Scott and Charlene Cooner spend their days pampering others as owners of Tangle Me Knot, arguably the best hair salon in their town of Apollo Beach, Florida. It’s both rewarding and hectic.
Making time for a getaway can be tricky when you’re self employed so when Scott wanted to surprise Charlene with a weekend away, we started brainstorming.
February weather in Florida is tricky. Even sunny Miami can be too cool for lazy days poolside as the water is often chilly for a native Floridian. It’s also “high season” there with high hotel rates. Getting creative and throwing chilly weather aside we sent them north, to the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton.
The Amelia Ritz is on Florida’s short list of AAA 5-Diamond Resorts. Their restaurant, Salt, on an even shorter list. As good as your favorite restaurant is, only 3 in Florida are true 5-Diamond winners, none of which are in the Tampa area.
Making sure they’d have a spectacular time we buzzed our long time friend who happens to be the Guest Relations “goddess” at the Ritz and requested VIP treatment. Immediately, a room upgrade, unlimited spa access, gifts waiting in their room and being removed from that nasty wait list for Salt, into a prime table were done.
Scott said, “We had the Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu and it was spectacular. The attention to detail, service, creative dishes and choice of 150 varieties of salts to compliment every bite were perfection”.
You can do a lot or a little on Amelia Island. On their first day, they decided to savor that 5-Diamond luxury, spending it at the spa enjoying several treatments, thermal areas and swimming in the adults only solarium pool. Finally, taking time to pamper themselves.
Excited to explore the historic island they set out to sample her charms. Amelia is only 13 miles so seeing the sights is easy. Getting there is half the fun, driving along the ocean one minute, then suddenly surrounded by moss draped oak trees on sleepy streets filled with Victorian era homes.
Visiting the historic district of Fernandina Beach, Amelia’s largest town, they strolled the streets admiring the architecture. They visited shops -- some tacky, some quaint but most importantly stopped for drinks in The Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest and reportedly haunted. As Florida destinations go, Amelia is different. It's very old having been claimed by the French in the 1560s. Eventually, it became a booming port town famous for it’s shrimping industry. It retains much of it’s charm and old buildings.
They visited the must-see, Fort Clinch State Park with its Civil-War fortress, situated on the Amelia River and Atlantic Ocean. The park’s 1,400 acres overlook Cumberland Island and the ruined winter mansions of the Gilded Age elite. The scenery is beautiful with panoramic Atlantic views, sand dunes, ancient oak trees, and the fortress itself. Charlene remarked, “It was so interesting to experience the fort and see what life for soldiers was like during the Civil War.”
A bit of history about those mansions over on Cumberland: Reportedly, the younger Carnegie boys (of the Carnegie Steel fortune) would ferry from their Cumberland estate to Amelia. Often imbibing too much at the local saloons they spent many a night in the county jail. Nothing too good for her boys, Mrs. Carnegie paid good money refurbishing a cell so her boys “would feel more at home”.
After their visit, we think Scott and Charlene would agree, everyone would feel quite at home on Amelia Island.
Enjoy this short video and small gallery, certain to lure you away to Amelia Island.
Written by Chip Barker
Originally written for & published in Bayside Living Magazine
Exploding volcanoes, “Sneaker Waves” that can drag a beach goer out to sea forever, icebergs and glaciers that collapse under your feet, and slippery hot springs with scalding mud that can burn you to a crisp. Sounds like a place to steer clear of, right? Well, no. All those dangerous and scary things are just a few reasons why Iceland is a seriously hot travel destination.
Did you know, beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989? We know, another reason to question a visit to the “Land of Fire and Ice”. But don’t panic, the beer situation has been remedied and with all that ‘danger’ lurking around every corner, you might find a warming shot of schnapps more appropriate and in tradition with the local ways.
Iceland is a country of extreme contrasts. It’s home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, and some of the most active volcanoes in the world. In 2010 the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted, sending an ash plume into the atmosphere that brought European flights to a standstill for 6 days. Iceland is also the land of light and darkness, where summer days bring nearly 24-hours of sunlight and winter days bring no more than dusk-like light, the entire day.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, winters are milder than you’ll find in New York and when the temperatures hit 68°F in summer, Icelanders soak up the sun at outdoor cafes and beaches. Yes, that’s crazy talk to a Florida dweller but the tradeoff in cooler temperatures for the experiences you’ll have is worth it.
No matter the weather, you’ll want to bring your swimsuit as visits to Iceland’s thermal pools are on the top of most travelers lists, and a visit to the spectacular Blue Lagoon is a must!
Iceland is also hot with Hollywood. Scores of movies film in Iceland and the popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones has driven visitors en masse to see the other worldly landscapes that are anything but make believe. If you are a fan of Westeros and Game of Thrones, then hop on a tour of the movie sets and filming locations. You never know, you might just catch a glimpse of the Mother of Dragons.
It’s not all glaciers and volcanoes in Iceland. Iceland is also home to the elusive Northern Lights, dramatic fjords, Viking history and archeological explorations. After a day of sightseeing, put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the bustling nightlife in the capital city of Reykjavik where the party doesn’t get started until midnight.
Ready to see for yourself just how hot Iceland is? Visiting Iceland is about to get easier than ever. Icelandair Airlines studied the US market closely and selected Tampa International Airport to host nonstop flights between TIA and Keflavík International Airport starting September 7, 2017. So, as the locals say, “on with the butter!” or, as we would say, “Move your butt and get going.”
If you’ve never visited New Mexico, you should. It’s called “The Land of Enchantment” for good reason. The landscape is breathtaking, the food incredible, and the cultural scene in its artist chic cities of Taos and Santa Fe is enriching. You’ll feel like you’ve left the good old USA, no passport required.
Several of our clients have called upon the charms of New Mexico. Many years ago I lived in Santa Fe and on the Navajo Reservation finding myself drawn back by a fondness of Native American culture. Clients, Brad and Abby Jacobs are hiking fans that rave about the scenery and unusual terrain in places like Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks. While savvy world travelers, John and Susan Leitner fell in love with Christmastime in the desert.
New Mexico is a vast and fascinating place that one visit won’t do justice. But for first timers, Taos and Santa Fe are the perfect places to get yourself hooked on the desert magic.
The best way to start your exploration is by hopping on the “Enchanted Loop”, a circle drive between Santa Fe and Taos. Take the “Low Road” to Taos. It’s a spectacular route following the Rio Grande River, between towering walls of granite and volcanic rock cliffs. The river rushes by on your left, teeming with white-water rafters emerging out of the gorge onto the Taos Plateau. Your first vista is incredible, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains ahead, and the canyon to your left.
Lay your head at the El Monte Sagrado resort in a historic, pueblo style casita, complete with your own fireplace and courtyard. The entire experience is designed to connect you to the land and its Native American influences. You’ll find it hard to pull yourself away but Taos awaits.
In just one day, you can visit the Taos Pueblo, continuously inhabited for over 1000 years. Then drive up the canyon for beer and schnitzel at The Bavarian Lodge, served on their outside deck by a waitress in traditional lederhosen. Heading back into town take a slight detour to the Rio Grande Gorge. If you’re afraid of heights…don’t look down! The drive also passes several “secret” hot springs. Clothing optional, oh my!
Returning to Santa Fe, take the “High Road”, stopping in tiny Chimayo to tour the fairytale-like El Santuario de Chimayo. Built in 1813, it’s rustic construction is otherworldly and the lure to investigate the famed “holy dirt”, reportedly curing thousands of their ailments is irresistible. Right next door, El Potrero Trading Post carries the most amazing chile powders known to man. Our pick? The 200 year old sundried Chimayo Heirloom variety at a whopping $44 per pound.
In historic Santa Fe, try the Hotel St. Francis. It’s the oldest in town, built in 1924 and a perfect hub for exploring. You’ll get lost (in the good way) walking around. Pop into The Palace of the Governors, built in the 1700’s and see their onsite archeological dig showing ancient structures right under your feet. Stroll up Canyon Road. With countless galleries in Santa Fe, Canyon Road sets itself apart with a stream-front, tree-lined setting and independent galleries showcasing artworks from fine to folk. You’ll leave with a sense of how quirky and diverse Santa Fe really is.
Santa Fe has numerous churches to visit but remember that biggest isn’t always best. The small Loretto Chappel has a fascinating history housing the “Miracle Staircase”, sometimes referred to as the “Staircase that Jesus built”. No nails, no support column and the man who built it for the appreciative nuns, vanished without ever being paid.
Dining in Santa Fe is a foodie delight. As a vegetarian, Abby Jacobs loves the fact so many restaurants cater to both her and Brad’s tastes. New Mexican cuisine is described as a fusion of Spanish and Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American and Cowboy Chuck-wagon. It’s similar to, but not quite the same as Tex-Mex and you’ll constantly be asked, “red or green”? A choice of red or green chile that accompany most meals. Your trip isn’t complete until you’ve tried Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Navajo Tacos, Chile Rellenos, and Green Chile Stew.
The history, cuisine and blending of cultures. The art, spirituality and outdoor activities. Each one is a reason to visit the Land of Enchantment in itself, but our travelers fall in love with them all.
We're going places and so are our clients.