Girlfriends’ weekend away; the perfect way to bond before the big day

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Beauty abounds: Cliffside at The Reefs, the view is spectacular. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REEFS HOTEL & CLUB

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During the first week of August last year, a tropical storm was headed to Bermuda … and as fate would have it, so were fellow writer Jennifer Mifflin and me, come hell or high water – literally. Months earlier, we concluded it would behoove us to take in firsthand what neither had when tying the knot: travel to a refined and temperate destination with unspoiled beaches, where relaxation and celebration pair perfectly; a much-deserved “bachelorette” weekend away from the stress, phone calls and loose ends leading up to the big day. Truth be told, we were two good pals curious as to how this relatively recent phenomenon picked up such momentum among bridal parties and friends in lieu of a casual soiree within close proximity to home.

Bermuda always has been an oasis of sorts and actually consists of seven main islands and many smaller islands and islets, situated about 650 miles east of North Carolina. It is divided into nine parishes and two municipalities. As the oldest self-governing overseas territory in the British Commonwealth, it boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and an extraordinarily healthy economy. Historically rich architecture, verdant flora and fauna and an array of activities and attractions make for an unforgettable experience anytime – and an exceptional retreat for soon-to-be-brides or grooms where there is always something to see and do.

Car rental is prohibited – taxies, busses, mopeds or ferries are the way to go. We were paired with Oliver Bain our entire stay – an amiable, articulate and fascinating individual who graciously drove us anywhere and everywhere while offering unparalleled perspective and conversation.

Paradise found

Our first stop was Elbow Beach, a Mandarin Oriental property whose roots can be traced back to 1908, with 98 rooms and suites set on 50 acres of immaculately groomed gardens that lead to a ½-mile long private beach with pink sand and water as blue and clear as my daughter’s eyes. It wasn’t difficult to envision why the locale was high on the list for pre- and post-nuptial celebrations, as well as actual weddings.

“Elbow Beach is ideal for bachelor and bachelorette parties because our extensive facilities offer everything one could want for a beach getaway, and our central location makes us the ideal choice, as a range of fantastic activities are nearby,” said Sophie Dier, director of communications. “The resort itself has private beachfront facilities, a swimming pool, putting green, five tennis courts, a dive shop, luxury holistic spa, cycle rental facility and four restaurants and bars. All these amenities offer plenty of ways for guests to entertain themselves while staying at the resort.”

Our accommodations were personal and pristine; a suite with a superb ocean view, patio, designer bathroom, high-end conveniences and Champagne, cheese and fruit for our enjoyment. The room provided plush and inviting quarters after full-day shopping and sightseeing excursions to Hamilton – the capital just seven minutes away – and hours of basking in the sun, sand and surf. We also were within close proximity to Mickey’s Beach Bistro & Bar, casual and unpretentious on-the-beach dining with myriad fresh seafood selections, and the Sea Breeze Terrace, where we indulged in sushi and tapas al fresco – pure bliss.

We did squeeze in time to visit Beau Rivage, Bermuda’s only French restaurant, with panoramic views of Hamilton and Hamilton Harbour and skillfully prepared fare from Master Chef Jean Claude Garzia. Since Jennifer and I both appreciate gourmet cuisine this was high on our “splurge” list and did not disappoint. We relished Maine lobster ravioli and seared scallops and lemon pepper braised mussels with homemade pasta and scented fresh tarragon herb lobster sauce. Ample and inspired cold and hot starters, seafood, chicken and beef selections as well as a generous wine list beckon diners to savor every nuance and detail.

As a nightcap to our inaugural girls’ night out, we headed to Harbour Nights and the Hog Penny Restaurant & Pub for a pint. Every Wednesday in the summer, Hamilton’s Front Street is closed to vehicles and infused with energetic musical acts, enthusiastic dancing, local artisans and their wares, vendors tempting taste buds with Bermudian and international cuisine and residents and visitors mingling amongst the revelry and fun. Shops and restaurants stay open later to accommodate crowds. It’s a lively and invigorating atmosphere that encourages carousing and conviviality. It also proffered the chance for us to pinpoint Gosling’s, where we were headed the next morning for a 10 a.m. rum tasting.

Nothing says let-your-hair-down more than starting your day with a stiff drink. When we arrived at Gosling’s, affable and enthusiastic Brand Director Andrew Holmes greeted us. Founded in 1806 by James Gosling, the Black Seal Rum – 80 proof – is quintessentially Bermudian. So well liked, it’s often added to fish chowder and is the star ingredient in both the Rum Swizzle and the Dark N’ Stormy. We had our first Dark N’ Stormy from the get-go, and for me it’s more of an acquired taste. It’s essentially two ounces of Black Seal Rum in a chilled or ice-filled glass and ginger beer – almost like ginger ale but with a bit more bite and a lime garnish. It’s a smooth, crisp and refreshing combo. We also sampled Gosling’s Gold Rum, amber in hue with hints of vanilla, apricot, mango and subtle oak and Old Rum, aged gracefully and best for sipping — slowly. The history and lore of Gosling’s — the only company that blends and bottles in Bermuda — are enough to encourage stopping in but the craftsmanship of the rum is what brings you back. Tours and tastings are a great learning and drinking adventure.

A hands-on experience

There’s no denying we were fuzzy-headed and thrilled to the gills, post-Gosling’s, to head back to Elbow Beach for two to three hours at the Spa. Already in a slightly tranquil state, the Spa would prove a panacea for letting go of what anxieties remained. With six private suites, it is a sanctuary of seclusion and peace. Holistic treatments are conducted in warmly colored rooms with organic textures, handcrafted granite soaking tubs, bamboo flooring and river-pebble-lined steam showers. My single suite had its own balcony with daybed for outdoor comfort. Mandarin Oriental’s signature therapies last one hour and fifty minutes and are based on the expertise of specialists in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and skilled aromatherapists.

I’ve always been a bit tepid about spa experiences in general, hence the reason I did not visit one before my own nuptials. My reasoning is twofold: I’m not entirely comfortable having a stranger’s hands on me, and I’m incredibly ticklish. I confided this to my therapist during our consultation, and she was totally reassuring and kind. She chose specific oils based on my current state of well-being that would align my body, mind and spirit. After the aromatherapy massage and customized holistic facial, my skin never felt cleaner or more refreshed: It was heavenly. There are whimsical indigenous treatments from which to choose as well — the Bermuda Pink Sand Scrub and Rum Swizzle Ritual — in addition to a full menu of services including massages, body wraps, manicures, pedicures, facials, hot stone therapies and half- and full-day packages.

As our time at Elbow Beach dwindled down, we gained introspective on the seductive nature of briefly absconding with close allies before a life-changing event like a wedding – and started to comprehend why nuptials abroad are a unique and romantic alternative and much less complicated than one may think.

“Something we have noticed is an increase in destination weddings, with the bachelor and bachelorette parties built in as part of the destination wedding program’s schedule of events. Since people are already planning their destination wedding at Elbow Beach with their closest family and friends, many decide to just have the bachelor and bachelorette parties with the guests in attendance,” Dier said.

Location, location, location

Our girls’ getaway hadn’t reached a finale quite yet.

We were headed to The Reefs Hotel & Club, set on limestone cliffs with its own pink sand beach. With 62 accommodations, all boasting ocean views, and 19 fully furnished two- and three-bedroom club suites, the 1947 resort is luxury at its best. It is a haven for families, couples, wedding parties and guests, as well as friends’ excursions.

“Bermuda and The Reefs have long been a popular destination for weddings, family gatherings and girlfriend getaways. Destination bachelor and bachelorette parties are beginning to gain momentum [as part of a growing trend] of couples being slightly older when they get married and wanting a party that’s more sophisticated,” said Nagma Walker, general manager.

Jennifer and I were fortunate enough to stay in a two-bedroom club suite, part of The Reefs Club, available on a fractional ownership basis, as well as for rental. Aesthetically the interior was breathtaking, with floor-to-ceiling ocean views at every turn, a gourmet kitchen, living room and exquisite bathrooms. We even had a terrace and outdoor whirlpool at our disposal and were given access to additional luxuries: an infinity-edge pool, state-of-the-art-fitness center, rooftop putting green, pre-arrival grocery shopping service and on-site concierge.

There was not a single detail left dangling.

“The Reefs has an ideal beachfront setting, gourmet dining, award-winning spa, attentive service and perfect accommodations for elegant bachelor and bachelorette parties. The group can stay together, but with plenty of space, in the two- and three-bedroom condos with up to 2,500 square feet of living space. Daily rates include full-service breakfast, afternoon tea and nightly gourmet dinner, which make it easier for attendees to budget. Our front desk staff will work with parties on special requests, recommend activities and arrange private parties in one of our restaurants or an after-hours spa party at La Serena Spa,” Walker said.

We quickly discovered eating choices were convenient and eclectic. Coconuts gave us the chance to watch the sun set, feel the breeze off the water and sip drinks at the Sand Bar; Ocean Echo offered more of a quiet and stately ambiance with a tremendous seafood display and Royston’s, which stood out for its warm and inviting ambience and show kitchen.

Even amid a Portuguese Man-of War spotting and somewhat strong current, we knew a “must stop” our last day had to be Horseshoe Bay Beach – one of the most acclaimed beaches in the world – a mere 15 minutes by taxi. Claustrophobics be warned: It’s crowded but easy enough to carve out your own niche. The white and pink sand, coral reefs and azure waters of Horseshoe Bay are stunning. Trails along the coast connect to other beaches and coves close by and are sometimes utilized for horseback riding. Although predominantly overcast, we still managed to spend significant time in the water and on the beach. We relived how we met our spouses, discussed our children in-depth, gossiped about favorite celebrities and rated brands of wine; things girls inherently talk about when they’re together and not too busy or too tired from the reality of jam-packed schedules.

There’s no doubt in our minds when taking the marital plunge, one last fete away from the everyday is in a class unto itself. We were able to decompress, consume countless calories and imbibe incredibly well, chat until the wee hours of the morning, obsess over reruns of “The Millionaire Matchmaker” while unwinding, sunbathe on breathtaking beaches and bond as two girlfriends do – all over again. Not only do you learn a lot about yourself on a trip like this, you realize what cemented your friendship in the first place. It’s as plain as day why a bride-to-be would seek this camaraderie and support before embarking on the journey of marriage, in the Shangri-La that is Bermuda.