Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

Help Rebuild Fort Myers, Florida

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

To find out ways to help, please go here:

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


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

Pepe Nero Marrakech is a unique, luxury experience. Photo by Emily Salgado

Pepe Nero Marrakech is The Place to Celebrate

Updated on April 25, 2023

Pepe Nero Pool Marrakesh Morocco
Brimming Beauty at Pepe Nero Marrakesh, Morocco

When my niece, Emily, and nephew, Andres, said they’d be visiting me in Morocco for 48 hours, I wanted a perfect place to take them for dinner. I sought somewhere signature Moroccan — mysterious, exotic, and beautiful. A place that practices hospitality and serves a mix of traditional local and European delicious dishes. Pepe Nero Marrakech granted every desire and more.

Mysterious…The night began with the thrill of intrigue.  Afraid I could never lead us through the medina, a medieval labyrinth of darkness, deserted streets, and closed shops at night, I was relieved that  Chahid Essafa, truly a Customer Service Extraordinaire, said he’d send a guide to escort us. Excited, we waited in front of Café de France, mesmerized by the lanterns glowing across Jemaa el Fna square. Behind us, a man in a black suit appeared.

Pepe Nero escorts guests to the restaurant by request.
Pepe Nero escorts guests to the restaurant by request.

He serenely introduced himself, turned, and led the way, shielding us from errant motorcyclists as we wound around corners and down solemn streets. Only our shadows and those of a few feral cats stretched up the red clay walls as we silently walked under lamplights. Though our destination was less than ten minutes away, adrenaline flowed from the surreal setting and suspense of wondering behind which wall our journey would end.

And then Emily and Andres experienced what I love about this city.  A desolate alleyway. A door swings open. Inside…paradise.

Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Pepe Nero is the former palace of Moroccan royalty.

Pepe Nero Marrakesh Morocco
Guests enjoy poolside dinner at Pepe Nero Marrakech. 

U.S. guests visit expat aunt at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Cindy McCain with Marrakesh guests Emily and Andres Salgado.

Pepe Nero Marrakesh offers Italian and Moroccan cuisine in a former Pasha's palace.
Pepe Nero Marrakesh offers Italian and Moroccan cuisine in a former Pasha’s palace.

Beautiful…Carrara marble,  cedar ceilings, and Moorish fountains transport guests to another time.   We ate by the Andalusian pool flanked by flaming torches from a James Bond dream set. Trees reached for the moon—gorgeous that night—as we sat under the stars. Bougainvillea draped from the second-story balcony.

View from second floor apartments of Pepe Nero

Flowers cascade from second floor Pepe Nero apartments

Exotic… Pepe Nero Marrakech is the restaurant within Riyad Al Moussika, the former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956.  According to BBC, Thami El Giaoui at the time of his death “was the most powerful man in Morocco and one of the wealthiest men in the world.” Guests can rent one of six luxury suites overlooking the two lavish courtyards. Breakfast is served on the terrace rooftop overlooking the Atlas mountains.

Guest room at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Guest room at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Guest suite at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Guest suite at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Guest room at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Bed fit for a queen at Pepe Nero Marrakesh where royalty lived.

Luxurious en suite bath at Pepe Nero
Luxurious en suite bath at Pepe Nero

Brimming beauty at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Brimming beauty at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Haute cuisine...Guests can choose from two menus—one Moroccan, one Italian–prepared by Mr. Khalid Essafa Robazza, Cordon Bleu Chef and owner.  We three went with Moroccan because When in Rome… (and Emily and Andres had just come from there).  We feasted on salads and Harira Soup (a tradition), then roasted leg of lamb, lamb tagine, and Pastilla di Piccione (pigeon pie–a local delicacy).  The waiters were attentive, kind, and patient as we toured the riad, Emily and I tag-teaming behind the camera.

Fresh orange juice welcome drinks at Pepe Nero
Welcomed with fresh orange drinks

Emily and Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Emily and Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Cindy McCain and Nephew Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero. Photo by Emily Salgado.
Cindy McCain and Nephew Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero. Photo by Emily Salgado.

Emily Salgado at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Emily Salgado at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Cindy McCain Southern Girl Gone Global at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Thrilled to be celebrating life with family at Pepe Nero

Meal at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Our starters at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Lamb Tagine at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Lamb Tagine

Roasted Shoulder of Lamb at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Roasted Shoulder of Lamb

Cinnamon-glazed Pastilla at Pepe Nero
Cinnamon-glazed Pastilla
Server pouring mint tea Moroccan style at Pepe Nero
Our excellent server pouring mint tea Moroccan style at Pepe Nero

The food was so delicious, the dining experience so exceptional and the wine list so tempting, I returned the following week with my friend, Jasna, to try one dish off the Italian menu–lasagna that was the best I’ve had anywhere– so I could save room for dessert. As a Kentucky girl, I chose the Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with the crunch-cream topping–my new favorite dessert in all of Morocco. Pepe Nero provides complimentary cake for birthday parties.  It’s a five-star dining experience at affordable prices, and I’m already looking forward to the next celebration.

Lasagna at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Lasagna at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Best crème brulée of my life at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Best crème brulée of my life at Pepe Nero Marrakesh

Cordon Bleu Chef/Owner Khalid Essafa Robazza  and Southern Girl Gone Global Cindy McCain at Pepe Nero
Pepe Nero Marrakesh Cordon Bleu Chef/Owner Khalid Essafa Robazza

Southern Girl Gone Global Cindy McCain with Pepe Nero Manager Manager Chahid Essafa
Gracious Manager Chahid Essafa

Southern Girl Gone Global Cindy McCain with Khalid, Member of Wonderful Waitstaff at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Khalid, Member of Wonderful Waitstaff

Cindy McCain, Southern Girl Gone Global at Pepe Nero Marrakesh
Nights to remember at Pepe Nero Marrakesh