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Romance in central Florida's Lakes Country.

Secrets. Privileged information that couples whisper, friends share and everyone loves to discover. My husband and I stumbled upon one we will forever cherish. We followed roads less traveled to a magical land of sparkling lakes, rolling hills and sprawling orange groves; Victorian dreams, feathered treasures and fragrant flowers. Come with us as we divulge the details of the beautiful bed & breakfasts in the heart of central Florida, a secret garden where romance is always in bloom.

From the time I was a baby girl, I was entranced by Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet, where swans turn into beautiful princesses at night. No wonder Lakeland tugged at my heartstrings within moments of our arrival. Here, birds of a feather really do flock together. The Queen of England presented the town with a pair of swans in the 1950s; now, they flourish, and have even become the symbol of the city. Stroll the historic district and you'll inevitably come to a lake where the creatures gracefully glide, inspiring nature lovers and artists alike. See the creatively painted larger-than-life replications that dot downtown Lakeland.

The royal descendants swim in the hundreds at Lake Morton, a tranquil bird sanctuary in the center of the city. It's an easy walk to a refuge of a different kind, Lakeland's Lake Morton Bed & Breakfast. Former innkeepers Bryce and Mary Ann Zender (the B&B was sold to current owners JoAnna and Daniel Jimenez in 2010) restored the 1920s bungalow and added period antiques. The inn offer old-fashioned hospitality with every modern convenience. Each of their four suites has a bath, kitchen, bedroom and living room, as well as cable TV, telephone, Internet access, climate controls and private entrance.

From here, you can walk to Florida Southern College to see the world's largest one-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Or peruse antiques shops and galleries downtown, stopping in a quaint café or fine restaurant.

Hollis Garden is a must see. The formal neo-classical garden shares the shores of Lake Mirror with Barnett Family Park and Kryger Overlook Park. While its beauty is strikingly apparent, its story is not, unless you take a free guided tour. Ours was with foreman Stacy Smith, a man with a passion for the plants and history this collection represents. The music of Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi accompanied us as Stacy described our surroundings. Cascading spring water in The Grotto symbolizes the lifeblood of the land during Florida's primitive age. Herb and vegetable gardens signify the agrarian era, and floral rooms burst with color and represent refinement. The Trees of Americana are truly living history; each was planted from seeds or cuttings of those owned by Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King and more, and new memories are made at The Gazebo, amphitheater and reception halls where weddings occur weekly.

Brides often stay at The Shaw House bed and breakfast, conveniently located across the street. Owned and restored by former City Commissioner Tom Shaw, the four-bedroom century-old home faces the spectacular gardens and lake and has a shady deck in the back for reading or grilling. The interior walls are graced with what appear to be original Van Gogh paintings. Originals they are, by Tom himself.



Tom's charming enclave is not far from the Terrace Hotel, a walk, limousine or horse-drawn buggy ride away and a popular venue for wedding receptions. Also overlooking Lake Mirror, the elegant hotel has a combination of nearly 90 spacious rooms and suites, banquet facilities and conference rooms. The atrium lobby alone is worth a peek; from black and white ceramic tile to nostalgic wicker furnishings and hand-painted murals, it's a 1920's treasure lovingly restored. We took it in over a mid-day repast at the hotel's lovely Terrace Grille. Generous portions of crunchy calamari and meaty crab cakes made it difficult, but not impossible, to squeeze in dessert from the "Sweet Endings" menu.

A leisurely drive later we found a place of sweet beginnings, where weddings are picture-perfect and romance is irresistible. Town Manor on the Lake is unassumingly tucked off the beaten path on Lake Juliana in Auburndale. Think hearts, flowers and lace, bicycles built for two, and consummate beauty in every direction. All-inclusive, turn-key wedding coordination services, have had Town Manor voted “Best Wedding & Reception Venue” by Brides Choice. Hosting wedding couples and their guests from all over the world, this is where fairytales begin. Our room was a carriage house-turned-love nest with marble-tiled floors, a loft-like ceiling and a bed with gossamer netting and fluffy, feather pillows. A Tivoli-lit silk tree created a soft glow over the claw-foot Jacuzzi tub, where heart-shaped soaps in silky satchels sat on a marble stand along with luxury lotions and other thoughtful bath amenities. A shiny, restored Model-A Ford was parked outside.

The Estate Main House, Carriage House, and Crystal Ballroom are all feasts for the senses. Owners Nandy and Don Town filled the rooms with rare antiques and intriguing surprises in every corner. Here, weddings are pulled off without a hitch, thanks to Nandy's wedding coordination skills and Don's hospitality industry experience. 

Auburndale is midway between Tampa and Orlando, convenient to attractions in either city. But once you step foot inside this fairytale, you won't want to leave. Swing on the hammock, swim in the pool, or sip wine at sunset in the gazebo on the lake. Breakfast is a special occasion, also served by candlelight... a beautiful way to start a day, or a lifetime.

Nearby Lake Wales boasts Historic Bok Sanctuary, where carillon bells often signal love's first blush. Noah's Ark Bed & Breakfast is also popular for weddings as well as receptions, bridal showers and rehearsal dinners. The former "speakeasy" is tastefully furnished in 19th century antiques and houses a collection of Noah's Ark memorabilia from all over the world. 

No visit to Lake Wales would be complete without a stop at Chalet Suzanne Country Inn and Restaurant. Meander through the Alpine-like village; visit the Antiques Chapel, gift shop and whimsical Autograph Garden. Tour the soup cannery, where the inn's signature Moon Soup is made. Enjoy an exquisite meal at the award-winning restaurant on the lake. Our Lobster Newburg and Crab Thermidor left nothing to be desired. Better yet, honeymoon in a romantic suite, newlyweds or not. The Courtyard Spa offers massage therapy to relax, revitalize and rekindle.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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