Swizzle (often referred to as the national drink of Bermuda).
Bermuda has a rich heritage and influences from the U.K., Caribbean, and the Portuguese. Don’t be shy and give some of the local favorites a try. Just be sure to always ask for the ingredients as everyone does things to their own recipe and what may typically be gluten-free one place might not be in another.
Bermuda makes for a great long weekend getaway from the East Coast so next time you are looking for a quick trip why not give Bermuda a try.
Pre-clearance of U.S. Customs makes the journey all the more convenient but here’s a little tip for those of you that are Duty Free junkies like me. Any liquids, read bottles of alcohol, purchased in the Duty Free shop must be placed in your checked luggage before you clear U.S. Immigration. And U.S. Immigration is located as you exit Duty Free – so unless you make some extra room before your arrival at the airport, you’ll be squeezing in your purchases. I’ll save my Duty Free purchases for other international destinations where the shops are in the sterile zones past security. Quite frankly the BDA duty free prices were not that great – likely because they have had to inflate the prices because it is tough for the to shift a significant portion of the merchandise.
So if you are looking for a little fun in the sun on an island that is truly like no other, then jet on over to Bermuda and give it a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This brief guide is just some of my favorite places from over the years. There are of course even more gluten-free and friendly options as well.