Why You Need to Go (Back) to Savannah, Georgia

Why You Need to Go (Back) to Savannah, Georgia

“Hostess City of the South”

When my Australian and world- traveling friend, Kate, recently visited me again in Nashville, we took off on a fall road trip. I wanted her to meet a beloved friend.

Savannah, Georgia is known as “Hostess City of the South” and was named by TIME one of 100 “World’s Greatest Places on Earth.” To me, Savannah is New Orleans’ sweet little sister.

She, too, has iron Juliette balconies, French courtyards, gorgeous gardens, coastal cuisine, and pirate lore. But Savannah is old-school charm pulsing with new-school energy. Artists from over 100 countries attend Savannah College of Arts and Design because they’re inspired by the location and can choose from over 100 programs in creative careers.

When my niece, Emily Lancaster Salgado, became a freshman at SCAD, the area became one of our family’s favorite destinations. Savannah appeals to people of all ages. NashVegas may be the #1 Bachelorette Party Place in the country, but last year Emily and her bridesmaids (mostly Nashville natives) opted out of honky-tonks, flatbed trucks, Daisy Dukes, and cowgirl boots. Instead, they sipped craft cocktails in 1920s sequin dresses in Gatsby-worth Speakeasies, had Hemingway-sized moveable feasts, shivered under Spanish moss and magnolias on a ghost tour, and sunned on Tybee Island Beach. Below you’ll see some of the experiences mentioned in the post.

A working seaport since 1744 with the largest National Historic Landmark District in the country, Savannah is perfect for a walkabout.

Explore 22 town squares from Bay Street to Forsyth Park.

Even in summer’s high humidity, subtropical gardens and spewing fountains offer shade and cooling mist. See Chippewa Square where Forest Gump was filmed.

Stroll past Gothic, Greek Revival, and Georgian homes as church bells ring.

Or take a trolley tour or pedicab to hear pirate tales from locals.

We started listening to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil — a true murder story set in Savannah —in the car. I hoped to finish before seeing the Mercer Williams House, but as is often the case when old friends reunite, we had too much catching up to do.

You know… some say Savannah is the most haunted city in the US.

Front steps and porches — many with classical design— are ubiquitous here. Some are so modest that I imagine Atticus Finch reading.to Scout in. a porch swing on one of them.

Pop in shops, or as Kate calls it, “have a snoop.”

In the Historic District, you’re allowed to carry an adult beverage in a plastic cup in one hand and munch on warm pralines like a kid from the other. There are also designer sweet shops. I LOVED Adam Turoni (below) where cases of chocolate are tucked into book shelves.

Stop in the JW Marriott, a former power plant repurposed as a luxury hotel. See a life-size, chrome-dipped dinosaur.

Sit a spell watching boats cruise the Savannah River from a rooftop.

Emily recommended Rocks on the Roof on the top floor of The Bohemian Hotel. Great place to get the lay of the land, see the sunset, and watch the moon rise.

Kate Woods of Morocco Bespoke

Savannah River

Savannah City View under Crescent Moon

Relax beside the Atlantic Ocean on Tybee Island.

Eat low country boil on the bayou. 

Where to Stay

We nostalgic Baby Boomers chose The Thunderbird Inn located just around the corner from the Historic District and the Riverfront. We were transported to the 60s when we heard Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons followed by Simon and Garfunkel piped around the property, smelled fresh popcorn and donuts in the lobby, and found RC Colas and Moon Pies in our room.

On previous trips with family I’ve enjoyed other options: a seaside rental on Tybee and the iconic Marshall House on Broughton Street.

*Check Savannah hotel deals here. Note: I have had good experiences using Travel Zoo but haven’t used the site for Savannah, so, as always, do your research before booking.

Where to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Most important tip in this post: Reservation. Reservation. Reservation.

Once upon a time, booking a table wasn’t required, not even at The Pirate’s House or J. Christopher’s for brunch. This time not doing so meant Kate and I sat at the bar for every brunch and dinner we had in the city. Emily and Kate’s daughter had suggested The Grey— the hottest place in town for its food, drinks, and history. Formerly a segregated bus station, the restaurant is founded on inclusion. Sadly the hostess said tables in the main dining room had been booked 60 days in advance. They are open for dinner only on Wednesday-Saturday. On Sunday, they serve brunch and dinner.

We did snag a seat in their bar car (first come, first served) then thanked our lucky stars when one of the few tables along the windows opened. My Old Fashioned and Beef stew … her champagne cocktail and first piece of chess pie… Perfection.

We ate at Savannah Seafood Shack where the crab cakes were good, but the bar space was cramped and the oysters a bit small.

We really enjoyed Saturday Brunch at Common Restaurant, located on East Broughton Street across Marshall House, where I ate my weight in fat raw oysters. The last night we had dinner at Corleone’s followed by takeaway treats next door at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, voted “Best Martinis” and “Best Desserts in Savannah” for the last 15 years. I saved my Banana Foster cheesecake for the next morning—an incentive to rise and shine before sunrise for the 8-hour trip back to Nashville. We did not have to wait for lunch at The Crab Shack On Tybee Island, a former fishing camp and must-do. Our secret? We arrived on Sunday when they opened. 

Emily’s other suggestions for next time…

Jen and Friends for martinis

The Artillery for drinks

Churchill’s

The Prohibition (Speakeasy beside Grey we wanted to do but it was booked)

Vic’s On the River for lunch or dinner (known for their she crab soup)

Wyld on the Marshes

Also on my Next Time list…

Arches Bar and The Olde Pink House Restaurant

1790 Inn

More time at SCAD Museum of Art.

See a show at the Savannah Theatre.

The American Prohibition Museum

Bonaventure Cemetery

We found the monument below thanking the Freedom Fighters for defending Savannah. They were one of the few Black regiments that fought in the Revolutionary War. Next time I want to visit the First African Baptist Church, the oldest Black church in North America.

We saw the Tybee Lighthouse but next time I’d like to go scouting for Megladon teeth.

FOR MORE ON SAVANNAH, GO HERE. Plan your trip around festivals here.

Leiper’s Fork for Weekend Escape or Road Trip Stopover

Leiper’s Fork for Weekend Escape or Road Trip Stopover

green and pink retro metal lawn chairs
Leiper’s Fork

Are you planning a southern road trip for Labor Day or fall? Do you live in Nashvegas and want to escape the crowds? Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee is worth a stop by or stay over. With the exception of seeing their Christmas parade (which is the ultimate small town holiday experience), I’d never spent time there until last this month. The location was selected for the Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk, and though it couldn’t have been farther from the one I did in Marrakesh (a city I loved for its creativity and chaos), I enjoyed slowing down in this serene place. Live music fires up later in the day, but the morning was cool and quiet. The town of about 600 has, over the years, moved (literally) folks like Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton there. I’m really sad I missed To Kill a Mockingbird with Richard Thomas (John Boy of The Waltons) when it was in Nashville, but in Leiper’s Fork, I could hear Atticus reading to Scout on the porch and John Boy telling the family goodnight.

Where to Stay: Pot N’ Kettle Cottages are popular. See photos of a couple of them below.

Where to Play: Wine Tastings, Whiskey Tastings, Live Music at Fox & Locke

Where to Shop: Pick-it Fence, Props

Where to Eat: Country Boy

Front Porches, Picket Fences, Tin Roofs

Pink Coneflower (center) is Tennessee’s State Flower
Crepe Myrtle (let)
Pickers Cottage

Backyard Gardens, Front Yard Gardens, Tomato Plants on the Porch

Wines in the Fork Creekside Tasting Room

Wines in the Fork has a tasting room and a huge backyard where you can sip and listen to the creek or a live band.

Props took me back to weekends, picnics, and road trips with Mama Lou and Granddaddy.

Leiper’s Fork Main Street

Lots to Peruse at the Pick-it-Fence

History in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee

Southern Gardens in Leiper’s Fork, TN
Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee

Textile Revival
25+ Southern Getaways You Haven’t Thought Of

25+ Southern Getaways You Haven’t Thought Of

At the Travel Media Meetup (recently held in Nashville at Fat Bottom Brewery where I’ll take you on a tour soon), I learned about escapes in 10 states. Some of these places I thought I knew. Others I knew nothing about.

Normally I don’t recommend any destination, hotel, restaurant, or event unless I’ve experienced it myself. Plans are in the works to do just that, but in the meantime, I want to share secrets too good to keep so you can explore these ideas when making plans for late summer or fall.

ALABAMA

MOBILE

Mobile, Alabama

Did you know Mobile, NOT New Orleans, is known as The Birthplace of the Original Mardi Gras? Or that you can celebrate Mardi Gras- style anytime and  hear the world famous Excelsior Band here? Want to take a kayak or airboat down “America’s Amazon”? Mobile has one of the largest and most bio-diverse wetland ecosystems in the world. In the U.S., it’s second only to the Mississippi Delta. The city is known for the “Three Southern Bs”: bayous, bays and beaches. And the Mobile Museum of Art is the largest museum of its kind from Tampa to New Orleans on the Gulf Coast. Learn more here.

FLORIDA

*I’ve been covering places I’ve discovered on the  west coast of the Sunshine State since 2020. Here are 3 new places on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts I  plan to explore soon (and one old friend I look forward to seeing again). 

AMELIA ISLAND

Fernandina Beach

This place came on my radar when a fellow writer recommended it and I saw that it’s one of the most dog-friendly cities in the state. The fact that it is two hours south of Savannah, Georgia (which I love) was intriguing.  Now that I know more, I’m obsessed.  I’ll save more reasons for the feature I’ll be writing because I plan to heed the call to “Come Make Memories” soon. I can’t wait to  photograph and video my way across the island and on the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, Nassau Sound and Cumberland Sound. Then there’s the state’s oldest lighthouse, the historic downtown area of Fernandina Beach, the food. Learn more here and stay tuned… 

JACKSONVILLE

Jacksonville, Florida

If you’re into shorelines, this city has 1,100 miles of navigable water and 22 miles of beaches — more than any other in the state. With 10 State & National Parks and more than 400 City Parks and gardens, you’re within 15 minutes of a hiking, biking, fishing, or camping adventure. You got to love a city that has Porch Fest (Nov. 5, 2022), a free festival with food and live music played on porches and in parks in Springfield, downtown Jacksonville. Like Amelia Island, JAX is dog-friendly, and because of the proximity of these two relaxing spots, I plan to do them together. 

DESTIN-FT. WALTON

Henderson Beach Sate Park

This area is nostalgic for me. I’ve spent amazing vacations here with friends and family, but it has been too long. I’m excited to return with new eyes this fall after learning about the area’s new offerings. Did you know Destin is called “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and has the largest commercial charter fishing fleet in the country? More than 140 vessels bring in thousands of pounds of seafood daily. Deep sea fishing and eating my own catch has been on my Bucket List for a LONG time. A couple of more fun facts: Did you know Destin- Fort Walton has a Greek Festival? Did you know BOTE paddle boards are made here? At the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Virtual Media event one lucky attendee won one. Do you know who? YAY!

A Media Tour is in the works, so stay tuned for features on this area. …  For now, learn more here.

PENSACOLA

This one was listed on Trip Advisor’s 2021 Top 15 Beaches in the U.S. My niece —  who has beach-hopped across the Gulf of Mexico and recently discovered Pensacola — says it’s now her go-to  place. I have a list of reasons from her and other fans I’ve talked to. Hopefully I’ll share them from first-hand experience in a feature soon.

You can still catch Bands on the Beach — a free lineup of regional artists until October 25 at the Gulfside Pavilion on Pensacola Beach. Blues Angel Music’s Blues on the Bay is another free summer concert series held at the Community Maritime Park Hunter Amphitheater on select Sunday evenings through August 21. Learn more here.

GEORGIA

ATLANTA

I took my first solo flight to this city when I was in fourth grade. When my daughter was a young teen, we did a shopping trip to Buckhead for her birthday and ate our weight in sushi. Since then, much has changed. Two recent additions are Illuminarium, a new immersive entertainment setting and event space that features the world’s first virtual safari and an outdoor cocktail bar with ever-changing scenery. Chattahoochee Food Works, located in the heart of the Upper Westside, is a 31-vendor, 25,000 square-foot food hall that opened in mid-May. Whether passing through or making a vacation of it, this town has a lot to offer. See here.

PERRY

I knew nothing of Perry until the Travel Media Meetup. Now I’m impressed with all of their signature events. Having grown up with the Western Kentucky State Fair at the end of my street — the biggest annual event in town — I appreciate a good fair. Perry is home to the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, the LARGEST fairgrounds in the country. The midway was designed by the same people who designed Disney World. Last year 500,000+ people attended. Catch it in October and see what else is happening in Perry.

KENTUCKY

GLASGOW-BARREN COUNTY

You can see cheesemaking at Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in my home state. Oh, and you can take a field trip like I did as a child to an UNESCO World Heritage site. I was amazed then at the size of Mammoth Cave, but having seen UNESCO sites in other countries, I  realize how cool the title is. Travel + Leisure recently named Mammoth Cave the most beautiful place in Kentucky. I love that it’s also the longest known cave system in the world.   Learn more here

Mammoth Cave

THE KENTUCKY WILDLANDS

I grew up in Western Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and have seen a handful of other places in the state. When I saw the ancient forests, waterfalls, lakes and more  — 14,000 square miles of eastern and southern Kentucky — called The Kentucky Wildlands, I was amazed. The hardest part is choosing which adventure to do first. Stay tuned and I’ll show you what I decided. In the meantime, watch the video below and learn more here.. www.explorekywildlands.com/  

SHELBY KY (Shelbyville, Simpsonville, & Shelby County)

Though I lived on a Lexington thoroughbred farm, I had no idea the American Saddlebred Capital of the World was just an hour away. Shelby County has 90 farms and equine facilities. Here you can ride trails or jump off the Kentucky Bourbon trail and stay awhile. I didn’t realize my favorite bourbon and rye whiskey — Bulleit — is made here (my go-to for Mint Juleps and Madhattans.) Here’s to touring the Bulleit Frontier. Learn more about this area here

LOUISIANA

MONROE-WEST MONROE

Monroe-West Monroe promises experiences “outside the lines.” I see why with the Duck Commander Tour (as in A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty) where you can track the Robertsons’ adventures; the Biedenharn Museum where you can wander formal English gardens, a Coca-Cola Museum, and a Bible Museum; and the Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge and more here.  

MISSISSIPPI

MERIDIAN

This city claims to have the oldest live-music scene in Mississippi. After the Civil War, railroads made Meridian the largest in the state. Between 1890 and 1930 touring musicians stopped to play in clubs on their way to New Orleans. Music is still the heart of Meridian. Here’s what it offers Music Lovers now.  (I’d love to see EmmyLou Harris at MSU Riley Center December 9). At WelArts + Entertainment Experience (THE MAX) learn how Mississippi was muse to William Faulkner, Eurdora Welty, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis, B.B. King, Jim Henson, and Oprah Winfrey. 

NORTH CAROLINA

One of my favorite authors, Jill McCorkle, is from a small town in North Carolina. If your coming-of-age story is in the U.S. South, too, take  Ferris Beach, The Cheer Leader, or one of her other novels with you when you vacation below.

BRUNSWICK ISLANDS

Coastal Living Magazine named Southport “America’s Happiest Seaside Town.” I can’t wait to explore where some of my favorite movies were made for an upcoming feature. Stay tuned…. On Brunswick Islands you can photograph and video sunrises and sunsets over the sea without moving your beach chair. And if you’re an oyster lover, too… this year is the 41st anniversary of the North Carolina Oyster Festival which will be held October 14 & 16. More info here.

BRYSON CITY

Fontana Lakeview Bath

Ever soaked in a tub above a lake? Or slept in a chicken coop? A floating house? A tiny home? Bryson City offers unique ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains. On both Deep Creek and the Oconaluftee River you can rent tubes. There’s also whitewater rafting, Fontana Lake swimming holes, waterfalls, and the PolarExpress® (record scratch) on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Whether you visit in water-sport season or the holidays when the town transforms into a Hallmark movie, you’ll have a unique experience in Bryson City. See more here.

PolarExpress® on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

CURRITUCK

I’ve wanted to get to the Outer Banks for a LONG time. I’ve wanted to see Corollas — descendants of Spanish mustangs — in my dreams. Knowing what Currituck offers, I fear that once I get there, (sing it like Mick J.) “wild horses couldn’t drive me away.” If you’re with me, start making plans here

PINEHURST, SOUTHERN PINES, ABERDEEN AREA

If you’re a linkster, you should love this area which is said to be “The Home of American Golf.” If you’re not, there are other things to do … especially eat. This destination appeals to foodies and those who would love a  Sandhills of North Carolina Pour Tour Passport.  Learn more here.  

WILMINGTON AND BEACHES

Wilmington Riverwalk

Wilmington, recently named one of the “South’s Best Cities on the Rise” by Southern Living, offers a Riverwalk, historic downtown, coastline, and Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park — one of Live Nation’s only music venues located by the water. . In addition to Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville beaches, you can enjoy museums, a water park, farm and sea-to-table restaurants, and live music. Grab a bite at Zombie Fresh Kitchen indoors or outdoors on the dog-friendly patio. At Catawba Brewing Co. choose from 24 craft beers and hard seltzers on tap, or at Panacea Brewing Company, have a hard and non-alcoholic Kombucha. Learn more here.

SOUTH CAROLINA

OLD 96 DISTRICT

On trips to the Gulf as a child, my family would always stop in Georgia at roadside stands to buy peaches. Did you know that South Carolina produces more peaches than Georgia… that Georgia is the 2nd largest producer of the fruit behind California… and that SC peaches are DELICIOUS?  While sampling one, I learned that peaches were first documented in China in the 10th century, and that Titan Farms in Edgefield, SC is the largest peach grower on the East Coast with over 6,000 acres of peaches in production. 

I also learned that this area — Abbeville,   Edgefield,  Greenwood, Laurens, and McCormick — loves hosting girl getaways. There are bed and breakfasts. I’ve done Charleston and Hilton Head with friends, but going off the beaten trail would be fun, too. Abbeville, where Julia Roberts filmed Sleeping with the Enemy, has colorful buildings like those in Charleston and Dublin.  Learn more here

ABBEVILLE

TENNESSEE

*Lots of options for planning here.

Ken Burns Country Music Pathway  – get the  digital passport available online through Oct. 18, 2022 to visit nearly two dozen iconic music destinations in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Country Music.

CHATANOOGA

If you’ve seen the sign “See Rock City” your whole life but never have, the 90th Anniversary of this attraction may be your year. Summer Music Weekends are part of the celebration if you’re passing through. Here’s a playlist to take you there

CLARKSVILLE

I grew up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky less than 30 miles up the road from Clarksville. As a kid, I’d cross the border to eat at Shakey’s Pizza; as a teen, to go to a club called Water Works; and as an adult, to attend a Fort Campbell officers’ picnic at Beach Haven Winery. 

Beachaven is still going strong. Their Jazz on the Lawn summer series is scheduled for August 20 and October 22. On non-Jazz weekends, you can enjoy live acoustic music on the lawn Saturdays and Sundays through October. But as for the rest… I had no idea how much Clarksville has changed!

Downtown @ Sundown is a concert series featuring local and regional music. Held on the first and third Fridays from May through October, their lineup includes Hot Lanta, Beatles VS Stones, and  The Eagles Project on August 19 I hope to see.

Old Glory is now a small-batch artisan distillery. Star Spangled Brewing Company claims to be “The Most Unapologetically Patriotic Brewery in America.” It turns out there’s a lot to say “Cheers” about with all the new craft beer breweries in town. I also took for granted Clarksville’s location. Check out these day trips. And I’m looking forward to a night trip to The Mail Room opening in August in Clarksville’s historic federal building. They’ll be serving Korean and South American cuisine and bringing people together on their outdoor deck with fire pits. 

GATLINGBURG

Mount Le Conte

I have some wonderful memories here — a girl getaway on a mountaintop, romantic escapes, and  day trips from Knoxville with my son… but I’ve barely started exploring all this area offers. If you’re into outdoor sports, nature, chalets, hot tubs, artisans who give you “Create Your Own” experiences, power shopping, Christmas decor on steroids, comfort food, and/or areas so beautiful they can’t be described with words… the mountains are calling. Join me in Gatlinburg soon. 

KNOXVILLE

I love this town. If you have a Lego fan in the house, the Brickuniverse Lego Fan Convention will be here August 13-14.

MEMPHIS

See the new Elvis movie, then celebrate The King during Elvis Week 2022 August 9-17. Go all- in by staying at Graceland or go all- out on Beale Street and stay at Caption by Hyatt , a new tech-forward hotel using recycled and repurposed materials. 

NASHVILLE

(Get my Homegirl Guide here.)

UNION STATION NASHVILLE YARDS

I am soooo looking forward to an upcoming Staycation here. With accolades from US Today, Conde Nast and local publications like The The Tennessean, Nashville Lifestyles and more, The Union Station Nashville Yards is proud to be named “Best Southern Boutique Hotel,”“Best Haunted Hotel in the South,”“Sexiest New Restaurant in Nashville” and more. Plan your stay here.

RUTHERFORD COUNTY

Earth Experience

Have you seen the new Jurassic Park movie? It was a wild ride. Did you know Tennessee has Frank, our own r 38-foot-long T. Rex skeleton? At Earth Experience, the first natural history museum in middle Tennessee, you can see a working paleontology laboratory where dinosaur bones are cleaned and repaired as well as archeological relics from as far away as Antarctica. Drop by. I will. Though I’m a member of the English Department at Middle Tennessee State University (and you’re welcome to drop by campus, too), I didn’t know we had such a cool interactive attraction like this one. See more the area has to offer here.

VIRGINIA

VIRGINIA’S BLUE RIDGE

Here you get the best of many worlds – city amenities in Roanoke and Salem — outdoor adventures on the Appalachian Trail, and Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve driven it and understand why some call it America’s Favorite Drive . Actually, the road itself is a national treasure. See why here

Summer Staycation in Nashville or Wherever YOU Live

Summer Staycation in Nashville or Wherever YOU Live

Twelve summers ago, I did a blog series on staycations in Nashville, my home of 30+ years. While there’s no more Pangea, Jackson’s, Las Paletas, Hermitage Cafe, or Rotier’s, sadly, we still are known for our “Music Under the Magnolias.” National Geographic named us the #1 City in the World to visit in June for the CMA festival (June 9-12), nearby Bonnaroo (June 16-19), and Full Moon Pickin’ Parties. Check out the calendar for live music at Nashville Scene.

Download my updated Nashville Guide below for staycations and vacations in my city, and read on for more ways to take a staycation in Nashville or wherever you live.

In the last 9 years, I’ve lived in six homes in three countries. Now I get up with the fishermen and my neighbor’s rooster. to see the sun rising on the Cumberland River/Old Hickory Lake. For the first time, I can see the sunrise, sunset, and moon from my outdoor space.

Summer (sing it like Andy Williams) is “the most wonderful time of the year.” Since I was five, I’ve started a new school year in August. Since I was five, I’ve been more excited about summer break. I love teaching at a university, loved teaching abroad, and have great memories of teaching in Nashville, Tennessee before that. But summer has always felt like FREEDOM because it provides TIME… to learn, to explore, to reconnect, to rest. Summer calls me to come out and play, to experience wonders at whim. I collect them …like lightening bugs in a jar…and see all that glows.

Traveling provides adventures and new perspectives. So can staying home.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

A different perspective can make this summer or any season good.

Summer can provide a respite. With war abroad and at home, shootings, inflation, gas prices, and work/financial/health and/or relationship challenges, we need peace. Seeing your hometown in a different light (literally) can be surprising. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time watching sunsets with locals and other travelers who gather on Florida’s western coast. Seeing the golden orb dip into the ocean, melt into the sea, and vanish from the horizon is magic to me. One day I hope to live near the ocean, but after living in Nashville 30+ years, I’ve realized over the last six weeks how beautiful sunrises, sunsets, and summer moons are here, too.

Slowing down and getting outside lowers blood pressure and heart rate. The sun provides Vitamin D for improved mood. Even 20 minutes in a green space makes us mentally happier and healthier.  And bonus, it makes us more productive.

Here are 7 easy ways to slow down in Nashville or wherever you live this summer. DO try this at home.

1. Watch sunrises, sunsets, and full moons whenever, wherever possible. 

In a world of so much flux, knowing the sun will rise and set daily is comforting. No two sunrises or sunsets are the same, a reminder that change in the hands of the Creator can be a beautiful thing. I’m reminded that the One who paints the heavens has got this. I pray for answers… miracles I need. Until answers come… even if they never come… I feel childlike wonder again and peace.

See large files of photos here.

Other places to watch the sunrise and sunset in Nashville: Pedestrian Bridge, Acme Feed & Seed rooftop, Love Circle, Westin, Natchez Trace Bridge. 

The higher the altitude, the better, but you may meet a scary bird with a a wingspan of more than 3 feet that lands on the branch of a giant oak and eyeballs you with a Meet the Parents Circle of Trust stare.

2. Take a walk for mind, body, and spirit. Walking inspires creativity. Creativity improves your health.

A student in my literature class,” The English Romantics and their Legacy: Sustainability, Social Justice, and Self-Discovery,”researched how walking in nature — particularly the UK’s Lake District — not only inspired the subjects and themes of William Wordsworth’s poetry but also charged his brain with the creativity needed to write it. Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other writers at Brook Farm considered walking crucial for creativity. So did Charles Dickens. Psychology now supports the theory.

In my “Travel Tales” course I encourage writers do Photo Walks. I did my first Photo Walk in Marrakesh. With so much stimuli, it was a way to focus (literally). Walking and shooting arouses curiosity, jumpstarts creativity, and provides a way to remember details when writing later.

I checked out my new neighborhood in Old Hickory Village (below) just as I did when I moved to Marrakesh and Santo Domingo. Like always, I enjoyed finding historical homes, gorgeous gardens, and quirky yard and window decorations.

Other historic neighborhoods for a photo walk in or near Nashville: 12th South (see tea party below), East Nashville, Downtown Franklin. Best nature walks at Radnor Lake, Edwin Warner Park, Percy Warner Park.

3. Create a relaxing outdoor space (patio, porch, deck, balcony) or claim one (in a park or sidewalk cafe) for a staycation/home office.

Colorful fabric or pillows make me happy. Bird feeders invite fine feathered friends. Watching them makes me smile.

Grow something that looks, smells, and tastes good.

When the kids were little, we had three gardens and fifty roses in our yard. Apartment living meant downsizing to container gardens in Morocco, my cabin in the woods/cottage in the shire, and now. My last apartment was tucked away in a hollow in the hills, Ella and I were 5 minutes from walks at Edwin Warner Park and less than 10 minutes from Percy Warner Park and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Deer, Canadian geese, ducks, chipmunks, and woodpeckers were regulars around our patio. But with all the trees, sun-loving plants didn’t do so well. This summer my garden has plenty of sun with a balcony facing east and north/west. So, I went a little crazy…

What to Plant

Check out your zone.

I begin visiting nurseries like Moore and Moore Garden Center in February and by March stalking the garden sections of Lowe’s and Home Depot. In Tennessee, my list starts with herbs for cooking that didn’t make it through the winter. Sing it like Simon & Garfunkel:

  • Parsley (Italian)
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Lavender
  • Basil (when weather is warmer)
  • Cilantro
  • Mint

*My never-lets-me-down-drought- resistant-reminds- me- of-Switzerland-all-time- favorite: pink geraniums. They even survived last winter.

Morning sun…

  • Hydrangeas (Blue, White)

Shade

  • Boston Fern

Aromatherapy

  • Jasmine
  • Gardenia tree (needs intense morning sun, afternoon shade)
  • Roses
  • Petunias
  • Stock

Tribute to Morocco

  • Bougainvillea
  • Lime tree
  • Lemon tree
  • Olive tree

4. Invite friends over.

Whether serving burgers straight from the grill, Aperol Spritzes on a balcony while planning a trip to Italy, or cucumber sandwiches at High Tea on the terrace, making time to catch up with people who feed your soul makes life richer. Walking with friends to my favorite neighborhood restaurant works, too. Anywhere outside.

Nachos, pizza, fish tacos, and the best baby back ribs I’ve had at Sam’s at Turtle Bay. The cocktail list will transport you to the beach

Southern hospitality comes in many forms. My friend Beth makes the best summer dishes from her backyard garden. Nora extends invitations to swim in her creek in Watertown and camp out on her farm for an anniversary throwdown.

In my summer newsletter (subscribe in popup on Home Page), I share recipes for outdoor gatherings. Carol Ashworth, Airbnb property owner (recommended in my Nashville guide), world traveler, and hostess of her much-loved Daffodil Tea Party, shares her mother’s Italian Cream cake recipe and more. Her soirées have included tributes to Queen Elizabeth who made history this year with 70 years of service. Celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, magnolia blossoms in bloom, or just the season for sitting in the shade and sipping Earl Grey, wine, or whisky from a teacup… Carol’s hosting tips are useful for all kinds of outdoor parties. I’ll also share tips on tea parties for children.

5. Make your bath a spa.

Scented candles, bubbles, essential oils, music, ocean sounds, or meditation … a glass of wine (or coffee which I did when my kids were little and the only quiet time I had was before school). Certain scents (and rose petals in the water) transport me back to Moroccan baths in riads known for relaxations like this one.

Note: There are affiliate links to Amazon products below (at no cost to the customer), and I only recommend what I’ve used and been pleased with myself.

6. Explore your city (or come explore ours).

A popular staycation post was the one below. The teacher in me still believes learning is fun. From Van Gogh to the American Artisan Festival to hanging out with old friends on the Big Screen in Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic Park Dominion, and Thor: Love and Thunder, summer can be educational and epic . I plan to do all of the above plus check out sail clubs near me for lessons.

Big Band Dances in Centennial Park

If you have a film, see the extended June deadline to enter.

7. Il bel far niente. Discover what Italians call “the beauty of doing nothing.”

Lie beside a pool. Read or listen to a book, music, or guided meditation… nap on a porch swing, hammock, or quilt under a tree.

Check out: Nashville Guru’s List of Pools You Can Enjoy This Summer

And if you aren’t in Nashville or are and want a private experience, you might try “Swimply.” I can’t recommend what I haven’t done myself, but this “Airbnb of pools” idea sounds interesting.

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

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. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

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.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

*The post below was published in December of 2021 naming Fort Myers a 2022 Best Destination. As of this update published on October 16 2022, Fort Myers is rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Ian (see NPR photos below).

https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2022/09/29/1125903958/hurricane-ian-florida-photos

To find out ways to help, please go here:

https://www.fortmyersbeach.org/hurricane-ian-recovery-how-you-can-help/

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. 

Built in 1901 as the Bradford Hotel, The Arcade Theatre opened in 1914 as a Vaudeville house and in the 1920s became a movie theater.

Why Travel?

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. )

View of Fort Myers Bridge from Luminary Hotel Rooftop

Finds in The Franklin Shops on Main Street, Fort Myers, reminded me that travel inspires us to…

Inspiration found in Franklin Shops, Main Street, Fort Myers

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.

Main Street Fort Myers, Florida
The original Ford’s Garage (located on Main Street just a few blocks from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates) is the place for craft beer and a burger. Vintage Fords and gas pumps give it a 1920s service station feel while the copper bar recalls the Speakeasys.
And speaking of Speakeasys, Capone’s
You could make a day of exploring vintage and consignment shops here.

Other Reasons to Choose Fort Myers for a Getaway

Location

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.

My romance with Fort Myers Beach started in 2020. In April 2021, my daughter and I recharged and reconnected on Captiva Island. In early December 2021, I returned for an unforgettable writing conference and community event (more on that later), then ended the week solo in downtown Fort Myers at Luminary. 

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.

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, start here.

I’ve used Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) twice and Dolphin Transportation and Punta Gorda Airport (Allegiant Air) once, both about a 30-minute drive from downtown Fort Myers.

When you arrive, you can also pick up the Southwest Florida Guide to the Arts: Gulfshore Life with a listing of events and coupons in the back with discounts.

Just a few of Hundreds of Happenings in 2022

Florida Rep‘s A Doll’s House, 2 and Driving Miss Daisy

Gulfshore Opera‘s A Night in Italy, Songs of Ireland, Tosca

Broadway Palm Dinner Theater‘s Singin’ in the Rain, Escape to Margarittaville, and In the Heights

Gulfcoast Symphony concerts from Led Zeppelin to Frank to Billy Jo

In March, the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival and Parade

In May, Fort Myer Film Festival

In June Captivaville

More here

Edison and Ford Winter Estates Lighting Up the Holidays and Inspiring All Year

Edison and Ford Winter Estates Lighting Up the Holidays and Inspiring All Year

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.” 

Thomas Edison

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.

13 of Edison’s lights are in the home.
Edison built the pier first so materials from Maine could be shipped via river to build his new home. There was no train here until 1904 or good roads until after 1910.
“It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.” — Henry David Thoreau
On the 20 acres are more than 1,700 plants of 400 species from six continents.
I agree with Lisa Wilson, Marketing & Public Relations Director and my tour guide. The Moonlight Garden is my favorite space, too. In 1928 Edison built it behind his new study. (See video.) Photo: Courtesy Edison Ford Winter Estates
Edison built the first residential swimming pool in Fort Myers. The only other pool was at a hotel.
Almost as large as the Banyan tree (thought to be the largest in the continental US) planted in the late 1920s (located outside the museum) is Mysore Fig this one near the River. See both in the video. The roots are as tall and thick as park benches. Under its shade many couples have wed.
Palm trees are not only ubiquitous on the property but along McGregor Boulevard where the Estates are located. Once cattle were driven here to Punta Rassa to be shipped to Cuba. where the Estates From Central Florida, cattle drives went right through town and down the river to the port at Punta Rassa, where cattle would be shipped to Cuba.
Stroll by roses, coconuts, citrus trees, lilies, succulents, and flowering shrubs.

Darth Vader Tree Under the Stars at the Edison Ford Estates

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.

The Lilly Pond was added in 1929
The Luminary Hotel is where I stayed just a short Uber or Lyft ride or walk away.

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.”

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone who formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC) in 1927.
Photo courtesy of Edison Ford Estates

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.

Judy, one of many passionate volunteers, shared fun facts for music lovers of all ages.

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.”

Getting There

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.

You might also like this:

Botanical Gardens in Morocco

Botanical Gardens in Nashville, TN

Visit Florida

Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

In 2021 I had two of the best Florida stays of my life. One was on Captiva Island with my daughter, and the other was on Sanibel Island with a group of amazing women at The Gift for the Sea Writing Retreat and Community Celebration. Rebuilding efforts of both are ongoing after the devastation left by Hurricane Ian. To help rebuild, the Captiva-Sanibel Chamber posted this link:

https://gofund.me/67e6e290

Below is the post after my stay in April 2021:

Disclosure: A huge thank you to South Seas Island Resort and The Beaches of Ft. Meyers & Sanibel for their hospitality during our sponsored stay. As always, the opinions below 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.

Sunrise seen from our balcony at South Seas Island Resort

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.

Only in paradise would bunnies live in bushes just around the corner from the bird who lives here. (Unless otherwise noted, photos and videos by Cindy and Taylor McCain).

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.

Taylor and Cindy McCain
deserted beach
Deserted beaches at South Seas Island Resort Photo Credit: Taylor McCain
Blue house and palm trees
Captiva Island Photo: Taylor McCain

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).

A short drive or ride away are area attractions including J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Lighthouse Beach and the spring training facilities of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. In addition, the resort is half a mile from downtown Captiva with its shops and restaurants, including the Bubble Room and Mucky Duck.

South Seas Island Resort Trolley Time Photo by Taylor McCain

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.

South Seas Island Resort Credit: Taylor McCain

On the bay behind us were rooms overlooking the Yacht Harbor.

For a large family, there are vacation rentals and uber luxurious two-six bedroom Homes of Distinction. Family portraits are available and fantasy wedding venues.

MUST- DOs, MUST- EATS, and A DON’T MISS

Excursion to Cabbage Key

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.

Dolphin Watch on Lady Chadwick of Captiva Cruises
Cabbage Key Aerial Shot Photo:
Cabbage Key, Florida
Guests have attached dollar bills to the walls of the main dinning room of the Cabbage Key Inn.
Cabbage Key Inn is hopping, so put in your name upon arrival and explore while you wait.
Loved eating on the terrace overlooking the water
Cabbage Key Inn’s Cheeseburger in Paradise
Stone Crab Claws
The Planter’s Punch, Red Snapper, Their Special of the Day, and slaw-Delicious
After lunch, I explored on my own which included climbing to the top of the tower seen here in the background. See the video above for my bird’s eye view.
Ok, when I saw the sign below I decided to take the road less traveled AFTER I went back and grabbed a couple of friends. For someone who considers herself a mermaid, I sadly also have a thing for shark and gator movies 🙂

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.

YOGA

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.

Warming up for the Day with Ambu Yoga

MUST EAT

The Harborside Bar and Grill

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.

DON’T MISS

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.

hammock and palm trees
Sunset Beach, South Seas Island Resort Photo by Taylor McCain
Final Sunset with New Friends
Beach dinner by Tacos and Tequila followed by S’mores
Jalapeno Margarita Toast on Sunset Beach

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.

Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea

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.

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Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

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? 

The Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

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. 

Doge’s Palace, New Year’s Eve, 2015

Doge’s Palace

Ca’ d’Zan Photo Courtesy of The Ringling

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.

John and Mabel Ringling

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. 

Ca’ d’Oro, Venice taken New Year’s Day, 2016

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. 

Ballroom Ceiling

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.)

Everywhere you look there is regal beauty. John Ringling’s bedroom