Florida Romance

By: Mischa Vieira-Kirby

Beautiful settings, romantic resorts, intimate dinners... If this is your idea of romance, here are some places to make a fantasy come alive.

Call me crazy, but I wasn't one of those girls who had concocted her fantasy wedding by the time she was five. I was the girl who climbed trees, skinned knees and punched boys. By the time I graduated college, I'd decided I would be an eccentric spinster.

But then I met Chet. His exuberant laugh, love of getting up early to experience the world, and passion for automobiles was the ying to my book lover's, sleep-in-late yang. Two years later, he shook my world again by asking me the question on bended knee in our kitchen on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

From then on, all things wedding controlled my life. My inner spinster was in tremors. I clung to one piece of sanity through the whole thing - the promise of some serious R&R on our honeymoon.

As luck had it, I was offered this assignment - to explore romantic retreats in Florida. So with grave responsibility, Chet and I set off in a red Mustang convertible to discover romantic, adventurous and luxurious escapes in the Sunshine State. No need to RSVP - all are welcome.

Amelia Island Amour

Day One
Chet steered the Mustang north from our home in Sarasota and headed for Amelia Island, a 13-mile-long spit of land where Fernandina Beach's 19th-century shipping village and Victorian B&Bs conjure up romance in an instant.

As we rounded the corner at Seventh and Cedar Streets, the palatial Fairbanks House, a four-story, 8,000-square-foot Italianate villa built in 1885, spread before us. Owner Theresa Hamilton put us at ease immediately with her ringing laugh and quick wit.

While showing us to our three-room suite with private entrance, Theresa explained that she and her husband, Bill, consider their home a luxury B&B. Our suite, with a fireplace, private porch, and bathroom with a whirlpool-for-two, certainly proved this.

After exploring our accommodations, Chet and I grabbed two of the inn's complimentary bicycles and headed for the historic downtown. We sampled some delicious chocolate-covered popcorn at Fernandina's Fantastic Fudge on Centre Street, rode alongside the river and past brightly hued Victorian houses.

Day Two
We began our day with pumpkin pancakes with a caramel pecan topping, raspberry soup and other gourmet delights before heading off on a fossil hunting expedition for sharks teeth at Omni Amelia Island Plantation.

For romance straight out of a paperback novel, we drove to Kelly Seahorse Ranch to ride horseback on the beach. Chet exceeded the 230-pound weight limit, so we decided that Wendell, a gentle-but-shy coffee-colored horse, would be my date.

The sun was shining while waves crashed on the deserted, windblown beach. I had a momentary vision of myself as Chet's Lady Godiva, albeit clothed and auburn-haired. Afterward, Chet and I walked the quiet shoreline so we could enjoy together the breathtaking views I'd just witnessed.

After a late lunch at Gourmet, Gourmet, we met Joe Anderson, our guide for a historical walking tour downtown. For just over an hour, Joe regaled us with the adventures of the Carnegies and other wealthy families that vacationed here from the 1850s to the 1890s when the island was a bustling port. At the end of the century, Henry Flagler decided to pass the island by with his railroad; with it went the northern elite. Today, Flagler's decision seems like a gift because it helped preserve the town.

Later, we strolled to Le Clos for dinner; this French restaurant is set in a tiny yellow cottage complete with a white picket fence. At our innkeeper's suggestion, we asked for the "Theresa Special." The fresh local fish on the menu that night appeared, followed by sinfully rich chocolate cake.

Spanish moss dripped from old oaks as we followed the glowing light of the Fairbanks tower as our beacon home; we finished the night on our porch, listening to the gentle sounds of the fountain in the garden.

Day Three
The early morning light stirred us awake; we arose and dressed casually for our kayak trip in the beautiful salt marshes of the area. Our guides, Ray and Jody Hetchka from Kayak Amelia, were friendly and knowledgeable about local wildlife and, when our paddling was over, we said goodbye to the island we had come to love.

Treasure Coast Tryst

Day One
Chet and I headed south to the Treasure Coast, that quiet break of beachfront between Sebastian and Port St. Lucie. We followed Flagler's old rail line to Vero Beach, a laid-back beach city. This is Old Florida, where the scent of the sea floats freely through downtown streets, and locals and tourists alike wear flip-flops year 'round.

The sea oat-covered dunes of the Atlantic shoreline rose up before us as we approached the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. The front desk operator greeted us with a smile before ushering us to a suite with a view of the pristine, white-sand beach below.

Chet and I were here for adventure, so after we'd eaten the cookies, jumped on the bed and opened all the closets and cupboards like all mature couples would, we headed downstairs for body surfing, something we can't do living on the Gulf coast. The waves were strong and soon Chet and I crawled ashore to relax in the chaises nestled near the dunes.

At dusk, we walked to Tangos II, where candlelight sparkled in the mirrored walls of the Art Deco-inspired decor. Our server, Josh, suggested a smooth red wine that flowed through the languorous meal.

Day Two
We had planned to snorkel at Pepper Park Beach, near the wreckage of the 1700s Spanish galleon Urca de Lima, whose scattered remains lay in 10 - 15 feet of water just 200 yards off shore. A storm kept us landside, though, and Chet and I walked the beach at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park before heading back to our hotel for a quiet evening.

Day Three
We had drifted to sleep to the sound of crashing waves and awoke to a golden sunrise. We decided to spend our last few hours on the Treasure Coast walking hand-in-hand through McKee Botanical Garden, an 18-acre subtropical hammock off U.S. 1. Strolling here, Chet and I were enveloped by our own Eden of banyan trees, lily-filled ponds and tropical foliage.

More By Mischa Vieira-Kirby

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