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Winter in Bermuda - it's different, and costs less

The ice on the neighborhood pond was almost two feet thick when we flew out of Boston last January, but a mere two hours away blooming flowers awaited us as we touched down in Bermuda.

Beach weather in this subtropical resort island starts sometime in March and ends around the last week of November. In between there is a period of, by Bermudian standards, ''less than pleasant'' weather. By this, they mean there are days when the temperature doesn't rise out of the 60s (degrees F.), Bermuda shorts disappear from the streets of Hamilton, and one must often wear a sweater while strolling outdoors.

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But to icebound New Englanders and others in the American north, including Canada, there's nothing unpleasant about shedding bulky down parkas and fur-lined hats. It's a sheer delight, in fact. As the Boston couple who shared our table one morning at breakfast said, ''Spring in January; you can't beat that.''

So, if sunbathing isn't the high point of every vacation you take, you might consider heading for Bermuda during the off season. Although you won't have the island to yourself, you'll seldom have to fight the crowds - except maybe on Christmas Eve. And, Bermuda's hotel prices drop 10 percent and more during this period.

Bermudians have a name for the time from Dec. 1 to March 15. They call it the Rendezvous Season. Now, I realize a tourist official probably dreamed up this term to help promote off-season tourism. But it is one the local Bermudians adopted with enthusiasm years ago so that a decidedly pleasant vacation period has developed in what might otherwise be called the off season.

Each day of the week the focus shifts to a different part of the island. By tradition, Monday is assigned to St. George, the quaint 17th-century town of cobbled streets that was founded eight years before the Pilgrim Fathers set foot on Plymouth Rock.

It is filled with interesting sights and sounds, and when you've walked the quaint streets you might care to board the replica of the Deliverance, built from the timbers of the Sea Venture, wrecked here en route to the infant colony of Virginia in 1609. Nearby is the ducking stool and at precisely 1:30 p.m. you'll see a female gossip get dunked. The stool was used for many minor offenses, including that of needlessly tattling about one's neighbors. You'll meet his worship the mayor, the town crier, and all manner of folks whose dress and style of speaking go back 300 years and more.

Tuesday is market day here in the capital, the island's only city. The best of wares from around the world are available - Shetland, cashmere, and lambswool sweaters; perfumes extracted from the exotic plants that grow here and others imported from Paris; tailored jackets and blazers from London. The list seems unending. Bermuda's craftsmen display items made from silver, cedar, raffia, cane, and shells in the Number One Shed.

Tucked away in an arcade of intriguing design we came across Bermuda's only designer jewelry boutique - Marybeads by name. Gold, freshwater pearls, lapis, coral, amethysts, garnet, malachite had been formed and fashioned into exquisite items. Indeed there is little in the way of this world's goods that cannot be purchased on the island outside of mukluks and snowshoes.

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Come noontime there's a skirling program at Fort Hamilton where kilted pipers , drummers, and dancers bring more than a touch of Scotland to the hill high above the city. And so it goes: each day a variety of events and sightseeing options draws you to a different corner of Bermuda.

Come Saturday, it's back to St. Georges again where the Gombey festival takes to the streets at 11 a.m. Gombey dancers, with multicolored, mirrored costumes, and peacock-feather headgear, gyrate through the streets to the rhythm and tune of drum and whistle.

Naturally, golf, tennis, and sailing are year-round attractions here. This is the country with more greens to the mile than anywhere else in the world. The same can be said of its tennis courts and, incidentally, for its churches too. Eight golf courses are tucked into the 21 square miles of this island and all of them offer unique challenges. Remember the biggest sand trap here is often the beach and that water you're driving across is likely to be the ever-so-blue Atlantic Ocean.

This Jan. 30 sees the fifth annual 10-kilometer road race and the following day the seventh annual Bermuda international marathon. For joggers there is a Sunday morning event that leaves the Botanical Gardens at 10 a.m. It's designed for visitors to enjoy some of the more beautiful sights of Bermuda on foot, and also provides an opportunity to meet the people who live here.

Christmas is a particularly festive occasion. There's no snow here and the poinsettias bloom outdoors in their natural setting. The traditional Christmas trees are imported from Nova Scotia, and Santa arrives, quite naturally, by boat.

The Christmas dinner, served either at midday or in the evening, follows North American and European traditions, with one exception: No Bermudian worth his salt would consider Christmas dinner complete without cassava pie - a sweet, meaty cake filled with pork and chicken. The cassava root which forms the cakelike pastry is the source of America's tapioca and England's sago puddings.

Luxury hotel rates during the Rendezvous season range from around $100 to $ 180 a day for two including breakfast and dinner; standard hotel rates start at breakfast only.

There are also week-long and weekend packages with dramatically lower prices. Many hotels offer Christmas specials. The Bermudiana, for instance, charges $278 .20 per person double occupancy for 5 days and 4 nights during the Christmas holidays. This includes breakfast, dinner, and a Christmas dinner complete with plum pudding and mince pies. That longtime English tradition, afternoon tea and cake, is also included, and the hotel offers exchange dining with two sister hotels on the island.

For further information, write to the Bermuda News Bureau (with their new nine-figure zip code) at 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10111-0068.

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