It was a just a girl’s getaway. We chose Amelia Island at the northernmost corner of Florida because we heard it was a lovely retreat without the usual tourist trappings of clogged roads, traffic jams and busy shopping malls with the same stores we had back home.
The island is located 32 miles northeast of Jacksonville. The ride from the airport was about 40 minutes. The area which includes Fernandina Beach is well known to its closest northern neighbors in the states of Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama, but is an undiscovered tourist destination for many other regions in the United States.
From the south end of the island along scenic A1A to historic downtown Fernandina Beach, there were unique shops featuring everything from one-of-a-kind artwork to clothing and antique stores. We spent several hours visiting the shops in the historic 50-block historic area. Where else could you find a store like Trailer Park Collectibles? Inside this colorful blue and yellow house are rooms upon rooms of treasures of every size and description from antiques and flatware to jewelry and quilts.
We stopped for a meal at Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro in the historic area of Fernandina Beach and relished some fresh caught fish which was creatively prepared and served with style by friendly waiters. We received a real sense of the olden days of the area by visiting the Amelia Island Museum of History located in the old Nassau County Jail in Fernandina Beach. The island’s 400 year history is quite remarkable as the area has been under the rule of many nations from the French, Spanish, English and Mexicans.
In fact, the area has flown under eight flags starting with its discovery by the French in 1562. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821 and the golden years of Fernandina’s Historic District retains the evidence of the town’s greatest period of prosperity from 1875 to 1900. The enormous wealth of the area is observed in many of the Victorian-style mansions and cottages in the area including some of the largest bed and breakfasts in the nation.
The Fairbanks House on Seventh Street is a popular bed and breakfast decorated in lovely period furnishings. This 1885 four-story home with a 15-foot tower has 12 foot ceilings, pine floors and a marvelous mahogany staircase. Each room is beautifully decorated with period furnishings and antique rugs. The innkeepers serve a breakfast daily in the lavish dining room and host a social hour every afternoon.
The Hoyt House Inn on 804 Atlantic Avenue is another bed and breakfast we visited. This 1905 family home of Fred Willis Hoyt, a prominent local businessman in pioneer days has been lovingly restored. The house was modeled after the Rockefeller Cottage on Jekyll Island. The home has seven fireplaces and 10 guest rooms with lovely furnishings and antiques. It also has beautiful gardens, a swimming pool and a gazebo where many family gatherings and weddings are held. Guests of the Inn are also served a delicious breakfast every morning.
Amelia Island also has lavish resorts. We stayed at the Amelia Island Plantation, a privately owned 1,350 acre resort and residential community. The Plantation is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Intracoastal Waterway on the west. It consists of miles of un-crowded beaches, outstanding golf courses and tennis facilities, fine dining, a spacious spa facility, nine restaurants and a collection of upscale shops.
The Plantation is unique. It has 72 holes of golf and four golf courses. I’m not a golfer but just the view from the oceanfront from the Ocean Links golf course was enough to entice me to take up the sport.
The Plantation’s tennis facilities play host to the Bausch and Lomb Tennis Championships. This premiere Women’s Tennis Association Tour event is one of the favorite places for both players and fans, an annual event for the past 27 years. The Plantation has 23 tennis courts, three lighted for evening play.
The spa is located in a stand alone facility and has 25 treatment center and a myriad of treatment options. I opted for the sports massage and enjoyed the serenity of the facility with its herb teas, steam showers and outstanding therapists.
The Plantation has an on-staff naturalist, nature center and nature tours. It has miles of walking, jogging and biking trails. Riding around the resort on my electric golf court, I saw guests kayaking, horseback riding, swimming and fishing.
We also experienced fine dining at the Plantation’s Ocean Grill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Executive Chef Greg Bauer and James King, Chef De Cuisine designed a menu that encompassed local seafood and seasonal ingredients. We especially enjoyed the Yellow Tail Snapper with mango relish and plantain croquette.
We learned that the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island had recently opened a $17 million, 27,500 square foot spa with 26 treatment rooms, so we booked a day at the spa. It was a day we will long remember and plan to experience again.
The signature spa experience at the Ritz is Heaven in a Hammock. This wonderful treatment is an indoor massage in a hammock. The treatment is based on traditional Mayan practices. My therapist massaged my body from above and below the hammock. The benefits of “zero gravity” and massage unite as the hammock elongates the spine to create a sense of weightlessness and floating. This gives the body more flexibility as it moves in a rhythmic, rocking motion. It was a unique and memorable experience.
The Sea Creations Energizing Facial I experienced at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island was another unique and relaxing occurrence. Imagine ocean ingredients and pearl protein delivered via massage techniques using smooth seashells? My skin felt rejuvenated and was positively glowing after this amazing treatment. My friend tried the honey butter wrap skin softening wrap, paraffin hand and foot treatments and butter body massage and said it was sensational.
We also booked a gourmet tasting experience in the kitchen at the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton. The tasting was conducted by Executive Chef Chef Richard Gras. The Chef’s Adventure Menu called The Grand Seat in the Kitchen, is a 10-course, five-hour extravaganza. The tasting has to be booked well in advance as the tasting room only accommodates up to four people. Plan to spend an evening tasting some of the best island cuisine you will ever savor. Each cutting-edge course was accompanied by a perfectly paired wine served up by a seasoned sommelier. The glass window in the kitchen faces the kitchen preparation staff and we enjoyed watching the chefs in action as they put the finishing touches on culinary masterpieces for the upscale, five diamond award winning Salt Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton.
We explored the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton and found it to have everything you would expect at a Ritz Carlton and more. The resort has a sandy beach, 18-hole PGA Championship golf course and a nine-court oceanfront tennis complex. It also has outstanding fitness facilities and kids programs and a separate teen lounge with a movie theater, indoor and outdoor pools and whirlpools, upscale boutiques, three restaurants and four cocktail lounges.
Our time spent in Amelia Island featured timeless tranquility and unparalleled luxury in a destination of unspoiled coastal beauty and Southern charm. We plan to return.
Photos by Phyllis Steinberg
Amelia Island Plantation, 1-800-874-6878, www.aipfl.com
The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island, 1-800-241-3333, www.ritzcarlton.com
Amelia Island Museum of History, 233 South Third Street, Fernandina Beach, 904-261-7378
Fairbanks House, 227 S. 7th Street, Amelia Island, 904-277-0500, www.fairbankshouse.com
The Hoyt House, 804 Atlantic Avenue, Amelia Island, 800-432-2085, www.hoythouse.com
Amelia Island Chamber of Commerce, www.islandchamber.com
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro, 142 S. 2nd street, Fernandina Beach, 904-277-8782
Phyllis is a professional journalist specializing in travel, food and photography.
For more information visit: www.phylliscooks.com