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.

Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

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.