Victorian Fairytale

By: Lisa Codianne Fowler

ADD TO FAVORITES
Florida's Victorian-style bed and breakfasts give you a sweet escape into the past.

Time travel is not only possible; it's easy. My husband and I often embark on flights of fancy...back to an era of pure romance. Florida is replete with Victorian B&Bs reminiscent of simpler times, before cell phones and e-mail, when the height of technology was a horse-drawn carriage.

Whether you are a bed & breakfast aficionado or are new to this age-old form of gracious hospitality, you will delight in the myriad choices awaiting your discovery. Read on for help in creating your own Victorian fairytale. Chances are, it will end like ours... happily ever after
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COME AS YOU ARE

Once upon a time on a coast called "forgotten," industry flourished. It was 1905 when lumber magnate James Coombs built his magnificent home, a gift to his wife and monument to his wealth and status. The stately structure was constructed of the finest woods and ornately adorned. But the Coombs' beloved home caught fire, Mrs. Coombs died of a broken heart and her husband soon followed. The house, and the town, fell quiet. Today, Apalachicola boasts growing tourism, world-famous oysters and the Coombs House Inn - consistently rated one of the best in the country.

"The first time you find Apalachicola, it's by chance; the second time, by choice," explained innkeeper Estella Banta. The petite woman has a big heart and skills to rival a Manhattan concierge. Inn owners Bill Spohrer and renowned designer Lynn Wilson thoughtfully restored the Coombs House to its former glory and renovated other historic structures. Victorian homes, as well as gift, art and antiques shops now line the streets of this rustic riverfront haven.

Its proximity to gulf, bay and river make it a fisherman's paradise and an oyster lover's dream come true. We devoured oysters every way imaginable, including caviar-topped at Boss Oyster and in salad at Owl Café. Dining here is surprisingly sophisticated, but attire is "come as you are," with additional options including Tamara's Cafe.

Was it the angel accents gracing the Inn or the feather bedding that inspired such restful sleep? Mine was briefly interrupted by a soft caress. (The ghost of Mr. Coombs?) Breakfast was as satisfying, a hearty strata, warm muffins and tropical fruit. Homeward bound, we stopped at St. George Island State Park to dig our toes in the pristine sands of times gone by.


LAKESIDE LOVE

On a hill overlooking the shores of Lake Juliana in Auburndale is a place of sweet beginnings. Think hearts, flowers and lace, bicycles built for two, and consummate beauty in every direction. Town Manor on the Lake is nestled on two lushly landscaped acres with a private beach and dock, where you can swim, fish, take off on a romantic hot air balloon ride or gently touch down by seaplane.

A shiny, restored Model-A Ford was kept parked outside our suite, a carriage house-turned-love nest with marble 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 accompanied other thoughtful bath amenities.

The Main House, separated from us by a glassed-in ballroom, was also a feast for the senses. Owners Nandy and Don Town filled it with rare antiques and intriguing surprises in every corner.

Auburndale is midway between Tampa and Orlando, convenient to attractions in either city. Nearby Lake Wales is home to Bok Tower Gardens, where carillon bells often signal love's first blush, and Chalet Suzanne, an Alpine-like resort with a renowned restaurant. But once you step foot inside this fairytale, you may not want to leave. Breakfast is a special occasion, also served by candlelight... a beautiful way to start a day.


LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE

St. Augustine is charming any time of year, but during the Nights of Lights, it's simply magical. From the Saturday before Thanksgiving through January, historic buildings, downtown parks and the city's Bayfront are ablaze in millions of twinkling lights.

We spent this festive weekend at The Casablanca Inn, a 1914 Mediterranean revival house with sprawling verandas overlooking Mantanzas Bay. We luxuriated in one of three private suites across from the Coach House, down a veiled brick walkway and through a private gate. Casablanca's Secret Garden is a quiet oasis of hibiscus, palms, fragrant flora and chirping birds. The bayfront Main House was ideal for enjoying two-course breakfasts and sipping sherry at night, but our little Eden offered the best of both worlds.

We were already on cloud nine when we boarded the four-seater helicopter for a ride with Old City Helicopters. The sunset tour provided enough golden light to see the beaches and town, affording a luminous spectacle as night fell and the city came alive.

Next day, we continued to fall in love with St. Augustine. Potter's Wax Museum and The Lightner Museum were worthwhile firsts, as was our romantic sail on the Schooner Freedom. A popular venue for weddings, the 72-foot gaff-rigged schooner had five sails billowing in the wind as we watched the sun weave a multihued tapestry above the horizon. Dinner at The Raintree Restaurant is another must for couples in love. Dine in the beautiful courtyard among gazebos or in the Victorian home built in 1879; either option provides the perfect romantic setting.


HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

The romance of the Victorian era lives on at Florida's bed & breakfasts, whether beachside, bayfront or in the middle of the state. Gainesville's Magnolia Plantation Bed & Breakfast Inn has stunning architecture and special amenities such as working fireplaces and soft robes. Have an in-room massage or candlelit dinner, request a picnic basket or horse-drawn carriage ride. Just down the street under a canopy of oaks is the Laurel Oak Inn, an intimate 1885 Queen Anne Victorian with soothing garden views. The Sweetwater Branch Inn is also in Gainesville's historic district; the elegant Victorian complex is close to fine dining, theatre and music. Slip further back in time at The Chelsea House in Key West, comprised of two Victorian era mansions. One circa is 1891 two-story mansion, and the other is circa 1906 with three stories. Both transport you to the old days of gracious tropical living. It's a short walk to the water from The Key West Bed & Breakfast, a lovely three-story Victorian located in the heart of Old Town. La Mer Hotel and Dewey House, perched on the Atlantic Ocean, were built in the early 1900s and have spacious rooms, Old World charm and modern conveniences.

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