By Gary McKechnie

If you were looking for the finest thing on wheels today, you might lean toward a Lamborghini or Ferrari. Turn back the clock 100 years or so and the most dazzling vehicle on the road was an Armbruster royal carriage, like the one used by Austria’s Franz Joseph and now on display at the Grand Oaks Resort and Carriage Museum in Weirsdale.

You can read about these carriages and see pictures of them, but until you see one up close, fully restored and being pulled by a team of horses – maybe through a carriage tour  – you’ll never really understand just how magnificent they are.

This alone is just one reason why I’d strongly recommend a visit to the Grand Oaks Resort, a full-fledged equine resort located near The Villages; about 20 minutes south of Ocala. A world-class museum with a world-class collection of more than 200 carriages displayed in four galleries, it’s a wonderful and entertaining experience. I knew little about this culture, but I was astounded by the collection that ranged from Roman and Egyptian chariots to gypsy wagons and horse-drawn double-decker buses and a Wild West stagecoach. Nearly every item here is authentic and each has been meticulously restored.

You should go there for the museum -- and for several other reasons as well. At this 400-acre resort you can see horse shows every other week and each Sunday they host a cowboy church service at the Morning Star chapel. Even if you don’t attend church you can still attend the Sunday Brunch (9-2, $12.50, or $25 for brunch and a carriage ride).

Sue Kelly, the director of sales and marketing, shared that this is known around the world as one of the sport’s premier training and competition centers, and it’s also a popular destination for special events such as the Cattle Baron’s Ball of Lake/Sumter/Marion counties and the Special Olympics. Look around this graceful landscape and you’d guess it might be popular setting for weddings as well. And you would be right. Weddings are quite popular here, thanks to the tranquil and well-maintained grounds as well as the chance for the bride and groom to depart via a horse-drawn carriage.

For me this was an unexpected find. When you travel off the beaten path, I hope you discover as much pleasure at the Grand Oaks Resort.

When you go

Grand Oaks Resort and Carriage Museum
3000 Marion County Road
Weirsdale, Fla.
(352) 750-5500

Places to remember