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Fairmont’s Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in Bermuda first opened its doors in 1885, attracting the likes of Mark Twain. Decades later, Ian Fleming used its bar as inspiration for Dr. No’s lair. But then something happened. Blame it on a weak tourism board, the economic downturn, or perceptions of the island as an outmoded getaway, but Bermuda, and its brightest gem with it, lost its glimmer.
Passed back and forth between several owners in 2006 and 2007, the Princess changed hands once again in 2012, when it was purchased by a local family, the Greens. In a bid to return the hotel to its majesty, they announced a major renovation plan. Four years later, and after $100 million in improvements, the Princess just revealed a long list of upgrades, including revamped rooms and suites, and the addition of several new amenities: an Exhale Spa, marina, world-class modern art collection, and a vibrant dining experience at Marcus’, the latest offering from three star chef Marcus Samuelsson.
As part of its overhaul, the Princess has added private cabanas by its vivid azure infinity edge pool with a view of the harbor. Other outdoor additions include a new hot tub, and the adults-only spa pool that overlooks the new marina. The Standard King room offers muted earth toned carpeting and walls, nicely contrasting with the pink exterior of the hotel. The room also features an HD TV with in-room movies, luxurious white bedding, new wood furniture, and bathroom TV speakers. The one-bedroom Harbor View Suite, overlooking the harbor, has a separate living room, king sized or double bed, and a private balcony. Rain shower heads and marble floors round out the bathrooms, and as with all Fairmont properties, the bath was loaded with Le Labo products.
One of the renovation’s major highlights is the Green family’s impressive collection of modern art on display throughout the hotel. Original works by Lichtenstein, Koons, and many others are strategically placed in the public areas: Nelson Mandela’s handprint art can be found, along with a set of Andy Warhol prints, in Marcus’, the flagship restaurant. We attended one of the art tours that are available during the day: our guide provided detailed explanations of the pieces, which are rotated in and out on a regular basis. Our favorites included a six-piece camouflage print by Warhol, and a Warhol four-print set of a young Queen Elizabeth hanging behind the reception desk.
Another welcome enhancement is the opening of the 8,200-square foot Exhale Spa. Our yoga class, which faced the water, was both intense and calming. Exhale also offers barre and cardio classes during the day. The gym is complete with treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, and a full range of the requisite TechnoGym machines and the TechnoGym Arke system for core training, along with kettle bells, and free weights—all with a stunning view of the harbor. With nine therapy rooms, Exhale provides a range of spa services, including several types of massage, manicure/pedicure, facials, and waxing. Our deep tissue massage was one of the best we ever had.
The Princess offers a range of activities: we opted for a two-hour catamaran cruise around Hamilton Harbor on the hotel’s 60+ foot catamaran. It was terrific to see the Hamilton by sea, while sipping a rum swizzle from the onboard bar. Another smaller catamaran offers snorkeling trips to nearby coves loaded with sea life. Other hotel activities include high-speed Jetski tours, including a visit to Bermuda’s smallest drawbridge (yachts passing through had to wait for passersby to open it!) and kayaks for excursions around Hamilton Harbor. The hotel’s nearby private beach club, with hourly shuttle service, is a secluded sand beach with a bar and restaurant: we particularly enjoyed the in-water hammocks and private cabanas. The beach club even has air-conditioned bathrooms (a wonderful luxury on a hot Bermuda day!).
The hotel is outfitted with three restaurants: Crown and Anchor in the lobby, 1609 by the infinity pool, and Marcus’. According to Samuelsson, Marcus’, his first hotel restaurant, gave him the opportunity to engage the community in a new way. Samuelsson wanted to build a world-class restaurant, engaging local producers as much as possible. Sixty-five percent of Marcus’ ingredients are locally sourced: Samuelsson is proud that the local fishermen text him from their boats while 40 minutes out, telling him what his fish specials will be for the night. His produce, including the Bermuda onions, used to be shipped in from New York: now he buys most of it locally, direct from the farmers. Samuelsson believes in engaging the community and in creating a chemistry that encourages his team to be part of creating a world-class restaurant.
Given a free hand in renovating the restaurant, Samuelsson’s goal was to generate vibrancy and “stickiness” around the bar at the front of the restaurant, seeking to inspire people to spend time there, whether traveling alone or dining in groups. According to Samuelsson, “This is about incredible ingredients, a delicious meal, but also about fun, celebrating life.” This belief, along with Samuelsson’s skill in the kitchen, helps to create a friendly and lively atmosphere, where a wrap-around view of the marina complements excellent cuisine. Guest who have visited Samuelsson’s New York City restaurant, Red Rooster, will be pleased to note many of his signature dishes appear on the menu here: Fried chicken, deviled eggs, and mac and cheese have successfully transitioned to Bermuda, and locally inspired creations, such as jerk chicken, and the Dockyard IPA BBQ short rib, are bound to be new favorites.
The Hamilton Princess may still be the oldest hotel in the Fairmont chain, but she’s no dowager queen. All this Princess needed, it seems, was a little love and attention to prove she still rules in Bermuda.
The Hamilton Princess & Beach Club is located at 76 Pitts Bay Rd., HM08; 800-257-7544; fairmont.com.
Photos: Nicole Franzen; Hamilton Princess & Beach Club