We hadn't even hit the streets of historic Fernandina Beach and we were already in love with the place. My husband Patrick and I had just checked into The Amelia Island Williams House Bed & Breakfast on Florida's northernmost island and felt like stars in some Victorian romance novel.
The lovingly restored grand home, built in 1856, has been named a Florida Heritage Landmark Site. Owners are Deborah and Byron McCutchen. We were led into a parlor where Chinese art, silks and cloisonné accented priceless antique furniture. In the center hall, wine, cheese and fruit was being served.
We walked up a winding mahogany staircase past stained glass windows to the Smugglers Cove, which has a private veranda and outdoor whirlpool spa. The veranda overlooks a courtyard blanketed in flowers, graced with trickling fountains and a koi pond. As the sunlight faded, shadows from a massive, 500-year-old live oak embraced us. Inside our "tree house," gauze draped an English wrought iron canopy bed; a window seat added to the welcome.
We were ready for dinner, and made reservations at Horizons, which had been recommended to us as the island's best food in the most romantic setting. (Horizons has since moved down the island. David's Restaurant & Lounge has taken its place, dedicated to prime steaks and unique seafood.)
Breakfast at the Williams House was no less a culinary event. We ate strawberry soup garnished with bananas, strawberries and kiwi and an egg and artichoke casserole served with spicy salsa. (New additions to the breakfast menu include Cream Eggs, Blueberries Estrada and Fruitinis.)
Since the Williams House is in the historic district, it's a short walk to the scenic marina and the shops and galleries on Centre Street. It's also a pleasant five-minute bike ride to Fort Clinch State Park. The park's thickly canopied roads alone make it worth the trip, and on our visit, the beach here was practically deserted. We thought nothing could be more beautiful, but hold your horses, we were wrong.
Later that day, we galloped full-speed on horseback along the shore and in the surf, thanks to a company called "Ride the Beaches of Amelia Island!". Once owner Debbie Manser is sure you can handle your horse, she lets you, as she says, "live your dream."
We later strolled the cobblestone streets to Joe's 2nd Street Bistro for dinner in the New Orleans-inspired courtyard, and later, shared a nightcap at the Palace Saloon, the oldest tavern in Florida.
On Sunday, the day dawned bright as church bells echoed throughout our early morning walking tour. Picturesque Victorian mansions line block after block of historic Fernandina Beach, as do structures ranging from Queen Anne to Mississippi steamboat architecture.
But our undisputed favorite was the home we were about to bid farewell to until next time.