Romance in the Ancient City

By: Amy Shepherd Nance

Historical sites, intimate B&Bs, and quaint shops and restaurants make St. Augustine one of Florida's most romantic cities.

We arrived at the Old City House Inn & Restaurant just as the setting sun began casting a warm glow over the city, highlighting St. Augustine's distinctive rooflines, centuries-old oaks trailing Spanish moss, and couples strolling through narrow brick streets. Only minutes into a romantic weekend alone with my husband and the Ancient City was already working its exotic charms.

An enticing mix of history, culture and landscape unmatched in authenticity awaits couples on a getaway to the Ancient City. Romance begins at home here, with a range of historical inns and B&Bs ready to cater to your every whim. Old City House Inn's elegantly appointed rooms are filled with rich wood antiques in an exotic African motif. The Casa de Solana offers couple's spa packages that let you unwind together, while sweeping views of the glittering bay beckon at Bayfront Marin House. For an all-encompassing weekend of amour, stay at the Carriage Way B&B and indulge in one of their special packages for lovers.

Eager to explore, we stepped onto Cordova Street. As the moon rose overhead, the city gates, arbors and arches came alive with twinkle lights, and the towering spires and turrets of Flagler College cast dramatic shadows. A tour inside the College the next day would reveal to us lavish examples of Spanish Renaissance design, from murals depicting Greek myths to Tiffany stained glass and Austrian crystal chandeliers. But at night, the campus afforded glimpses of 19th century resort lifestyle as conceived by Henry Flagler: A soaring rotunda gave way to hidden paths and secret benches in what was originally the Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Our first evening in St. Augustine ended over candlelight at a cozy window table in the Old City House Restaurant. A medley of award winning, intimate restaurants serve original dishes in casually elegant settings. At 95 Cordova, each plate is a masterpiece of gourmet proportions inside the equally opulent Casa Monica. Upscale Continental dining amid friendly and comfortable surroundings reign at Le Pavillon. For dessert, the Raintree Restaurant Seafood & Steakhouse offers a Dessert Bar that will tempt you with goodies, from made-to-order crepes to warm chocolate dome cake.

Energized by a gourmet English breakfast the next morning, we immersed ourselves in the Spanish and British Colonial architecture of downtown. Navigating close byways and low buildings, we found ourselves transported: Wrought iron balconies and coquina edifices, Moorish exteriors and Victorian gardens surrounded us. Fountains large and small, full of glittering pennies-turned-wishes, posed next to delicate statuaries and wood-shingled cottages. Chocolatiers and wine purveyors set up shop next to domestic villas with opulent fences.

After traversing 400 years, we gave ourselves over to the relaxation professionals at Small Indulgences European Day Spa and Salon, one of several excellent spas in the area. Other places just waiting to pamper you include the sophisticated spa located 30 minutes north of St. Augustine at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, where facials, wraps and manicures are tailored to suit you; and the oceanfront, holistic White Orchid Inn & Spa on Flagler Beach.

Rejuvenated, we chased the muses of romance to the art district at San Sebastian where the artistic talents of the oldest city were on triumphant display. There we perused the Butterfield Garage gallery for fine prints, glassware, jewelry, pottery and oil paintings. For craftsmanship of a different kind, stop at Southern Lights Candle Company for hand-dipped pillars and elegant tapers, or at Thomas Long's Creative Studios to watch in awe as artists blow glass into fantastical shapes before your eyes (by appointment only).

Our own flame heartily rekindled, we later found ourselves in The Cellar Upstairs at the San Sebastian Winery, watching the river from the open-air deck with a glass of local wine and plotting our return in December for "Nights of Lights." Envisioning the Ancient City dressed in thousands of white twinkle lights, the historic inns open for holiday tours, and the St. Augustine Sightseeing Red Train chugging through the streets like Santa's sleigh, we toasted our new favorite city.

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