This year, 2023, has been a great year for Cambridge Beaches since it was named in April Travel + Leisure magazine’s “It list” as one of the top 100 best new resorts in the world. Ironically, the year has also been significant because it marks the resort’s centennial. Indeed, again in April, Cambridge Beaches celebrated its birthday by holding “Step Back in Time: A 1920s Gala Benefit” during which guests, dressed in appropriate period costume, enjoyed a night of speakeasies and jazz music on the new Shoreline Terrace, as well as a superb dinner.
How, then can the resort be described as “new” given it’s Bermuda’s oldest and arguably most charming cottage colony, which has offered over the last hundred years a unique blend of beautiful ocean scenery and island hospitality? Its 100th anniversary was indeed fitting since Cambridge Beaches has always been so brilliant at holding celebratory events for locals and visitors. The Repeat Guest Wall in the Main House testifies to the extraordinary number of guests who have returned time after time. Many came for their honeymoons only to come back for many subsequent anniversaries. Over the years Cambridge Beaches has also hosted a number of high-profile guests, including President Bill and Hilary Clinton, Phil Collins, Kristen Chenoweth and Jerry Rice, to name but a few.
Nevertheless, the word “new” is not altogether an anomaly. In 2021 the Trott family sold Cambridge Beaches to hospitality group Dovetail + Co who have redesigned it in a whimsical and tropical style and are in the process of making further improvements to the spa and guest rooms. But before describing these changes, it’s appropriate to go back to the beginning, to 1923, the year Cambridge Beaches was born. A house on the northern end of Mangrove Bay had been known as Seymour House since it was originally owned by Governor Florentius Seymour in 1663 and stayed in the family until 1823 when it was sold to a John King after whom King’s Point was probably named. After changing hands several times, in 1922 it was eventually sold to Thomas St. George Gilbert, a customs officer, and his wife Katie, nee Fowle. It was her sister Jennie and her American friend Helen Ives who first converted it as a guesthouse. They called it “The Beaches” and ran it successfully from 1923–36 during the period when Bermuda was booming as a winter holiday destination for people weary of wintry weather on the North American eastern seaboard. They would arrive from New York on steamships like the SS Victoria and the SS Fort St. George. “The Beaches” is now the Main House, which houses reception, as well as the Mangrove Bay Parlour.
In the meantime, the Sealeys lived in nearby Cambridge House on Cambridge Road. They had a daughter, Alice, who was introduced to an Irish purser from the SS Fort St. George, Hugh Gray. Eventually they married and after running Newstead Hotel together, converted a cottage next to Cambridge and ran that as a successful guesthouse until they were beset with tragedy or, as some argue, crime. In February 1935, Hugh and his wife had a weekend house guest, police inspector Alderson. For some strange reason the three decided to go sailing in Mangrove Bay at three in the morning. After the boat capsized in a squall, Hugh, the only non-swimmer, was the only one to survive. His wife and the inspector were drowned while trying to swim for land. At least, that was his story. Rumour had it Alice and the inspector were having an affair and Hugh killed them out of murderous jealousy. The truth of the matter will never be known. The fate of his wife did not prevent Hugh from vastly expanding the cottage colony. He bought Cambridge House from his mother-in-law and the following year bought The Beaches guest house. In addition, he bought land and other small cottages on the peninsula. (Once, many had housed Jamaican builders employed during the last phase of Dockyard construction.) So came about the name, “Cambridge Beaches.” In 1947 he sold the property to Bermudian parliamentarian Sir Howard Trott, in whose family it remained until 2021. Successful though Hugh was, many thought he finally met with divine justice. In 1949 he was found at the bottom of the stairs in the house he had built for himself, Windswept—dead.
However, Cambridge Beaches continued to be a sought-after and select holiday destination after the Second World War as an advertisement in the 1947 guidebook Beautiful Bermuda indicates:
BERMUDIAN CHARM MODERN COMFORTS
Flower Gardens, Cedar Groves, Beaches.
“It is not a Hotel – It is not a Boarding House”
“It is Cambridge Beaches”
Magnificent Outlook – Sea and Land Views
Convenient to all Sports and Recreations
Today, Cambridge Beaches still has a “magnificent outlook,” encompassing as it does the Somerset peninsula between Long Bay and Mangrove Bay and boasting four private beaches and two coves, perfect for private swimming and sunbathing and for the romantic picnics and candlelit private dinners organised by the hotel on request. And it still has the welcoming appearance of a traditional cottage complex rather than that of a more formal twentieth- to twenty-first-century resort hotel. But since the 1970s, its acreage has increased to 23 and its cottages to 46, offering 85 rooms, all with lovely views and facilities. Major changes were carried out during the Trott family ownership. A croquet lawn and putting green were created in 1992 and since then guests can also enjoy two pickleball courts, a tennis and a basketball court, as well as a bocce ball court. The Ocean Spa, complete with indoor pool, gym, and spa facilities was opened in 1997 and will be upgraded over the next two years. Extensive renovations happened in 2000, including a new Main House kitchen and a new beachfront restaurant Breezes, much loved by locals. A new dining room, outdoor infinity pool and a pool restaurant followed. Many of the cottages had private pools or plunge baths added. Since 2021, Dovetail + Co’s interior designer Kellyann Hee, and Paris-based Saint-Lazare carried out the restyling, so Cambridge Beaches now has a brand-new look which “incorporates the17th century architectural details while featuring a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and British styles, including dark wood colonial-style beds, modern rattan chairs, graphic-patterned textiles, and coral pink and green shutter doors with brass knobs embossed with palm leaves.” Bermudian art is featured throughout. The effect is bright, tasteful and welcoming. The renovations haven’t ended yet—the spa will be upgraded while more one-bedroom and two-bedroom cottages will feature their own plunge pools. In addition, improvements will be made to the Sea View Gardens which already are lush with semi-tropical vegetation. Thus, the property is in a continual state of improvement but the old ad still holds true: “Bermudian Charm Modern Comforts.”