Small-Town Allure

By: Kate Pursell

Polk County's quaint, cozy charm makes for romantic, magical memories.

We felt like movie stars from the 1930s with white, silk scarves tied around our necks as we nestled into our seat on the open-air bi-plane. Capt. Rob Lock started up the engines to take us for an exhilarating ride on a brilliant, blue-sky day. A kiss, just as the plane took off, sealed the deal as my husband Scott and I beamed at each other.

In central Florida's Polk County, romance is definitely "in the air" for lovebirds looking for magical memories away from the big-city lights. And Scott and I found it big-time.

You and your special someone will revel in it, whether it's dining by candlelight at the award-winning Chalet Suzanne Country Inn & Restaurant, strolling through gorgeous gardens, exploring historic downtowns where art galleries and antiques stores reign supreme, or turning in for the night at the charming Town Manor on the Lake Bed & Breakfast. This B&B near Auburndale offers a unique package that includes a hot air balloon ride complete with a champagne breakfast. It's "door-to-door" service; the balloonist lands on the beach in front of the inn (weather permitting) to pick you up and whisk you away.

Or head to Polk City's Fantasy of Flight, where bi-plane rides await (as well as an amazing collection of vintage aircraft and an old-fashioned, flight-themed diner).

Scott and I held hands as we climbed to about 1,200 feet in the restored 1929 New Standard D-25 bi-plane, a dazzler in Stinson Maroon and Diana Cream colors. We welcomed the wind in our faces and gazed at the gorgeous scenery below, an incredible mix of shimmering lakes and lush orange groves. The week before, a man proposed to his girlfriend while Capt. Rob took them up (she said yes!).

When you're ready to come back down to earth, Polk County greets you with historic downtowns, theaters, parks and gardens, fabulous restaurants and charming bed and breakfasts. Where to start?

Reservations, please, at the lakeside Town Manor, a stunning brick beauty with black awnings and gorgeous gardens. The service and accommodations here are both first-class. Our carriage house room embraced us with cozy charm, right down to the claw-foot tub and subtle, romantic lighting.

Other good options include the elegant Shaw House; the stellar Lake Morton Bed & Breakfast; and the Stanford Inn, a Victorian gem featuring an English-style champagne breakfast in Bartow.

Make your first stop Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, situated on Iron Mountain – one of the highest points in peninsular Florida. At Bok, you can stroll through more than 120 acres of captivating gardens, admire incredible vistas, marvel at the 205-foot carillon tower featuring 60 bells or get swept back in time with a tour of the enchanting Pinewood Estate, a historic Mediterranean-style mansion.

To take in more blooms, stroll hand-in-hand through downtown Lakeland's Hollis Garden, soaking in the intoxicating beauty of more than 10,000 flowers and ornamental shrubs.

For lunch, head next door to the quaint and casual Garden Bistro for a salad, or take a short jaunt to the elegant Terrace Grill (the high ceilings and white, linen tablecloths make this an ideal spot for lunch or dinner). We opted for the Terrace Grill, where we started with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a toast to our romantic getaway. We found nirvana 30 minutes later when our blackened Mahi-Mahi arrived.

Also fabulous for lunch is The Back Porch Restaurant near Lake Alfred, where your lunch arrives in a wooden picnic basket. The Bay Street Bistro in Lakeland, which doubles as an art gallery, serves lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. 

Did I hear dinner? Park View Restaurant in Winter Haven delights with a family-oriented environment and a diverse menu of steaks, chickens, pasta and more.

At Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, the candlelight dining room dripped with romantic ambiance, and the sun setting on the lake made the scene even more surreal. We sipped a marvelous Cabernet Sauvignon while savoring every morsel of our six-course dinner.

I enjoyed the special, Crab Sasse, artfully prepared blue crab in a delicate white sauce baked in a small casserole dish and served on puff pastry. Scott feasted on filet mignon and deemed the béarnaise sauce "the best" as he gazed lovingly into my eyes. A rum cream pie for dessert and we were in heaven as we capped dinner with a rich, hot coffee.

Now, darling, when will we return? Soon, I hope.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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