BONJOUR WORLD: Finding bliss along Florida’s Paradise Coast
For a southern Florida destination any time of year you can do no better than a visit to what is called the Paradise Coast. This blissful little niche consists of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City and the Gulf Coast Everglades along with Big Cypress wilderness areas.
So, whether it’s food, relaxation or a rousting adventure you are after, the Paradise Coast beckons you to visit for a holiday weekend or week.
After my easy arrival in Southwest Florida International Airport I was taken to The Inn on Fifth located in Old Naples. Here I was ensconced in a lovely room with a homey atmosphere and afternoon cocktails if I wanted to partake. I also found out the property redesigned its hotel pool deck in the last few years with new landscaping and accents and the pool is, of course, the perfect place to find oneself on any Floridian day. The Inn on Fifth is also centrally located to many restaurants and shops so take some time to explore especially since they offer complimentary transportation around downtown.
As for Naples, just think an upscale, yet easygoing resort experience and dining options that rival anywhere in the United States. In fact, Naples is where the wealthy American’s live when they want to get away and be left alone, but with one caveat, they still want the best experiences.
And by experiences, well I mean first and foremost not only shopping and exclusive beaches, but also the best menus. In fact, there over 50 dining options to be found along the Paradise Coast. Fast forward to one of my favorites called Sea Salt.
At Sea Salt Chef/Owner Fabrizio Aielli pays particular attention to detail. A native of Venice, he brings with him a little niche in this town that showcases fresh seafood and some excellent contemporary specialties alongside a delicious wine menu or craft cocktails. The oysters on the oversized dinner menu haul from British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, the state of Maine and even Virginia. The “Fire and Ice” Platter is really worth a try with the Sommelier’s choice of oysters on the half shell and crispy calamari, rock shrimp, baked oyster Rockefeller and crab puffs.
Another Naples must for dining is called 1500 South located in the Naples Beach Resort. The food is artwork under the culinary influence of Celebrity Chef Art Smith, a two-times James Beard recipient. Indeed, 1500 South is all Florida-vibe since the chef hauls from the state and is proud of his heritage. It is southern American food with Italian accents and that means many surprises. The cocktail menu is a shout out to creativity with a variety of popular options made 1500 South style like the Hot and Skinny Margarita with Maestro Dobel tequila or the Bourbon Peach Cobbler featuring Corner Creek Reserve and Carpono Antica with peach and brown sugar.
While eating is a good way to learn about the Paradise Coast, there are a few more gems you will want to discover as well. The Baker Museum is a fine art museum in Naples that is a must for those who yearn for proper culture. You will find modern and contemporary pieces here and a variety of traveling exhibitions throughout the year. One factoid that the locals are proud of is the Persian Ceiling piece at the museum by glass artist Dale Chihuly. His work being located here is a big kudos to this destination and is a must see.
The Naples Botanical Garden is a good place to interact with nature and take it easy. The Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center was a recent add-on and inside there are three gardens to explore from the LaGrippe Orchid Garden, Irma’s Garden and Kathryn’s Garden, all designed by famed landscape architect Raymond Jungles. For those on a time crunch at the Botanical Garden you can experience the native landscapes of Florida from the Cypress to the hardwood hammock to experiencing a shell mound. The day will go by fast and you will be enchanted at what you will find.
Another Naples must is the Edgewater Beach Hotel where I spent a day feeling like royalty. The folks at the hotel had a dayroom prepared for me when I arrived, and I was served breakfast and lunch in my beach cabana looking out at the perfectly clear and beautiful ambiance. The Edgewater Beach Hotel offers paddle boarding, two restaurant choices; the Pool Bar or Coast with a coastal cuisine from around the globe.
Your best bet here is to take full advantage of the property and consider the custom-designed Serenity Suite if it is available. The Serenity Suite offers luxury accommodation with custom amenities and a sweeping view of the Gulf of Mexico along with wellness goodies like ambient lighting, a PranaSleep® mattress and in-suite massage service.
For more information visit www.EdgewaterNaples.com
Near to Naples and sitting perfectly located to everything at your fingertips is Marco Island. You get sophistication, history and a self-described funky fishing village all in one. I was whisked away my second day to explore the Marco Island Marriott. I began my morning with beach yoga followed by some “me” time at the Balinese spa. This property is located on three miles of perfect Florida beach with four pools and outdoor dining options that make for a great vacation. The resort was transitioning to become a JW Marriott Marco Island at the beginning of 2017, which means when you visit there will be even more reason to spend a few nights at this high-end destination resort.
Highlights from the renovation that were already in place were the redesigned Porte Cochere, lobby and grand front entrance, a new restaurant MAIA showcasing a chef-driven menu, the expanded Quinn’s and Tiki Pool Decks and rooftop penthouse suites with glass railings on all the balconies for guests to get a better view of mother nature. By 2017 the final additions will be not only the new branding, but the addition of 94 rooms for adults only in an adult-exclusive Tower with a rooftop pool, a restaurant with a celebrity chef and a 12,000 square-foot state-of-the-art indoor entertainment center.
One must when visiting is MAIA with the chef’s simple crafted dishes that use local and seasonal food, but also a breakfast option called Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar. Maia infuses vodka spiked with pickled peppers, garlic and other spicy vegetables to create the bases for its Bloody Mary’s. Guests choose from a selection of several base mixes and an extensive arrangement of house made pickled vegetables, Smokey bacon and cured meats, as well as more than 30 types of hot sauces, to craft their cocktail perfectly tailored to individual taste.
For more information visit www.marcoislandmarriott.com
For the adventurer the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, open seasonally is a fun way to get to know the area.
At Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary there is 13,000 acres that is home to the largest stand of old-growth bald cypress in North America. The two-plus mile board walk weaves through this ancient forest and keep your eyes open for alligators, white-tailed deer, otters and red-bellied turtles all making their home here.
There is also plenty of kayaking, jet boating, sailing, snorkeling, and cruising the backwaters in this area so come prepared to get wet through a variety of different explorations.
Enough said, whether you want romance, family fun or even a girl’s holiday, the Paradise Coast is an excellent choice since there are 30 miles of white sand along with a strong arts and culture scene, above-average dining and some truly unique outdoor adventure.
Oh, and one more thing, don’t forget to stop and indulge your senses with the most breathtaking sunset you will ever witness.
For more details visit www.ParadiseCoast.com.