Between the magnificent natural wonder that is the Florida Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico, we recently discovered the quietly elegant, highly cultured seaside town of Naples. The area’s natural beauty begins at its shores, which are graced with wide, natural white sandy beaches, often considered to be among the nation’s finest. The area of Naples (part of Florida’s Paradise Coast of Collier County, along with Marco Island and The Everglades) is full of natural beauty. Thousands of private acres, state and federally preserved lands surround Naples, sustaining the spectacular lushness of the locale while rendering the surroundings of the hotels and luxury homes idyllic. The best way to experience the natural wonders of the Paradise Coast is from the waters. There are a multitude of eco-tours and nature excursions that showcase the beauty of the area while highlighting the importance of preservation. Everyone is a marine biologist on the Dolphin Explorer, and the magic of spotting, and observing, the wild dolphins is captivating to day-scientist of all ages. The 30-foot catamaran makes a stop on Keewaydin Island, a pristine barrier island which is stunning beautiful for both swimming and exploring.
Located on Florida’s west coast, the sunsets over the expansive Gulf of Mexico are stunning. Plan your evening cocktails or dinner around sunset or end your day spent on the beach, poolside or shopping with a sojourn to the shore to see the sun’s fire sink below the horizon. The view from my balcony at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, which overlooked the Naples Coastline, and the 200 acres natural mangrove estuary to the Gulf was stunning, but I wanted to experience the sunset from the beach. With a quick walk on the boardwalk (shuttle service is available), though the overgrown mangroves, I arrived on the wide beautiful beach. There were plans to make, golf to play and reservations to make, but I found time to enjoy my first sunset in Naples.
A long favorite winter destination for business executives, the area is now a vacation, or second, home to notable luminaries who seek luxurious living outside the limelight. Fine restaurants are plentiful, and the area’s impressive Artis-Naples campus is home to the world-class Philharmonic Center for the Arts and The Baker Museum. In fact, Naples is home to over 90 art galleries, many line Gallery Row on the historic Third Street South. This trendy area, and nearby Fifth Avenue South, are full of boutiques, galleries, quaint cafés and fine dining establishments. These revitalized areas are bustling and full of cosmopolitan offerings for casual and sophisticated visitors – and both are walking distance to the beautiful beach!
At Pinchers Crab Shack, located harbor side at Tin City, residents and visitors flock to the eatery for Stone Crabs and the freshest local seafood. Designed like an old Southwestern seafood shack Pinchers Crab Shack is the place to really dive deep into seafood, but don’t mistake Pinchers ambience for ‘Florida casual,’ because that term has been redefined to mean ‘welcoming and warm,’ in defining the dining scene in Naples.
With a quality level in both cuisine and service that suggests a formality, beachside dining at The Turtle Club at Vanderbilt Beach is like the experience of a special meal for a special occasion, on every visit. Among the local “old guard” of Naples, The Turtle Club at Vanderbilt beach is treasured haunt and yet all are welcomed like regular patrons. Baleen Restaurant at La Playa Beach and Golf Resort is another excellent spot for waterfront dining. One of the chef’s signature dishes is Molasses Key Lime Glazed Halibut and the menu reflects the chef’s keen ability to gently shakes up traditional food pairing with a unique verve. Baleen is also an exceptional spot for weekend brunch. The atmosphere is lively and the views are breathtaking.
In southwest Florida there is rumble of excitement about Osteria Tulia in Naples. People are talking about Chef Vincenzo Betulia, who has brought a new energy to 5th Avenue and the dining scene in Naples. Osteria Tulia offers hardy Italian peasant cuisine in a rustic farmhouse setting. Under the direction of Chef Betulia, pasta, cheeses and sausages are made in house and the menu features local seafood, produce and artisanal grown ingredients from Italy and the US. Bar Tulia, the area’s first Italian “gastropub,” features an exciting menu of craft cocktail, beers and wines. For pre-dinner cocktails or late night dining make sure to visit Bar Tulia, the food menu, featuring pub food with creative Italian twist is as intriguing as the craft beverage menu.
Daring craft cocktails are also an attraction at The Continental Naples where their in-house ‘Alchemist’ diligently mans The Continental Craft Cocktail Lab. The Continental Naples combines the ambience of a New York Steakhouse with a deco-style Parisian bistro and the space is designed to create intimate dining areas for guest. The outdoor courtyard sparkles under the trees and guests can dine al fresco or in semi-private cabanas. While featuring a wide range of excellent seafood selection in the ‘Not Steak’ section of the dinner menu The Continental’s ‘Steak’ menu is the prime attraction here. Listed by their origin farms, in the US, Australia, and Japan the cut selections are daunting to review, but the excellent staff is well versed in explaining the essential, and mouth watering, distinctions of each.
Because the beaches are so expansive at the Balinese inspired Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa the beach waiters attend to guest via motorized food-service carts. This award wining Resort is more akin to the large resorts in Hawaii. Offering a wealth of dining options, countless activities and golf, and featuring a world-class spa, the 727-guest room and suites, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort is a unique Florida destination on to itself.
You can center yourself on the shores or get overwhelmed with course choices, if golf is your thing. The resorts are interspersed among condos and private residents so you can traverse long stretches of the beach in lovely solitude. There are over 90 Golf courses to choose from in the area. The shopping choices are equally overwhelming as are the art and cultural opportunities. No matter what you do, dining out is essential. Far beyond delicious seafood and innovative cuisine the restaurants are abuzz with cosmopolitan sophistication and that liveliness is the perfect nightcap to your remarkable day.
Story and photography: David Lewis Taylor
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