Conquistadors, industrious immigrants and worldly locals flavor Florida with a deliciously diverse heritage. Master it on this week-long tour that transports you from Spain to Japan (or was that St. Augustine to Miami?).
Day One: Spain in St. Augustine
Discovered by Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, with its Castillo de San Marcos and colonial streets, is steeped in Spanish style. Get a taste of it at the Columbia Restaurant, where you can sit amid fountains and intricate tile work while dining on chicken croquettes, palomilla steak or paella. Then explore a city once threatened by pirates, ruled by three crowns and developed by Henry Flagler.
Step back in time at Hellas Restaurant, set among the sponge docks in the fishing village of Tarpon Springs. Greek sponge divers arrived in this area 100 years ago, wooed by the area’s Anclote River, its waters teeming with sponges. At Hellas, flaming cheese, stuffed grapes and spanakopita testify to Tarpon Springs’ Greek tradition. The restaurant’s bakery is well known for its baklava and cookies, which beg to be devoured as you explore the gift shops that line the docks. Sit by Spring Bayou or wander through neighborhoods full of pastel Victorians in this bygone corner of Central West Florida.
Day Three: Cuba in Ybor City
Long after the torcedores pressed fat Cuban cigars with lithographs and gold medallions, Ybor City survives near downtown Tampa. Here, revolutionary Jose Martí gave his rousing speech to the cigar rollers, igniting the fight for Cuba’s independence from Spain. Stroll Seventh Avenue (La Septima) under wrought iron balconies and cast iron lamps. Saturdays, gather at the Ybor City Museum State Park for a walking tour of the city known as the "Cradle of Cuban Liberty."conducts walking tours brimming with the stories of this “Cradle of Cuban Liberty.” The tour takes you past Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant, where the dining chain was established by a Cuban immigrant in 1905. During the nightly flamenco show, the dancers come so close you can feel the wind from their movements. Craving casual? Stop into Carmine’s for a Cuban sandwich, maduros, fresh black beans and café con leche.
Day Four: Italy in Tampa
Settle into a banquette in the elegant dining room at Tampa’s Donatello Italian Restaurant, clutch your Chianti and prepare for classic southern Italian fare. When Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar operations from Key West to Tampa at the turn of the 20th century, Sicilians, as well as Cubans, came to work at the factories, infusing the area with a vibrant Italian spirit (in fact, the century-old Italian Club, or L’Unione Italiana, marks a stop on the Ybor City walking tour). Try the risotto al funghi in Donatello’s gracious, family-run dining room where the walls are hung with art and tapestries and the air is fragrant with Italian sauces.
Haiti, by way of New Orleans, is alive and well in the snug little outpost of Mr. Bones BBQ on colorful Anna Maria Island. From the macabre masks on the walls to the coffin full of beer, the magic and mystery of French Creole culture and cooking is hard to miss, or to beat, here. Try the apricot brandied chicken with a voodoo-themed beer.
Before leaving Delray Beach for Miami, visit The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The site is a remnant of an early 20th-century Japanese farming settlement, the Yamato Colony. You’ll work up an appetite touring its seishin-an teahouse, changing gallery exhibits, courtyards and gardens. In Miami’s South Beach, sip sake in Doraku’s stylish teahouse setting and enjoy the sushi.