Like the quiet two-laned roads that carried us during the last hour of our journey, a long-anticipated weekend stretched ahead. When our cell phones stopped working, we knew we were close. Our destination was Steinhatchee Landing Resort near the coast in rural North Central Florida.
My husband, Nate, and I had planned this mini-vacation with another couple, our friends David and Amber. We chose Steinhatchee Landing, a luxury, riverfront retreat, partly for its couples-friendly accommodations – cottages that sleep from two to eight in private bedrooms, plus common gathering spaces – and partly for its mix of recreational pursuits: things for the men to do, things for the women to do and things for everyone to do together.
In the high-ceilinged living room of our cottage, called Twelve Oaks, I settled into a soft, overstuffed chair, admiring the dark wooden mantle, elegant wainscoting, flowing drapes and antique furniture. Dim lights had been left on for us, making the house feel warm and welcoming.
To say Twelve Oaks is perfect for a group of couples traveling together is an understatement. We had our choice of four bedrooms, each with a private bathroom (the master suite contained a whirlpool bath big enough for two), two living rooms (one upstairs and one downstairs) and a full kitchen with stainless steel appliances and enough cookware, dishes, utensils and glasses to accommodate a group much larger than ours. A whitewashed dining table was set for eight. There was also a screened lanai out back with a table, and a brick patio in front.
After exploring the cottage, we headed to the second-floor porch, overlooking a magnificent old oak draped in Spanish moss. Bottles of beer and glasses of wine in hand, we sat in comfy chairs, listening to the sounds of gentle rain, and I lit two small candles. One thing that’s great about unspoiled Steinhatchee is that it’s so dark, you can really see the stars. The closest city is 45 miles away.
The next morning, David and Nate went fishing with local guide Capt. Jim Henley. And after a leisurely breakfast in the resort’s dining room, Amber and I camped out at the pool. At noon, when the guys returned to collect us for our afternoon scalloping charter, they showed us the fruits of their labor – a cooler full of sea trout.
We motored out and dropped anchor in the calm Gulf. Scalloping requires wearing a mask and snorkel, getting in the water (at depths of only about four feet) and reaching down to grab the Pac-Man-like shellfish at their hinges, holding them closed so they can’t scoot away.
For some reason, I had pictured scallops strewn all over a sandy Gulf floor in plain sight. In reality, long, slender seagrass carpeted the bottom, providing the perfect hiding place. I swam slowly, my eyes directed down. When I caught a glimpse of white, gray or brown (depending on whether seaweed covered the shell) in the grass, I’d take a deep breath and reach. Across three locations that afternoon, we collected enough scallops for dinner.
While Capt. Jim shelled, cleaned and filleted our catches, we drove to local Maddie's Market for the other ingredients we’d need for dinner. We all pitched in to cook: tender, buttery scallops and moist sea trout sprinkled with olive oil and seasonings. Hard to believe we had caught the seafood ourselves just hours earlier.
For my husband and me, a true vacation with friends includes plenty of time to just “hang out” and catch up, whether that means lounging by a pool or lingering over dinner with a great bottle of wine. Steinhatchee didn’t disappoint. We relaxed and, perhaps most importantly, reconnected with each other and with our friends.
Planning a couple’s retreat in another part of the state? Check out these getaway ideas for four (or more!):
Cheeca Lodge, Islamorada:
Choose from sea kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, sunset cruises, fishing, tennis and golf – something for every member of your group.
Ocean Key Resort & Spa, Key West:
Located between Key West Harbor and Mallory Square, this resort captures the essence of the island featuring oceanfront hotel accommodations overlooking the placid waters where Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean, an on-site restaurant and fishing charters.