After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”
In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings.
In a new year when we try to focus on the positive,she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings.
We met in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy – Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.
Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany. What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.
Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.
Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.
We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll
I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts. I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”
Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea.
Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.
The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.
A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”
Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.
The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street.
If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.
Do you have post-holiday letdown or New Year’s Eve dread? Do you feel deflated — like a Christmas yard decoration lying in a heap upon the ground?
There’s a way to flip your mood, stretch yourself like a starfish, and feel happy as a clam. Ok, cliches aside…
Even if you’re not a beach person, celebrating the new year on the southwest coast of the Sunshine State has many benefits. Booking a stay in Fort Myers, Florida, “The City of Palms,” is a really great plan.
If you’ve joined my two-year expedition down the southwestern coast of Florida, you know that I’ve fallen in love with this area of the state. Here I’ve found the white sand and clear aquamarine waters that I played in as a child on the Panhandle’s Emerald Coast. But I’ve also found educational, historical, and cultural treasures. I’ve felt welcome in a community that still marvels at manatees and dolphins and salutes sunsets with bagpipes, conch shells, and guitars.
If wellness is a goal for the new year, multiple studies have shown that merely planning travel gives our mood an instant boost. Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness and authority on health and wellness in the digital era, explains in Psychology Today:
The anticipation and sense of hopefulness for better times can keep us motivated and excited for the delayed gratification of a getaway. This ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ often has a long-term mood-boosting effect and can help us relax as it puts us in the mind frame of a more soothing future.
And about that light…
Sunlight provides Vitamin D and releases higher levels of serotonin which lowers anxiety while elevating mood, focus, sleep, and immunity. (I can attest to the power of perpetually sunny skies. While living in Marrakesh, Morocco, I felt happier and had more energy year-round.)
Travel is also a way to reconnect with people we love as we create shared memories of precious moments. Solo travel provides opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and Creator as we discover (or remember) our passions and purpose. It can also push us to make new friends.
A getaway provides escape into a new world where we can try on another life, explore, learn. It provides not only adventure but also perspective. Miles create distance from our problems, sadness, or stress. We can rest, recover, rethink, and reset when we see the Big Picture. Sometimes this means rising above obstacles and changing our focus literally. I’ll never forget the beauty I saw and gratitude I felt looking down from a balcony on a Spanish hillside or out from ramparts on the African coast. Morocco taught me the gift of rooftops whether places to gather or to be alone. I started 2021 by looking down on the lights of Sarasota from a rooftop New Year’s Eve party at Art Ovation Hotel. I ended it by looking down on Fort Myers from Beacon, the appropriately named rooftop of the luxurious Luminary, another hotel in the Autograph Collection® of Marriott International. (No surprise that their 2022 Rooftop NYE Party quickly sold out, but you can still see fireworks and the Ball Drop at the New Year’s Eve Downtown Countdown. )
Finds in The Franklin Shops on Main Street, Fort Myers, reminded me that travel inspires us to…
Why Fort Myers?
If you like winters with sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures… a walkable downtown with eclectic shopping and dining outdoors on rooftops, by the river, or along a red-bricked Main Street… art galleries, live music, museums, theatre, symphony, opera, or ballet… Spanish Floridian, Art Deco, or Modern architecture… inspiring and beautiful places like the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, … then this is your place. Seriously, the downtown area is one of the prettiest I have seen.
Other Reasons to Choose Fort Myers for a Getaway
Approximately 20 miles from downtown Fort Myers are Fort Myers Beach located on Estero Island, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island with world-famous shelling, wildlife preserves, and an “Old Florida” feel. And if you’re up for a vast adventure, The Everglades, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is only two hours away.
Fort Myers Beach Photo Courtesy of Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel
Attractions for All Kinds of Travelers in All Seasons
In 2021, MSN, Travel & Leisure, HGTV, Fodor’s Travel, Fishing Booker, Country Living, U. S. News & World Report, Yahoo Life, Coastal Living named Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva as top getaways for many reasons, such as uncrowded family-friendly beaches and outdoor spaces, tropical beauty, charm, island living, wildlife, shelling, fishing spots, and other hidden treasures. And I can vouch for its allure for couple, family, friend, or solo getaways because I’ve experienced all of them there myself.
Located In the historic Downtown River District on the Caloosahatchee River, the AAA Four Diamond luxury property — the first in the area of the Autograph Collection® of Marriott International — first lit up the waterfront and city in late 2020. The hotel, decor, and restaurants are named for visionaries and innovators (such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford whose winter estates are within walking distance) who converted Fort Myers from a cattle town to a historical, cultural center. Today snowbirds, locals, and tourists flock to the 12th floor rooftop bar nightly to do what’s customary in these parts, watch legendary sundowns with a drink or meal. My room was perfect. I felt like Kate Winslet in The Holiday when she raised some fancy window shades with a remote, read in bed, and took a dip in the pool below. The shower/bathroom was the largest I’ve seen in a hotel suite and the branding throughout was very Gatsby.
Sincere thanks to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Luminary Hotel, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, for your hospitality. You fed my mind, body, and soul with art, beauty, random roaming, and coral skies of hope.
We celebrate the holidays with light, a symbol of hope that dispels darkness. This month as I walked the grounds of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, I felt the restorative and illuminating power of light and beauty. As I listened to waves lapping the shore and watched the sun casting a golden glow on the Caloosahatchee River, I felt peace and renewal.
I’m not alone. From now until January 2, 2022 (closed Christmas Day), locals, resident snowbirds, and guests will continue to gather at the 46th Annual Holiday Nights Celebration at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. If you can’t join them this year, put the event on your calendar for next, but plan a trip to Fort Myers, Florida now where abundant beauty illuminates and rejuvenates visitors all four seasons. Located 11 miles from the Southwest International Airport, the Estates are a global destination, but if you want to stock your garden with plants propagated on the property, make it a road trip. There are also lectures and workshops on a variety of gardening topics.
‘There is only one Fort Myers in the United States, and there are 90 million people who are going to find it out.”
His words have proven true as Edison’s winter estate is one of the most visited historic home sites in America and named #1 of the 10Best attractions in Fort Myers by USA Today.
I admit it. Until recently I did not know the scope of Thomas Edison’s genius or his connection with Fort Myers. Until 2020, I knew little about the southwestern coast of Florida — its beauty, abundance, and power that inspires and restores. I didn’t know that Edison was one of the first snowbirds who not only spent winters in the Sunshine State but also created a retreat that fueled his passion, fed his genius, and sustained his work.
Thus before he created the first home phonograph in 1896, the first office dictation machine in 1908, the first disc record and phonograph in 1909, or most of his other accomplishments, Thomas Edison knew he needed a place to feed his soul. In 1885 he found a cattle town where he bought a 13-acre property for $2750 where he built a lab and home which he named “Seminole Lodge.” A widower with three children, he married Mina Miller. They honeymooned there and had three children of their own.
He died in 1941 in New Jersey. Ford sold his estate in 1945 for $20,000, the amount he paid for it. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the city of Fort Myers, and in that year she and Ford died. Below are photos of the home and guest house decorated as they were when the family lived there.
Edison cared about making his inventions affordable and accessible as well as his estate. This year at Holiday Nights nearly 60 local schools are participating in the 13th annual Edison and Ford Winter Estates Children’s Tree Trail. Students created ornaments from recycled materials with stipends from the Estates. The Estates host children and their families —some who wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise —to see the decorated trees and Estates.
I love that Edison didn’t spend all of his time in a lab but was curious about so much of life around him. He loved to travel, camp, and fish with friends and their families. He loved Florida’s warm temperatures, natural resources, and people which is why he named his estate “Seminole Lodge.”
In 1896 Henry Ford meets Thomas Edison at a Detroit Edison Illuminating Company conference where Ford worked. In 1912 they worked together to improve the storage battery for the Model T. In 1901 Ford began spending winters at his Florida home. Famous guests included President Herbert Hoover, Colgate and Kellogg families, Harvey Firestone. In 1910 Edison did renovations to his Queen Anne home. In 1914 the Ford family first visits the Edison in Fort Myers for a camping trip to the Everglades. In 1916 Ford purchased The Mangoes, a Craftsman home next to Edison.
I love his story– a man with little formal education who was bored with school where the mode of learning was rote memory (difficult because he was partially deaf). Like many of the brightest people I’ve known, he would be diagnosed today with ADHD for his boundless curiosity and experimentation. Today he might be called “all over the place” for his interest in so many diverse projects where he used the skills of a writer, chemist, and inventor.
Most of all, I love his resilience. While known for his 1000+ patents, he also had 500-600 patent applications that were rejected or never finished. — which earned him the credibility to be an encouragement today.
In 1931 Thomas Edison spent 6 months in Fort Myers working on rubber research.
When you leave, take some beauty home with you. And if there are goals you hope to reach in the new year — old dreams that don’t die but you’re not sure how or when they’ll materialize — take some advice from Thomas Edison…
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
And my favorite as I look ahead into the new year…
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
The short drive to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach Approximately 30 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport ADA accessible with wheelchairs available Free parkingThe Edison and Ford Winter Estates are located approximately 30 minutes from the Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and near Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island. (More on Downtown Fort Myers and Captiva next). There are guided tours, self-guided tours, and maps in English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese. Narration in English, German, French or Spanish is available with the new app and through a phone number. For more info go to http://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org.
Thank you so much to Edison and Ford Winter Estates and The Beaches of Ft. Myers and Sanibel and Lee County for the tour and hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon with no additional cost to the customer.
“What has made the day so perfect? To begin with, it is a pattern of freedom. Its setting has not been cramped in space or time. An island, curiously enough, gives a limitless feeling of both. Nor has the day been limited in kinds of activity. It has a natural balance of physical, intellectual and social life. It has an easy unforced rhythm.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
Never underestimate the healing power of a room- with- a- view of sea and sunrises. Of island sunsets that make strangers friends. Of connecting with family after an unimaginable year. On making a wish on a seashell and feeling like a kid again.
Not since we spent a month together on another island in 2016, had Taylor–my adult daughter–and I had a chance to get away together. Because she cares for the elderly, we couldn’t see each other for months in 2020. We’re both vaccinated now, but getting our school and work schedules together–as it is for most families– is a perennial problem. We needed some island time, so we took it. At the South Seas Island Resort on beautiful Captiva Island, we discovered within the U.S. borders a breathtaking part of Florida we’d never seen. Though I did work-by-day and she did school-by-night, our sharing an office with the view and exploring 330 acres of natural nirvana (and beyond) was an escape we’ll never forget. Here’s a few reasons why South Seas Island Resort was named a Top 10 North American Island by Conde Nast Traveler and families return year after year…
(Photos in Gallery Above Courtesy of South Seas Island Resort)
Nowhere else in the US have we stayed this close to the water and seen so much wildlife and sea creatures. The sanctuary has 230 species of birds, such as egrets and the white ibis, bottle-nosed dolphins, rabbits, Cuban anole lizards, and West Indian manatees.
We loved hopping beaches and cruising shady paths. Sunny Island Adventures offers bicycle rentals for a few hours or the length of your stay to enjoy 20 miles of bike trails.
This area and neighboring Sanibel Island, which since 1937 has hosted the largest and longest running Shell Fair and Show in the United States, is famous for shelling. It was the inspiration for one of my favorite books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea where the Gulf of Mexico delivers over 250 types of shells which you can learn more about here. Sanibel Island was featured on the April 2021 cover of Southern Living by the editors as one of The South’s Best Beach Towns. Children love the Sanibel Sea School where every day is a field trip. I eavesdropped on a group exploring the beach by my balcony and not only learned a lot but saw a boy find a starfish in the the few minutes they were there. Offerings for children and adults are here.
We flew into Fort Meyers on Southwest Airlines at the Southwest Florida International Airport located 35 miles from the resort. I’ve been a fan of Southwest for years but because of open seating the fee for early boarding is worth it–especially during high season or if you have a connecting flight and need to get off quickly. We had a great experience with Dolphin Transportation, the largest independently owned fleet of luxury vehicles serving Fort Myers, Naples, and Bonita Springs, who picked us up in a Suburban where I met a fellow writer based in Atlanta and returned us to the airport in a Lincoln Continental. They have bus and van options as well. We didn’t need a car with the trolley and bikes, but the property is so massive–20 tennis courts, 2 community pools (and 17 private ones), 9 dining locations, and other attractions the first day or two you’ll need to use a map and/or the App (which has a Trolley Tracker).
There are 434 guest rooms, villas, and waterfront private homes. We stayed in one of the 30 newly renovated waterfront suites at North Pointe Village overlooking Pine Island Sound. We appreciated the huge marble bathroom with closets and mirrors– great for two women :), the espresso machine, the wood-inspired floors, comfortable bedding and seating, but forgot to turn on the huge television because we were too busy watching an even bigger world of turquoise waters…coral, blue, and pink skies…boaters, fishermen on the dock, and wildlife from our balcony.
Just 10 miles south of the resort is a tiny island that is old, old Florida at its best. There are no cars or roads–just a few rental cottages where anglers and artists can get inspired. Boaters stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner so if alone time gets old, there are always new people to meet. The restaurant is known for its food, a famous customer, and a tradition dating back to the days when fishermen wrote their names on dollar bills and tacked them to the wall for times when they might have no luck and need credit. Behind the bar is Jimmy Buffett’s bill.
You can board the Lady Chadwick of Captiva Cruises at the Yacht Harbor for a one-hour sail to the island. I loved the 70s music and 80s music I heard as we disembarked and headed up the hill.
We learned a lot on the cruise from the ship’s captain. There’s said to be $75000 on the Inn’s ceiling and the $10-$15,000 that falls off each year is donated to charity. I learned that the back bay waters are estuaries for wildlife, fish, crab, oyster beds, and stone crabs which fishermen catch, declaw, and throw them back. Their claws regenerate. I saw where Captiva was split by a hurricane in 1921, destroying farmland there. Other history pertaining to the Native Americans on the barrier islands, to English, then Spanish rule, to Cuban fisheries and cattlemen, some of which is here. I learned the namesake of our boat, the shopping center on Captiva, and some of South Seas Island Resort’s origin. The area was bought in the 1920s by Clarence and Rosamond Chadwick, inventor of the check watermarking process and an opera singer, who made it one of the most successful key lime plantations in the world. In 1961 the Captiva Island Company bought the property for $225,000.
The islands between Cabbage Key and South Seas all have a story–North Captiva which has 11 vacation homes and uses solar power, La Costa with homes run on propane and solar, Pine Island which exports palm trees and has off-the-grid art galleries, and Useppa, base for the CIA during the Bay of Pigs and once vacation escape for Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Shirley Temple, and Mae West. Captiva Cruises offers options for exploring Useppa, other islands and types of excursions.
I LOVED doing sun salutations on the Kings Crown Lawn as bunnies bopped in and out of the bushes behind me and boats bobbed past. Ambu Yoga was the best way to start the day and warm up for kayaking later (though Taylor did most of the rowing). If you’re not into yoga, the seaside golf course looked amazing.
If you didn’t see the video above, check it out. Our meal there was the event-of-the-week from the Cucumber Smash to the champagne toast to the crème brûlée served beside a fire pit glittering with sea glass. The mixes of their artisan cocktails are hand-pressed and blended, and the spirits infused in-house. A Tennessee girl born in Kentucky, I loved that their focus isn’t rum– as is the case with most island drinks–but bourbon and whiskey. The most impressive presentation I’ve seen was of the The Captain’s Smoked Old Fashioned I had to try. Our server said she did her nails especially for it. 🙂 Another surprise was that the hit of the starters was the Yacht Line Candied Bacon–torched tableside. Other delicious dishes were the Romesco Garlic Shrimp, Kung Pao Calamari, the Cuban Bread, and always my favorite–Spanish Octopus. I had the Mahi Mahi and Taylor enjoyed the Lobster Tacos.
Also the oysters and scallops at Doc Ford’s (see video) are great.
THE #1 thing to do at South Seas Island Resort is their signature Sunset Celebration at Sunset Beach. In the video above, singer songwriter Danny Morgan who has toured and played with about everyone from Jimmy Buffett to The Beach Boys, visited the area in the 80s and has been playing to multi-generational crowds since. Rather than wish upon a star, we wished upon a shell as the sun melted into the ocean.
I have only two regrets: One, that a regatta pulled the sailboats from the island. We were excited about taking our first sailing lesson.
Next time. Two, that our time at South Seas had to end.
Stay tuned for the Anniversary Celebration of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, Gift from the Sea, one of my favorite memoirs. I am excited and grateful to be one of the writers invited to work on my memoir on Sanibel Island for this event where she was inspired to write hers–a dream come true.
Disclosure: Thank you, VisitSarasota.com and partners, for the hospitality, education, and fun. Readers, as always, the opinions here are my own.
This last feature of a 3-part series celebrating Florida’s Cultural Coast pays tribute to Sarasota’s crown jewel, The Ringling. The 66-acre complex of world-class art and circus museums, an educational center, a glass pavilion, historic theater, arboretum, gardens, and palatial mansion is a place where lovers of all kinds can wander away from crowds. More a destination than an attraction, The Ringling alone is worth a trip to Sarasota County. It’s also a cultural center for local members and a dream venue for romance and weddings.
I took a three-hour private tour with Virginia Harshman, Ringling Public Relations Head, M.A. Harvard University in Museum Studies. She gave me a behind-the-scenes look, unlocking secret areas with keys, masterful storytelling, and passion for the property and the people who built it. I left wishing that I’d explored this hidden gem and national/global treasure a long time ago and looking forward to a future visit.
The Ringling is beautiful in any season. It’s not too late to plan the perfect Valentine’s, Spring Break, Remote School, or Summer Getaway.
Who loves The Ringling?
I Do! I Do! And if you’re one of these 10 Kinds of Lovers, you will, too…
1) Lovers of Love Stories & The 1920s American Dream
Even before I heard the love story of John and Mabel Ringling, American Royalty who owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, I fell in love at first sight with their home. Ca’ d’Zan transported me to my favorite era, the Roaring ‘20s, and two of my favorite places on earth. Its Moorish arches took me back to Morocco
and its overall design to Venice where I started another new year. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace on the Grand Canal, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay.
The exterior’s stucco as well as many glass windows and bedrooms are pink hues. My favorite color, the breathtaking property, and John Ringling’s story reminded me of one of my favorite characters, Jay Gatsby, and his pink suit. John Ringling, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist, had humble beginnings and both tenaciously pursued The American Dream. I could imagine Jay Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce, called a “circus wagon,” parked in the driveway beside John Ringling’s Rolls-Royce, now on exhibit in the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.
Walking the grounds, I could imagine legendary ‘20s parties around Gatsby’s and on the Ringling terrace. John and Mabel frequently entertained celebrities, like Will Rogers who had his own guest room, movie directors, politicians, and actresses, such as Billie Burke, better known as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Jay was “The Great Gatsby”and “John was King of The Greatest Show on Earth.” Both built romantic palaces for the women they loved, but here the parallels end. Daisy rejected Jay and his new money. John and Mabel had similar values–maybe because she, too, came from a modest family. They were kindred spirits in their shared love for culture, art, and travel, as well as their desire to give back. Their legacy is now the State Art Museum of Florida administered by Florida State University.
Though Ca’ d’Zan means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect, it has been called John’s “love letter” to Mabel. They built it together, getting ideas as they traveled the world for twenty-five years buying art and new circus acts. She collected in an oilskin portfolio photos and sketches of architecture, gardens, and design. See the video below of my behind-the-scenes tour where I learned more about Mabel and why everyone at The Ringling adores her.
2) Lovers of Architecture and Design
In 1911, John and Mabel began spending winters in Sarasota on 20 acres of waterfront property they purchased. They continued buying real estate and at one time owned 25% of the town. In 1924 they hired architect Dwight James Baum to design and Owen Burns to build the 36,000 square-foot Mediterranean Revival of their dreams. In addition to the Doge’s Palace, Ca’ d’Oro and the Grand Hotel d’Italie Bauer-Grünwald inspired the plans.
The roof was made of 16th century tiles John found in Barcelona and sent home in two cargo ships. The marble bayside terrace –now used for weddings, yoga classes, and other gatherings– was used by the Ringlings for entertaining. The orchestra played for guests from their yacht, Zalophus, beside Mabel’s gondola which bobbed in the bay. Their dining room table seated 22, and cocktails were served in style at parties and in John’s Man Cave.
Virginia gave me a look at the upper floors of the house which were closed due to Covid. I felt like I was a kid again–Nancy Drew on a snoop–when she showed me the secret Playroom. Overlooking Sarasota from the 82-foot tower is a moment I won’t forget. (See video below.)
3) Lovers of Art and History
After Ca’ d’Zan was completed, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the courtyard stands a cast bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David purchased from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy. It’s now the symbol of the City of Sarasota on Florida’s Cultural Coast.
Inside are collections of Classical and Modern Masters. In 1931, two years after the death of Mabel, John opened the museum to the public to promote “education and art appreciation, especially for our young people.” In 1936 he left it to the state of Florida upon his death. See the video above on the Rubens Gallery, the family crest John had designed, and Modern Art exhibits, such as the photography series, A Girl and Her Room . A world-class cultural center, The Ringling Art Museum was just awarded another grant–this one from the Andy Warhol Foundation.
It has been restored and moved into the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, designed by Yann Wemouth, architect for the Pyramide du Lovre, East Wing of the National Gallery in D.C. and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. See performing arts schedule here.
5) Lovers of Glass Art
Grouped by country of origin, works of art from the studio glass movement from the 1940s to the present are in the Glass Pavilion here.
Ok, I admit it. I’ve saved the best for near-last. One of my favorite movies as a child wasThe Greatest Show on Earth which I watched again this week while writing this piece. Director Cecil B. DeMille traveled with the circus for research and John North, John Ringling’s nephew, plays himself in the film as he tries to save the show in changing times. I loved seeing Sarasota where it was filmed–especially the parade down Main Street which included locals as extras. When it was made, there was no Walt Disney World; time under the Big Top was the premiere happy place for children. The movie was the highest grossing film of the year. Though some critics didn’t agree with it winning Best Picture, I’m with Stephen Spielberg, another fan. He said it was the first movie he ever saw and it inspired his film career. Since my mom’s generation, kids would say, “I’m goin’ run away and join the circus!” Swinging from a trapeze in sequins and feathers still looks pretty fun to me.
John was one of eight children of a German immigrant. Mabel grew up in a small farming community in a family of eight. John began in a small circus as a clown.
After making his fortune, he bought Saint Armand’s Key to develop it into a center for shopping, restaurants, and art. Though the Great Depression deferred his dream, it was fulfilled later by others. Today his statue overlooks Saint Armand’s Circle, a global destination. Here statues he donated to the city transport visitors to other cultural centers, like Rome and Athens. Other plans he had for Sarasota were thwarted by the times, such as a residence for a U.S. President and a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. The statues today in The Ringing Art Museum Courtyard had been purchased for the hotel. One thing is for sure. He shared his love for mythology and was a muse and myth maker himself.
While vacationing on the west coast of Florida the previous two winters, I saw happy, fit folks of all ages everywhere. Snowbirds love this area–maybe now more than ever– because, unlike the northern parts of the state or most of the US, it’s warm enough to socially distance outdoors all year. Only an outside studio could have coaxed me into a class the morning after celebrating New Year’s Eve, but I’d missed my yoga studio in Nashville, closed due to Covid now for almost a year. I had just restarted the practice that gave me peace, joy, and community while living in Marrakesh, and though I’ve done some online classes since the pandemic started, it hasn’t been the same. So I traded my comfortable bed at Art Ovation Hotel for one of the bikes they provide and took off on empty but sunny streets.
Please watch the video below to understand why, meet some amazing ladies, hear about a haven for locals and tourists…and a model for giving back.
I understand why locals love Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio, named in Sarasota Magazine Best New Yoga Studio 2019 and in SRQ Magazine, Best Local Yoga Studio 2020. On-demand classes, online teacher training , studio and live streaming, and here’s just a few events: history yoga classes, Dock Yoga at Marina Jack on Valentine’s Day, Poolside Yoga at the Moderns Sarasota Hotel, Moving Meditation at the Ringling Museum, Throwback 90 Outdoor Yoga Party. AND… check out other experiences offered on beach, boat or paddle board here. Take me back please!
My son. has been vegan for a few years and has opened my mind and tastebuds to some delicious dishes. Lila, recommended by locals, was a great choice. Pronounced Lee-lah, translated as fun, whimsical and creative, the eatery lives up to its name.
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I’m honored and humbled to be listed with bloggers I admire for their adventurous spirits, humor, and commitment to inspiring and equipping those planning to travel or live abroad. Just a few mentions from the list…
Disclosure:A big thank you to VisitSarasota for the gracious hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Please note: Decisions about traveling during the pandemic are important and personal. CDC guidelines are here. As I do when home, I take precautions, such as choosing restaurants and activities with outdoor seating/spaces, and on planes wearing a mask, sometimes with a shield. When planning a trip, check for the latest updates on what is open and closed in Sarasota County due to Covid-19 or weather conditions here.
In this series I’ll explain just a few reasons why Sarasota County has won so many awards. In 2020 Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice™ Awards ranked Siesta Beach #11 of the Top Beaches in the World and #1 Beach in the US. In 2020-21 Sarasota was named #1 Best Place to Retire and #16 Best Place to Live by US News and Report. In 2020 Southern Living ranked it #7 Best Beach Town for Retirement. In 2019 Conde Nast Traveler ranked it #2 for the Best Places to Retire and Rent.com named it the #1 Best City for Vegans in America.
I was swept away by Sarasota County on a quick trip there last summer when I saw its beauty and learned that it is Florida’s Cultural Coast.
I wanted to start 2021 in this sunny place for a brighter year. I especially looked forward to returning after quiet holidays when my family couldn’t gather as usual because Nashville was too cold for us to meet outdoors.
Snowbird friends nest in this area yearly. My sister and brother-in-law spent their honeymoon in Sarasota, and we hope to gather our adult children, cousins, and moms for a multi-generational reunion there one day. Since I was a child, Florida has been my Happy Place. My children loved it too. The Destin area is only 7 hours by car from Nashville so many families from here make it their go-to vacation spot. But over the last couple of years, I’ve been working my way down the west coast. Sarasota County truly offers the best of all worlds—the most beautiful beaches in the country, a welcoming community of locals focused on health and fitness, AND a big city art and culinary scene.
When planning a vacation, we can feel forced to choose between two types we love– exploring a new city or relaxing on a beach.The liberal arts instructor in me likes to nerd-out in artistic centers.
I’ve been moved by paintings in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome…
ballet in St. Petersburg and Bratislava… theater in New York and London…
Sarasota County also makes the ideal remote classroom. It’s why some parents working from home have moved their children’s virtual learning to Florida’s west coast. Here family bonds over all kinds of field trips–opportunities providing education and wellness for mind, body, and spirit.
Research shows that just planning a trip makes us happier. Even just a long weekend away can reduce stress. Sarasota is only a 2-hour flight from Nashville and much of the southeast. I flew Allegiant as I’ve done in the past and been very pleased. Last fall Allegiant added 8 new cities with flights to Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. Other departures include Asheville, NC; Fairfax, VA; Louisville, KY; and Knoxville, TN.
Below is my 3-day itinerary of starting 2021 in Sarasota County. Please check out highlights in the video below.
The Pineapple Drop was cancelled but should be back to bring in 2022. Ubers were booked for the weekend. I had better luck scheduling ahead with Lyft. Other than wanting to stay longer…like a month…a year…I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
(Those I recorded in video removed masks for interviews only).
Art Ovation Hotel is located in downtown Sarasota, the heart of world-class culture and cuisine. Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Opera House , other venues and Main Street are steps away. The boutique hotel itself celebrates and inspires creativity with exhibits of contemporary artists throughout. I felt at home the minute I stepped out of the taxi when I heard salsa music playing throughout the lobby and Overture Bar where rotating art exhibits represent global cultures. Cuban art was in the spotlight while I was there– inspiring workshops, the menu, and the playlist.
Upon arrival I was given a guide inviting guests to ten events over the weekend including the New Year’s Eve party on the rooftop, tours led by cultural curators of art galleries throughout the property, live musical performances by Motown and jazz artists, and the weekly Vino Y Arte class where a local artist paints live, then teaches participants her/his techniques as they sip wine and create masterpieces of their own.
The hotel provides courtesy bikes and beach chairs. After the New Year’s Eve party I was tempted to grab a cabana poolside but instead took a bike to my yoga class, to lunch, and to check out the neighborhood.
The staff are consummate professionals. They were gracious and helpful with ordering a quick breakfast in the room, scheduling rides, and and providing insider tips on venues for Latin dance. My King Guest Room was on the 6th floor with a view of the city lights. In addition to luxurious bedding, walk-in shower, and bath products, in each room is a ukulele for find your musician within. Their commitment to inspiring creativity extends to all ages, even after you’ve returned home.
Since taking a quick spin around St. Armands Circle last summer, I was on a mission to eat at this award-winning institution. Being there on NYE was a real treat. Columbia’s, founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., has additional locations in Tampa, St. Augustine, and Clearwater. It has been owned and operated by 5 generations and is known as Florida’s oldest restaurant, the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, and was named one of the most historic restaurants in the country by USA Today. Like the food and service, the guest list is stellar– Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minelli, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler, and George Clooney.
After living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic I miss favorites enjoyed in my Piantini neighborhood and at Pat’s Palo in the Colonial Zone . Columbia’s has empanadas, croquettes, paella, sangria –oh my!–and so many other choices on the dinner and wine menus choosing is difficult. My server, Roxy, helped with this. I had the Ybor City Devil Crab Croquettes, the Original 1905 Salad, the Filet Mignon, and a glass of Don Cesar 2011 Ribera del Duero Spanish wine. Roxy recommended for another day one of their most popular dishes, Salteado . Was I pleased with my experience? See the highlight video above. Reservations recommended, and they offer catering.
I can’t believe they share recipes for their signature salad (above), popular Cuban sandwich, Mojitos and more here! Columbia’s makes not only guests happy but also servers and management who stay. Manager Richard Appelgren told me he came here from Chile in 1984: “It was my first job and I never left. I love it here.” When I asked how Covid-19 has affected business, he said they adhere to all safety measures and fill tables at 50%. He added, “People trust us, and that’s why they keep coming back.”
Around here exceptionally talented creatives aren’t just found on stages. They are found behind-the-scenes making magic. I love the stories of Executive Chef Nils and Chef Michelle . These culinary artists, a top-tier staff, an extensive wine list, and gorgeous setting make Element a favorite of local foodies and out-of-town guests. The modern dining rooms and candle-lit terraces make this restaurant a haven. Manager James Harries makes sure all feel welcome. My fun server, Phillipe, suggested the scallops. They were served on parmesan farro risotto with a citrus herb crumb topping and cucumber mint relish. The dish was incredible, and so was the white wine he turned me onto– a Sancerre named for the Upper Loire Valley in France. See highlights in video above. Recommendations recommended.
Morning Check out of Art Ovation Hotel
Private 3-hour tour of The Ringling with Virginia Harshman
An incredible behind-the-scenes look at the museums and Ca’ d’Zan will be featured in Part 3 of this series.
My condo was spacious–perfect for a family vacation. As always, my favorite room was the screened in lanai overlooking the pool, beach, and sea. I wasn’t there long enough to buy groceries or grill out, so for lunch I took a trolley a couple of miles down Midnight Pass Road to Siesta Key Village for oysters. (See video for highlights.) The sunset behind the Club was beautiful as expected, and I hear there’s a drum circle on Siesta Key Beach on Sundays at sunset. Check out other things to do here.
8:30 Dinner Ophelia’s on the Bay on Siesta Key
Ok, this is a Must-Do. Please see the video above with highlights. I understand why Ophelia’s on the Bay has received recognition from magazines such as Gourmet and Food and Wine. And why it is a popular wedding venue. In fact, a ceremony had just ended before I arrived. Owner Daniel Olson started working in his father’s restaurant in Maryland at age 14. In 2000 he moved to Sarasota and in 2004 became Executive Chef. His passion and creativity sustains a loyal following of locals and of tourists who always come back.
I loved eating under twinkling lights and a full moon reflected on the bay. I was thrilled to learn that my server, Cassy Belliveau. lived in Nashville six years and worked at one of my favorite restaurants there. She recommended what I believe was the best salad I’ve had in my life. The lobster and pasta made in-house are perfection. The creamy Champagne sauce made the dish so rich and delicious that I saved a bit to carry away for breakfast. Other recommendations are the Maryland Crab Cakes and the Eggplant Crepes, made with Mascarpone, Ricotta, Fontina, spinach, basil, and San Marzano Pomodoro Sauce–staples on the menu for twenty-five years. Reservations recommended.
Morning Check out of Sarasota Surf and Racquet Club
See the calendar of annual events in Digital Guide mentioned above — Pages 36-37. Below I’ve highlighted a few festivals and events happening in the next few months (one in November below) to get you started…
*Did you know the 12 Days of Christmas are December 25-January 5 anticipating The Epiphany/Three Kings Day on January 6? Did you know the largest Epiphany celebration in the northern hemisphere is in Tarpon Springs? Join me on a podcast tour of Tarpon Springs with Dr. Vincent Huth to learn more, plan a trip, plan a new life. See links below post for your Travel Bucket List to his Must Sees, Must Dos, and Must Eats.
When a friend and fellow world explorer told me he’d decided not to retire on the southern coast of Spain or Ireland as he’d planned–that he, in fact, was moving to the Gulf of Mexico in the US, I was surprised. But with the enthusiasm of Ponce de León, he told me about discovering Tarpon Springs, Florida a Greek Village of 24,000 so relaxed and affordable that he’d changed his course. Thanks to Anastasios Papapostolou of GreekReporter.com for permission to use this video:
I love Greece, so on a road trip to Anna Maria Island with my friend, Traci, we stopped to check out his new home. We caught up with fresh salads and a seafood pizza from Jimmy’s (which I’ve longed for since) at a seaside picnic table minutes from his house.
The pines swayed in the ocean breeze on that hot July day as did boats tied to the sponge docks we walked past after lunch. Along the historic main street we strolled past Hellenistic statues and quaint Greek shops. We stopped for dessert at Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery which alone is worth the trip. Sorry, Italy, but a cone of their Banana Foster is the best gelato I’ve ever had!
I plan to return for more walking (and biking and boating) to drink in more of the natural beauty of parks, beaches, and lakes surrounding a European-style city center of Victorian homes. Though the ancestors of Epicurus make this a place to eat, drink, and be merry, we somehow left feeling lighter. As for Vince, it’s obvious perfect weather, performing arts, gorgeous cathedrals and a close community quickens the spirit. Away from the madding crowds, such a Florida find is a sip from the fountain of youth and a taste of nectar from the gods.
Tarpon Springs, Florida, less than an hour from crowded Clearwater or Tampa, was built by Greek immigrants in 1875 who made a quaint village on the Gulf of Mexico the sponge capital of the world. Today the city still has more Greek-American residents than anywhere in the US and the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western hemisphere. January 6 typically draws over 10,000 visitors to watch boys dive as their grandfathers did for a cross thrown into the ocean.
Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost.
If the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Read on and when you’re sold and ready to make the move, check out Hello Landing for Denver apartment options and enjoy your new location with their pro advice: 6 Fun Things to Do in Denver for New Residents.
Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.
It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission. By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true?
Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams.
Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver
Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres. But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits. 🙂
Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore– hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe.
I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns. Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…
Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.
The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp
Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.
Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.
And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.
Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust” gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used. One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed:
“Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”
On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did. I didn’t order the Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting. We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.
I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…
On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall.
Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.
Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.
Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions? I want to buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)? I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from Tsing Tao and Azitra.
Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…