Finding Italy in Florida

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Find all things Italian (except the mountains) at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort.

I have never been to Italy, but I've come pretty close – right here in Florida. Dining on the authentic Italian cuisine at Sale e Pepe is always the highlight of my visits to the Four Diamond Marco Beach Ocean Resort on Marco Island. Even more so for my husband, who confesses he could do shots of the buttery sage veal glaze that accompanies his favorite dish.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the resort. I'm not a fan of mega hotels, and that's the appeal of the 98-room Marco Beach Ocean Resort, just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. It has the amenities of much larger properties but on an intimate scale. That's especially important in the fitness center and the spa, which specializes in marine-themed treatments and signature Gulf Water Seashell Body Ritual that substitutes shells for hot stones.


A Multisensory Experience

The resort's commitment to luxury is evident in the lobby, which has the opulence of a grand Italian palazzo without being ostentatious. Polished marble floors, stone balustrades, crystal chandeliers and the resort's signature pomegranate scent provide a sensory feast while foreshadowing the top-drawer experience guests will enjoy in this little slice of heaven on Earth. A hand-painted mural and statuary against the main wall enhance the Italian ambience; the only thing missing (or so I'm told) are mountains in the background.

The resort's navy-and-gold color scheme is rich and luxurious and provides an elegant home-away-from-home feeling in the guest suites, which boast carved furniture, swoon-worthy beds and private balconies. All of the rooms are suites, with a sitting area, separate bedroom and a full kitchen that can be stocked with just one call to the concierge (dining at Sale e Pepe every night is a little too decadent, even for me).

As a self-confessed toiletry junkie, I'm happy to discover that the resort stocks its marble-clad bathrooms with Molton Brown products, making it even more tempting to forgo the beach and lounge around in their signature melt-against-your-skin robes, enveloped by the glorious scents. But the water beckons, and to reach the beach, we have to resist the urge to plunk ourselves down in a lounge chair by the pool or retire to a cabana, where our every need will be catered to.


Indulgence by the Shore

As it turns out, we'll enjoy the same pampering on the beach, with our toes happily buried in the sand and a refreshing sorbet served promptly at 3 p.m. Should we decide to fend for ourselves, we can follow the boardwalk to the Beach Pavilion, which offers a beach bar and grill. But we're content to sip a frosty drink and watch the changing scenario of shorebirds and the occasional dolphin.

The Beach Pavilion's second floor is home to Toulouse lounge – a dark, clubby setting with overstuffed leather armchairs, paisley-covered sofas and giant murals borrowing from the famed artist's works – and Sale e Pepe, which my husband and I always say with a heartfelt sigh. We've never dined on the terrace, preferring instead the romance of the dining room's intimate candlelit interior of marble floors with dazzling mosaic inlays, stone-clad columns, grotto-like spaces and wall-spanning, hand-painted frescoes.


Authentic Recipes from the Old Country

We've also never ordered from the menu, relying instead on Chef Alberto Varetto's tasting menu to deliver the authentic flavors of his homeland, which includes a bonus for us ladies: a tableside visit from the tall, blond, blue-eyed maestro. Varetto is so insistent on re-creating the centuries-old recipes of his Torino heritage, he imports flour for pasta, uses mostly organic ingredients, requires the thinly sliced beef in the tagliata to be turned every 30 seconds and takes a week to prepare the veal glaze for my husband's favorite, the veal ravioli. Regular visits home mean the chef is always introducing new tastes to the menu, including rare burrata, a creamy buffalo-milk cheese and the pride of a small village in Northern Italy.

Each course is expertly paired with selections from the restaurant's Wine Spectator-recognized cellar, which favors Piedmont and Tuscan vintages, including several library and limited-production wines. As we savor a trio of mini-desserts – tiramisu, chocolate raspberry and warm apple tart – we're overcome by the moment. Eccellente, we sigh as we clink our glasses of port. And I can't help but think: Who needs Italy?

This article is brought to you by Marco Beach Ocean Resort. To plan your own getaway to Marco Beach Ocean Resort call 800-715-8517 or visit www.marcoresort.com.


Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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