Four Seasons

By: Amy Shepherd Nance

ADD TO FAVORITES
Resolve to spend one weekend each season in complete and utter luxury with the ultimate in Florida upscale vacation destinations.

Each New Year, I reconcile, with all the exactness of an accountant, the deadlines and vacation dates clamoring for space on my newly unfurled calendar. This has all the appeal of tabulating my taxes (mid March) or submitting my house to a spring cleaning (May). After, the date boxes are no longer glorious tabula rasas, hours waiting to be marked up like so many unwalked beaches. Instead, they present a year brimming with plans. Logged in ballpoint is my time, rationally seceded to tennis lessons and check-ups.

Time is a luxury, as the saying goes. I can't help revisiting the Pete Seeger lyric - "To everything there is a season" - either, while I'm setting up reminder e-mails and confirming my flight to the Keys for this New Year's Eve (planned months ago). I never make resolutions, but I'm penciling in some time to break with tradition. I resolve to spend one weekend each season in complete and utter luxury.


SPRING

One of my deeply held beliefs about luxury in Florida is that it's never off season here. Shellacked resorts with gorgeous gardens and busy cabanas are full-service year 'round. Private beaches are prosperous with sunbathers whether it's January or July, and the spas offer massages on the waterfront, even in December. I'm so resolute in my new approach to the calendar, so committed to easing the seasonal rotation, that I leave my datebook et al in the car when I arrive at Loews Don CeSar Beach Hotel on St. Pete Beach.

If a resort can be a valentine, then the Don CeSar, often called the "Pink Palace," is all that and a box of candy. It's easy to glide through the lobby here, and I do, right over the gleaming floors and past the potted palms and swank piano. Windows exhibit the Gulf and blazing chandeliers illuminate the warm environs. In my suite, everything is plantation-white except for a few sand-colored decorative touches. The bedspread looks like a creampuff.

Once in my bathing suit, I stroll around the massive structure, which is Mediterranean-style and literally blushing in the waning light (the confectioner's color is an appropriate contrast to the strong, stately lines of this castle). As I head for a cabana through the pink-tinged sand, my feet damp from an unscheduled trip through the Gulf shallows, I peer up at the Moorish bell towers. The resort is like a silent screen star: a face full of character. Indeed there is something not quite real about The Don CeSar, its glamour ethereal.

While enjoying the whirlpool's soothing current, I listen to the stirring of the Canary Island date palms and make a mental note to do Valentine's Day here next year. It's difficult to avoid the romance of The Don CeSar, which hosts 300 weddings annually, fêting the nuptial couples with released butterflies or pouring flower petals from the sky. One architect from the resort's past took one look and called it a "Sleeping Beauty." I lie in similar repose that night, after a massage at Spa Oceana and dinner at The Maritana Grille.


SUMMER

Ah, summer on the Italian Riviera. Dusk settles over the Ligurian fishing village of Portofino Bay, where the Tuscan-hued row houses rise up from the harbor, a laundry line of international flags snaps in the wind and the waiters flap white tablecloths over café tables. I step gingerly onto the cobblestones. A merchant offers me a glass of wine from his cart, but I've set my heart on gelato.

As if on cue, singers begin the opera Volare and I give myself over to spontaneity, taking the glass. I admire the irreverent trompe l’oeil paintings on the exteriors of the tall, slim buildings. I find myself at a village fountain surrounded by grape vines and upturned wine barrels. The evening is arid, pleasant enough for a quick coast down the Roman aqueduct water slide.

Though the Italian Riviera has long occupied my summer vacation wish list, I've never actually been there. International vacations require more than the usual diligence to plan. But at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando, little is required of me other than a willingness to believe I am, in fact, in Italy. Just a water taxi ride away from Universal Studios, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a perfect replica of the real one, conceived by none other than Steven Spielberg. With a host of awards to its name, this hotel boasts 750 rooms and suites done up in luxe Italian style. Trattorias, bocce ball courts and étagères in the bathrooms cater to discriminating guests, while traveling pets will be pleased by their own gourmet room service.

No detail has been overlooked, which I discover when the Mandara Spa brings its services to me. Even better, it turns out, than zipping down that Roman style water slide, or twirling around in the enclave-private Hillside Pool, is having my own personal spa ritual. My selection, Cleopatra's Secret, has me lolling for uncounted minutes in oils. Once I've toweled off, taking my good old-fashioned time, I stroll through the piazza and get that gelato.


FALL

There's something in me that craves Maine or Massachusetts in autumn. I want port by the fire and a landscape in dramatic flux. I want to gather my free time around me like a blanket and doze. If I were still making checklists, fall trips would necessitate all of the above. By the time I pull into The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island - after passing rugged marshes and tangled trees voluptuous with Spanish moss - I'm mentally updating my list.

From the extensive patio of my Garden View Suite in the late afternoon light, I chart the almost imperceptible change in the hue of the Atlantic Ocean to slate. The moon is already large and the beach flares up, peach colored. I watch preparations for a bonfire. What's so luxurious about this hotel, with its graceful position on a largely undeveloped barrier island, is its first-class service, glorious natural surroundings and absolute lack of pretension. On the Club Level, there's the requisite fireplace burning, as well as five stunning food presentations each day. There I curl up with both coffee and cabernet and dig into Dostoevsky.

In the award-winning restaurant, Salt, I dine on Hawaiian tuna carpaccio and foie gras with saffron quince compote, sample the prodigious wine list and am very tempted to join the "seat" in the kitchen - a private room from which diners observe their special menu dishes being prepared. Outside, there are meandering boardwalks, Adirondack chairs andswings. On the lobby level I shop for Prada and have port in the elegant lounge. In the spa, I'm scrubbed with salt and honey, wrapped and then smoothed in shea butter. The scalp massage alone drives any latent impulses to task right out of my head. When I'm done, trailing the scent of lime and mango through the silk-papered halls, I slide right into a piping hot bath in my suite's polished tub where I have a view of the ocean.

On a cool day, and despite preponderance of fluffy robes in my room and the Afternoon Tea presentation in the Club Lounge, I decide to explore the landscape. In keeping with my toned down approach to fall getaways, I scout the marshes by kayak. Before leaving, I join a Tai Chi group on the sand. After a weekend here, I discover that I'm more flexible than I've ever been.


WINTER

Each year, successfully planning the holidays represents no less than a major coup. I''m always overextended and left wishing I could remand my family to some fair isle where it's all planned for me - and to the hilt. So when my husband and I abscond this year to The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach in the middle of the holiday flurry, we bring along high hopes and a few unwrapped gifts.

It's easy to imagine sugar plum fairies in our Junior Ocean View Suite, which is awash in the vivid pastels of sea glass. The Breakers' newly remodeled guest rooms and suites feature a fresh, new decor in a distinctive and classic style that offers the highest standards of guest comfort. Accommodations are complete with custom-designed furnishings and fixtures, marble bathrooms and decor inspired by the resort's tropical oceanfront location. Soon we're drawn to the billowing curtain sheers. We step through them onto the balcony and the Atlantic spreads out before us, bracing and powerful.

We don our finest and head downstairs. In the lobby, we're entranced by Christmas trees swaddled in ribbon and tulle, thick garlands hanging from the arches and painted ceilings. A harpist plays carols. The resort features an array of restaurant and culinary concepts to satisfy diverse preferences. Travelers can choose from seafood, modern American and Asian cuisine.

In the spa the next day, I feel like I'm in a European-styled wardrobe complete with blonde wood and prim settees.I help myself to apple and cucumber water (the spa features a variety of infused waters) and breathe in the mentholated air in the steam sauna before submitting to a facial. After, I stop into the Guerlain boutique - and buy some last minute gifts. For myself. The Spa at the Breakers offers Guerlain facials.

When we leave the next day, I turn around to watch this majestic hotel, heralded by its long driveway of twinkle-lit palms lined up like so many nutcrackers, slip away. My New Year's resolution has been carried out just as gracefully.

I plan to make it all over again next year.


A WINE FOR ALL SEASONS

Every November for the past 15 years, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island has been assailed by the roar of jet engines and cartons of corks when skydivers spirit the annual wine Beaujolais nouveau down to the hotel grounds. The dry red wine is delivered by plane straight from southern Burgundy's rolling hills and welcomed in this spectacular ceremony, having been bottled shortly after fermentation to prevent any aging. The wine's arrival in Amelia Island is symbolic: In the Beaujolais region of France, its appearance heralds the start of fall and warrants a full harvest festival. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island has taken up this age-old European tradition, fêting celebrants with hors d'oeuveres, French dishes and desserts.

Not to be outdone, The Breakers Palm Beach keeps a 28,000-bottle collection of vintages all maintained by an expert sommelier and reflecting 1,600 selections. The wine cellar, a centerpiece of the Florentine Room, is protected by 19th-century, hand-painted leaded glass doors, which show a Chinese slate floor, redwood racks and the elegant bottles.

More By Amy Shepherd Nance

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