Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Ponce de Leon probably didn’t envision ghost tours, chocolate factories or fine dining and lodging when he claimed Florida for Spain in 1513. Nor is it likely that Pedro Menendez sipped cappuccino and nibbled on a pecan sticky bun when he landed in St. Augustine, Florida, with 700 soldiers and colonists in September of 1565. Yet all these treats and more awaited me as I approached our country’s oldest city.

I entered St. Augustine northbound from highway A1A, crossing the impressive Bridge of Lions. The historic Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695, stood along the waterfront to my right and the city’s central plaza and red tile roofs dotted the landscape before me.

Eager to explore, I was delighted to soon find a parking space and began my tour with a stroll along St. George St, lined with shops and historical structures. My first stop was at The Bunnery Cafe, where I admired delicious hot cinnamon rolls and a wide variety of muffins and fresh baked cookies.

I treated myself to a vanilla latte and meandered farther down the quaint pedestrian mall to Kilwin’s Chocolate and Ice Cream, where a young candy maker was busy making homemade fudge in the large front window. The sweet aromas of molten chocolate and sugary confections drifted out the front door and across the sidewalk. Raspberry truffles, nut clusters and almond toffee crunch tempted me to linger, but there was much to explore and I wandered on.

I stopped into a small information center to ask about lodging. Presented with dozens of tempting options, I finally settled on Casa de Solana Bed and Breakfast, named after the original owner, Don Manuel Lorenzo Solana. Located in the Historic Old City area, the Inn is convenient to restaurants, shops, galleries and museums.

Before moving my car to the Inn’s private off-street parking, I crossed the central plaza, passed under a stone archway and walked along Aviles St. I soon arrived at the flower-covered wall of the inn, which I would later find out dates back to the period of British rule in St. Augustine (1763-1783).

I was given The British Suite, on the third and top floor of the original casa. This spacious suite included an antique-filled bedroom, separate sitting room, private bath, whirlpool tub and every imaginable amenity. A wonderful bonus was a private deck with rocking chair, just off the second floor, with easy access down stairs just outside the door to the suite. This provided a perfect setting to listen to the “clip-clop” of horse-drawn carriages passing by on narrow brick-paved streets, while sipping ice tea and enjoying complimentary homemade cookies.

An afternoon reception in the main floor’s common room allowed guests to mingle and share travel tales. The buffet was elegantly set with carafes of wine and platters of hors d’oeuvres. Coffee and cookies were available for those feeling the yearning of a sweet tooth.

Though the popular ghost walking tours offered nightly in this city promised an exciting blend of ghostly legends and local tales, I settled for a quiet evening to enjoy the luxury of the room and fell asleep soundly in one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever encountered while traveling.

As a reward for my early evening, I was awake before dawn. I slipped out of the inn quietly and hurried over to the water, just blocks away, arriving in time to catch the first rays of the sun as they hit the towers of Castillo San Marcos. This historic fort was built in the late 1600’s of coquina stone, a locally quarried soft-shell-rock. Walking north from the fort, I came to the City Gates, built in 1808 at the head of St. George St., also of coquina stone.

I worked my way back to the Inn, arriving at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine just as morning Mass was starting, where I paused to admire the Spanish Mission architecture and Victorian stained glass windows. Founded as a parish in 1594, the present cathedral was built in 1797 and restored after a fire gutted the church in 1887.

I returned to Casa de Solana, arriving to a delicious morning buffet of hot entrees, fruit, homemade breads, and fresh brewed coffee. After the hearty breakfast, I headed back upstairs, where I relaxed on the private porch, listening to the “clip-clop” of passing horse-drawn carriages.

Opportunities for sight-seeing in St. Augustine are abundant. Just blocks from the inn stands the Spanish colonial structure known as “The Oldest House,” a National Historic Landmark that includes two museums, a picnic area and gardens, as well as an art gallery and gift shop. Admission is discounted for guests of the Inn. A brief stroll leads to Old St. Augustine Village and the nearby Lightner Museum and Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon and Alcazar hotels, built by old magnate Henry M. Flagler in the late 1800’s.

The Spanish Military Hospital, Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, Nombre de Dios Mission and Florida Heritage Museum all offer additional journeys into St. Augustine’s past. Transportation between these historical sites is easy, either by foot or by enjoying an old-fashioned horse and buggy ride. Trolley and train tours are other ways to explore the city, with unlimited step off and re-boarding privileges included in one ticket fee. A short trip by car will take visitors to explore the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum and St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, as well as forty-two miles of beaches.

From waterfront dining overlooking Matanzas Bay to British pub fare and Italian seafood and pasta feasts, there’s no shortage of dining options. The charm of Old Florida is reflected in many of the local eateries and hungry customers can easily find everything from quick, easy snacks to relaxed, leisurely meals.

St. Augustine is a city with something for everyone, from fine dining and great shopping to lessons in history or simply a long-awaited chance to relax. Ponce and Pedro were a little too early to have all the exciting choices that St. Augustine offers today. But if you happen to choose now to follow in their footsteps, you’ll be right on time.

St. Augustine Visitor and Convention Bureau
Website: www.visitoldcity.com
Phone: (800) 653-2489

Casa de Solana
Website: www.casadesolana.com
Phone: (888) 796-0980


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