White sand beaches, luxury shopping, and an insider’s vibe give Naples, FL it’s timeless charm.
By Karin Tanabe
If a “staycation” sounds a little close to home, then a “very-close-by-cation” should be on your itinerary. Naples, Florida, a two-hour flight on US Airways from Reagan National to Fort Myers, feels like getting away without the jetlag, throngs of tourists, or hours spent in the air. For my weekend getaway (spent with a large margarita in one hand and a magazine in the other), I called LaPlaya Beach Golf Resort my home away from home. The hotel, which rests between the Gulf of Mexico and picturesque Vanderbilt Bay, brands itself as a luxury resort that’s anything but stuffy, and from my experience, that’s not a bad way to put it. The pastels and slow spinning fans that we associate with Old Florida dominate the décor, but there is a touch of Provence in all the details. There is no pretension exuded by the staff or decor and you don’t feel like you have to sport a smoking jacket or drive up in a Lamborghini to receive excellent service.
La Playa’s restaurant, Baleen, remains open all day and boasts a fantastic terrace and a fire pit complete with Adirondack chairs to lounge in while the sun sets. When dining at Baleen, whatever you order – the black grouper and the roasted chicken with goat cheese dumplings are standouts – have the macaroni and cheese with lobster and chorizo on the side. Big enough to be a meal, it’s like kids comfort food with a five-star culinary spin. To truly indulge, top it all of with the lobster truffle fondue. Your trainer might not approve, but you’re on vacation and the very large gym is only a few feet away. At nine o’clock, all the curtains in the hotel are drawn during turtle season, so, like it or not, you will be dining by dim candlelight. My guess is you and your dinner date will certainly approve.
For a day at the beach, La Playa has the upper hand by virtue of its location, as other luxury resorts are higher up the coast and closer to the public parking lot (which means big crowds during high season). On La Playa’s white sands, privacy reigns. Have lunch delivered by a beach butler while you watch a pod of dolphins jump in the surf; if you’re there from May through September, sea turtles feed, nest, and lay eggs on the beach and are easy to spot at sunset.
After a day of sun-worshiping, continue the relaxation at the resort’s SpaTerre. More French country than Hemingway country, the rooms boast whitewashed wood panel walls, deep blue and white sinks, brick tile, and chandeliers. The 80-minute massage medley will leave you feeling like a very carefree pretzel. If a more active life is your speed, take a swing on the golf course flanked by mangroves and magenta bougainvillea.
While it may be hard to tear yourself away from your beach butler service, the town of Naples, especially around 5th Avenue, is the perfect place to refresh your summer wardrobe and dine alfresco. The pastel linen wardrobe staples at the Island Company will bring the sunshine home with you, and dinner at Sea Salt on Third Street South under white lights and a summer breeze will have you wanting to extend your stay. This is how everyone should live, at least for the weekend.