Bermuda is a land of legends. Most of these surround the Bermuda Triangle, the area that encompasses the open sea between Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the southeastern shoreline of the United States. Dating to the 1800s, these tales involve disappearing ships, temporal holes, alien abductions and other strange phenomena. Skeptics dismiss the stories as fanciful. But few people would argue that Bermuda is blessed with beautiful shorelines dotted with swaying palms.

A cluster of islands forms Bermuda, Britain’s oldest colony. Although sighted in 1503 by Spaniard Juan de Bermudez, this archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean wasn’t claimed until 1609, when a violent storm wrecked the Sea Venture off St. George’s Island. English captain George Somers and his entire crew survived and settled Bermuda. In 1614, the British crown declared it a British colony, and later, Bermuda would play a strategic role in the War of 1812. Great Britain used the Royal Navy Dockyard (now a tourist destination) as a staging area for troops en route to fight the United States.

Ironically, the roles reversed in 1941 during World War II, when Britain signed a 99-year lease granting the United States one-tenth of the land in Bermuda for military purposes. The U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy closed their Bermuda bases in 1995, but remnants of the island’s rich naval and military history remain. Dozens of British stone fortresses serve as monuments and draw history buffs as well as those who simply enjoy gorgeous ocean views.

Although a British territory, Bermuda enjoys a high degree of autonomy. The British monarch acts as the formal head of state, but day-to-day affairs are conducted by an appointed governor, along with a premier, a Cabinet and a parliament. Most decisions are made in Hamilton, which succeeded St. George’s as capital in 1815. Hamilton has flourished into a seaport metropolis. Meanwhile, St. George’s sits untouched by urban renewal, leaving most of the architecture from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries intact. In 2000, St. George’s was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and people around the world visit its shores to soak up images of times gone by and sample the restaurants and shops.

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