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.

2022 Best Destinations: Fort Myers, Florida for Winter Holidays and All Seasons

2022 Best Destinations: Fort Myers, Florida for Winter Holidays and All Seasons

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

Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

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.

Silver&Fit International Classes For Travel to Punta Cana, Cabo San Lucas, & Montego Bay From Home

Silver&Fit International Classes For Travel to Punta Cana, Cabo San Lucas, & Montego Bay From Home

Disclosure: I received compensation for trying the Silver&Fit International class offerings. As always, I endorse only products and services I’ve personally used. I recommend only brands with missions based on values that align with mine. The opinions below are my own. 

Disclosure:There are Amazon Affiliate links below for which I am paid a small amount for purchases. They do not affect the buyer’s price.

 

I do love a beach. Especially now. 

Last week my city, Nashville, Tennessee was frozen for days. Ice, snow and subfreezing temperatures buried cars, stopped garbage trucks, and even cancelled (gasp) my Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods delivery orders. Meanwhile… escape artist that I am, I was beach-hopping. I took a trip to the sunny shores of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic–a country where I lived 2016-17. I traveled by way of Silver&Fit International Series– FREE to the public on Facebook and YouTube

One of the nation’s leading healthy aging and exercise programs, Silver&Fit was created for adults 50+ to live their most vibrant lives. Each daily International Class is filmed in various dream destinations. All classes–Cardio, Strength, Yoga, Dance, Flex and Balance, Mixed Format, Tai Chi– are offered at all fitness levels so my mom can exercise on virtual trips, too. 

The program combines travel, exercise, sunshine, and the ocean–all scientifically to improve mood. As a travel writer, my goal is to not only transport readers vicariously to amazing locations but also to move them–literally–to travel for physical, mental, and spiritual health. Travel can reduce long-term stress, anxiety, and the risk of heart disease. Studies at University of Surrey and Cornell show that even just planning a trip makes us happier. Taking classes from teachers in these locations of beauty can inspire planning an actual adventure there for one day. 

Silver&Fit offers many workouts– including 9 live classes streamed daily on Facebook and YouTube, 6 days per week. Recordings are posted so videos are available anytime, anywhere. Instructors are inclusive and encouraging–suggesting you use the belt of a robe or sand in a bottle if you’re on vacation or at the beach.

I did 30-minute yoga and cardio classes for my first getaways. They reduced anxiety and Covid fatigue, made it easier to keep up with daily fitness goals for 2021, and were fun. 

I enjoyed Stephanie’s International Cardio Class for building strength and endurance filmed in Huatulco, Mexico. I’m thinking my next destination abroad might be Mexico, and I’ve been curious about Oaxaca for awhile. Jump rope could be good for jump starting the morning. The shadow boxing could be great for a burst of late afternoon energy. I’d been needing a pandemic punching bag.

Jumping rope in Silver&Fit Cardio Class

Shadow boxing

I loved Jill’s International Yoga Class –one of the most popular–filmed at Montego Bay. I could blame losing my balance a couple of times on Ella, but I’ll fess up. I hadn’t done a class since last month. It was good to get back on track. Yoga is great during lunch breaks to release stress and strain from teaching and writing in front of a computer screen all day. 

International Yoga With Silver&Fit Instructor Jill on Montego Bay

Silver&Fit International Yoga Class Montego Bay

Stretching and cooling down

My knees greatly appreciated De De’s International Flexibility & Balance Class in beautiful Cabo San Lucas. A classy, career professional, she has worked with athletes and celebrities. 

Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, a marine biologist and author of Blue Mind, found that exercising near water or the ocean can relax the mind even more. I have always preferred walking or biking–really any activity–in an outdoor, beautiful setting VS a gym with blaring music or tvs. Thus, Joli’s International Yoga class, filmed in Mexico at sunrise just a few feet from the tide, was a wonderful workout and gets my Best Beach Experience Award.  

In Marrakesh I became addicted to pool days. Pretty pools are backdrops an added bonus to Kelly’s International Yoga Class in Punta Cana and Joanie’s International Flexibility & Balance class in Montego Bay and. 

Follow The Silver & Fit Facebook Page for weekly and daily schedules as well as Live Stream alerts. There you’ll find an active community that shares educational articles, fun challenges, tips, recipes, and photos. If you try a class, let me know what you think. If you know someone who would benefit from this info, please share. 

Go to ​www.SilverandFit.com​

www.facebook.com/silverandfit


www.youtube.com/silverandfit


https://www.instagram.com/silverandfit/


www.twitter.com/silverandfit


https://silverandfitathome2.splashthat.com/

#silverandfit #healthyaging #sponsored #something for everyone

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

Mabel and John painted on The Playroom ceiling

Some guest rooms, such this one where Will Rogers often stayed, were closed due to Covid

Everyday feels like a holiday at Ca’ de’Zan

 

3) Lovers of Art and History

After Ca’ d’Zan was completed, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the courtyard stands a cast bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David purchased from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy.  It’s now the symbol of the City of Sarasota on Florida’s Cultural Coast.

The Ringling, Sarasota, Florida’s Cultural Coast

Ringling Courtyard Photo Courtesy of VistSarasota.com

 Inside are collections of Classical and Modern Masters. In 1931, two years after the death of Mabel, John opened the museum to the public to promote “education and art appreciation, especially for our young people.” In 1936 he left it to the state of Florida upon his death. See the video above on the Rubens Gallery, the family crest John had designed, and Modern Art exhibits, such as the photography series, A Girl and Her Room . A world-class cultural center, The Ringling Art Museum was just awarded another grant–this one from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

At the Museum of Art and Education Center budding artists,  Artists in Residence, and teachers find resources, professional development, and inspiration. 

4) Lovers of Theater/Performing Arts

The Historic Asolo Theater itself, once in the castle in Asolo, Italy of Queen Caterina Cornaro, Venetian-born widow of the King of Cyprus is a MUST-SEE.

It has been restored and moved into the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, designed by Yann Wemouth, architect for the Pyramide du Lovre, East Wing of the National Gallery in D.C. and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. See performing arts schedule here.

5) Lovers of Glass Art

Grouped by country of origin, works of art from the studio glass movement from the 1940s to the present are in the Glass Pavilion here.

5) Lovers of Gardens and Gorgeous Landscapes

In the 66-acre paradise are waterfront gardens and a Level II Arboretum with 100 different species of trees to hug. John and Mabel are buried in the Secret Garden below.

Secret Garden

6) Lovers of Cinderella Stories, Business, and Finance

The Ringling family story is fascinating. In 1927 John Ringling, one of the wealthiest men in the world, made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the circus. In addition to owning “The Greatest Show on Earth” he invested in oil, railroads, Madison Square Garden, and his community. When he died his estate appraised at $23.5 million, and he had $311 in the bank. Business Insider gives an in-depth analysis here.  

7) The Circus and Circus Movies

Ok, I admit it. I’ve saved the best for near-last.  One of my favorite movies as a child wasThe Greatest Show on Earth  which I watched again this week while writing this piece. Director Cecil B. DeMille traveled with the circus for research and John North, John Ringling’s nephew, plays himself in the film as he tries to save the show in changing times. I loved seeing Sarasota where it was filmed–especially the parade down Main Street which included locals as extras. When it was made, there was no Walt Disney World; time under the Big Top was the premiere happy place for children. The movie was the highest grossing film of the year. Though some critics didn’t agree with it winning Best Picture, I’m with  Stephen Spielberg, another fan. He said it was the first movie he ever saw and it inspired his film career.  Since my mom’s generation, kids would say, “I’m goin’ run away and join the circus!” Swinging from a trapeze in sequins and feathers still looks pretty fun to me. 

Check out Sarasota’s Circus Legacy and Circus Museum here. Don’t miss the world’s largest model circus (see video) and special exhibits, like Circus and Suffragists

9) Lovers of Visionaries, Dreamers, and Muses

John was one of eight children of a German immigrant. Mabel grew up in a small farming community in a family of eight. John began in a small circus as a clown. 

After making his fortune, he bought Saint Armand’s Key to develop it into a center for shopping, restaurants, and art. Though the Great Depression deferred his dream, it was fulfilled later by others. Today his statue overlooks Saint Armand’s Circle, a global destination. Here statues he donated to the city  transport visitors to other cultural centers, like Rome and Athens. Other plans he had for Sarasota were thwarted by the times, such as a residence for a U.S. President and a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. The statues today in The Ringing Art Museum Courtyard had been purchased for the hotel.  One thing is for sure. He shared his love for mythology and was a muse and myth maker himself.

St. Armands Circle

10) Lovers of Photos Ops

If you are vacationing with teens and they aren’t convinced yet to do The Ringling, tell them it’s Instagram heaven. You can also book professional  portraits  here. 

 

MORE OPPORTUNITIES

Until you can visit in person, virtual options are here:

https://www.ringling.org/events/virtual-talks-lectures

https://www.ringling.org/events/learn-home-anytime

Valentine Celebration

Spring Break Treat April 1–my favorite artist on the Big Screen here.

Florida’s Cultural Coast: Part 1

Part 2

 

 

 

Feedspot Names Southern Girl Gone Global a Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021

Feedspot Names Southern Girl Gone Global a Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021

Thank you, Feedspot, for naming Southern Girl Gone Global on  your Top 35 Baby Boomer Travel Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2021.  

Feedspot is a content reader that simplifies life by combining websites and blogs you follow into one space. They also match brands with 100k influential Bloggers in over 1500 niche categories for marketing.

I’m honored and humbled to be listed with bloggers I admire for their adventurous spirits, humor, and commitment to inspiring and equipping those planning to travel or live abroad.  Just a few mentions from the list…

Are you dreaming of living in Portugal or Scotland? Of visiting there for a month?  Check out the recent posts of Life Part 2 where a retired couple living in Porto, Portugal gives us the costs. I LOVED Porto (and not just because J.K. Rowling juggled teaching, having a child, and writing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Lello Bookstore, inspiration for Hogwarts.)  Also see their posts on Sicily (where a lot of us were meeting for the Travel Writers Exchange last March until Covid shut it down 🙁 . One day…

Also see stunning shots of Utah and the Free Boomer Walking Tour of Prague, a city I also love, on  My Itchy Travel Feet

Been streaming or rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and ready to head to New Zealand?  Albom Adventures has the scoop.

Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel is a lady I’d like to hang out with for awhile. See all she has done since 2007 when she followed her passions and found true joy.

I love the idea of traveling with my brunette sister. Check out how that’s working out for these two on Blonde Brunette Travel sisters. 

And this lady–Suzanne Fluhr–of Boomeresque has entertained, informed, and inspired readers for years. She has built a community of female boomer bloggers and I’m happy to call her my friend.

Local’s Guide to Tarpon Springs, Florida: A Greek Village  for Travel Bucket List or Retirement

Local’s Guide to Tarpon Springs, Florida: A Greek Village for Travel Bucket List or Retirement

*Did you know the 12 Days of Christmas are December 25-January 5 anticipating The Epiphany/Three Kings Day on January 6? Did you know the largest Epiphany celebration in the northern hemisphere is in Tarpon Springs? Join me on a podcast tour of Tarpon Springs with Dr. Vincent Huth to learn more, plan a trip, plan a new life. See links below post for your Travel Bucket List to his Must Sees, Must Dos, and Must Eats. 

When a friend and fellow world explorer told me he’d decided not to retire on the southern coast of Spain or Ireland as he’d planned–that he, in fact, was moving to the Gulf of Mexico in the US, I was surprised. But with the enthusiasm of Ponce de León, he told me about discovering Tarpon Springs, Florida  a Greek Village of 24,000 so relaxed and affordable that he’d changed his course.  Thanks to Anastasios Papapostolou of GreekReporter.com for permission to use this video:

I love Greece, so on a road trip to Anna Maria Island with my friend, Traci, we stopped  to check out his new home. We caught up with fresh salads and a seafood pizza from Jimmy’s (which I’ve longed for since) at a seaside picnic table minutes from his house.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The pines swayed in the ocean breeze on that hot July day as did boats tied to the sponge docks we walked past after lunch. Along the historic main street we strolled past Hellenistic statues and quaint Greek shops. We stopped for dessert at Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery which alone is worth the trip. Sorry, Italy, but a cone of their Banana Foster is the best gelato I’ve ever had!

I plan to return for more walking (and biking and boating) to drink in more of the natural beauty of parks, beaches, and lakes surrounding a European-style city center of Victorian homes.  Though the ancestors of  Epicurus make this a place to eat, drink, and be merry, we somehow left feeling lighter. As for Vince, it’s obvious perfect weather, performing arts, gorgeous cathedrals and a close community quickens the spirit. Away from the madding crowds, such a Florida find is a sip from the fountain of youth and a taste of nectar from the gods.

Tarpon Springs, Florida, less than an hour from crowded Clearwater or Tampa, was built by Greek immigrants in 1875 who made a quaint village on the Gulf of Mexico the sponge capital of the world. Today the city still has more Greek-American residents than anywhere in the US and the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western hemisphere. January 6 typically draws over 10,000 visitors to watch boys dive as their grandfathers did for a cross thrown into the ocean.  

What to See in Tarpon Springs

Vince’s Must-Eats discussed on Podcast

Nearby events and destinations Mentioned on Podcast

 

 

Reasons for a Road Trip (or Move) to Denver

Reasons for a Road Trip (or Move) to Denver

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost. 

Been holed up too long? Need a fall road trip?   Want to celebrate the holidays with a  family  experience to remember rather than  gifts no one needs and will soon forget?

Plan a  trip to Denver, the only US city named by Lonely Planet as one of the “Top Ten Cities in the World to Visit in 2020.” Situated between Boulder and Colorado Springs, the area offers a positive, laid back, vibe; natural beauty and outdoor attractions; and a creative and culinary scene. Or if you need an escape from the current climate,  channel Steinbeck and go all Travels with Charley in Search of America because Denver also made  Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Cities to Visit with your Dog.

If  the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Read on and when you’re sold and ready to make the move, check out Hello Landing for Denver apartment options and enjoy your new location with their pro advice: 6 Fun Things to Do in Denver for New Residents.  

Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when  my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.

It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission.  By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true? 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams. 

Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver

Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres.  But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits.  🙂

Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore–  hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe. 

Boulder

Top of my must-do list on my first trip  was an electric bike tour of Boulder.

I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns.  Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…

MUST-SEES:

Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.

The University of Colorado Boulder–The flagship of the UC system established in 1876.

Historic Hotel Boulderado

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.

The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp

Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.

Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where  Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.

 

Note: This July bike tour was my first experience using the  GoPro Hero 8 and Performance Chest Mount. Because some shots were blocked when I also used my camera phone,  I plan to use the Head Mount for moving shots in the future.

And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Zeal’s Conscious Kale Salad and a Mojito–Loved Zeal on my first trip which was then located outside Denver. Though that location has closed, you can get their fresh fare in Boulder.

Colorado Springs

Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust”  gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used.  One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed: 

          “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”

Postcards from Garden of the Gods

I hope to explore more off-the-beaten-path areas like the one above near Garden of the Gods –especially the hot springs.

Denver

This is a foodie town and we’re just getting started…

Brunch on the North Side

On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a  neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It  reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did.  I didn’t order the  Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting.  We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dinner Downtown

I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…

On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall. 

RiNo Art District and Denver Central Market

Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.

Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions?  I want to  buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)?   I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from  Tsing Tao and  Azitra.

Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…