Do you want to feel far away in a magical, new destination while still having all of the comforts of home just minutes from a major airport? The warm humidity enveloped us from the moment we stepped off the plane in Jacksonville, FL, welcoming us to a dreamy southern setting. We arrived in Amelia Island, Florida, in just a few minutes. Our off-season visit provided us with a peaceful, uncrowded visit to north Florida, complete with southern hospitality and stunning seaside scenery.
Amelia Island, Florida has been named among the Top 10 North American islands by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards.
Also making the Reader’s Choice Awards is The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. The 444-room beach front resort was ranked #21 among the Top 50 US Mainland Resorts.
Located just off the coast of northeast Florida, Amelia Island is a barrier island rich in colorful history and breathtaking natural beauty. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Intra- coastal Waterway, strong-currented Nassau Sound and one of the East’s largest and deepest inlets – Cumberland Sound – Amelia Island is edged with natural Appalachian quartz beaches and framed by dunes as high as 40 feet.
Thirteen miles long and two miles wide, the northern and southern tips of the Island are park preserves which make up nearly 10 percent of the entire Island.
Amelia Island’s small size belies the host of activities she offers her guests. From golf and tennis at world-class resorts to kayaking, sunset sails and horseback riding on the beach, Amelia Island provides an array of activities for those who want to keep busy. For those who want pure rest, relaxation and quality time with loved ones, there is no better place than Amelia Island.
The Island offers all types of accommodations, restaurants and shops to meet the needs of the most discriminating traveler or budget-minded family. The Island is home to Florida’s only spoken history museum and a Civil War fort where monthly reenactments are conducted.
Summer Beach Resort
Summer Beach Resort offers close proximity to the beach, breathtaking ocean views, and a variety of fun activities. For a portion of our stay, we were able to enjoy budget-friendly meals “at home” in our clean and stylishly cozy condo. A short walk through the protected dunes on designated boardwalks gave visitors a glimpse of the island’s best features, the pristine sea and clean sandy beaches. We saw gopher tortoises, sea shells, and shark teeth while watching families play and fish in the waves. Miles of walking and biking paths provided a picturesque setting for morning runs through the dense live oak canopy.
The inviting atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Spa entices guests to stay for more than just a treatment. Come early for a soak or steam in the waterfall hot tub and the dry cedar or wet eucalyptus saunas, then stay late to relax in one of the lounge areas or the private pool. Heaven in a Hammock, created exclusively for the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton, was a one-of-a-kind spa experience. While wrapped in the specially designed light-weight hammock, you receive a 360-degree massage from above, beside, and beneath. To say the least, they are memorable, as they elongate your spine with hanging and relax you with soothing rocking rhythms.
The Hadashi was another one-of-a-kind spa treatment. Instead of the usual hands-on treatment, the therapist balances from bars while performing deep, soothing strokes with his feet in this feet-on treatment. It was easy to lose track of time while relaxing with these non-traditional massages.
Amelia Island Plantation
The Amelia Island Plantation invited us to take a Segway tour of their property. We got a close-up tour of Amelia Island by driving over bridges, around golf courses, through upscale neighborhoods, along the beach, and through the scenic marshlands. We were surprised at how simple it was to learn to ride. The Segway was a relaxing but enjoyable way to explore Amelia Island.
The restaurants we were fortunate to visit were exciting for us as tourists, but they also felt like local favorites. Espana Restaurant offered a taste of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, with excellent interpretations of traditional paella and other seafood specialties, such as the Shrimp Mozambique—a spicy, coconut-milk sauce over delicious prawns. The quaint atmosphere and bustling courtyard of the Happy Tomato Café greeted us with a smile. We tried the house specialties, which included pulled pork, chicken salad, smoked ribs, and shrimp salad. We rolled out as happy as the tomatoes, topped off with lemonade and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.
The charming Fernandina Beach historic district should not be missed during your visit to Amelia Island. This area is ideal for an evening stroll, a day of shopping, or settling in for a delicious meal, with its 50-blocks of beautifully restored buildings, restaurants, charming stores, and tree-lined roadways leading to the water front. As we arrived, the Fernandina Beach Farmer’s Market was in full swing, and we were treated to gourmet baked goods, local honey, and delectable desserts in addition to farm direct produce. (Open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays)
The island is home to Fernandina Beach, once a vibrant Victorian seaport village, and now a charming downtown district of eclectic shops, attractions and eateries.
Fernandina Beach, is also known as the “Isle of 8 Flags” for it has had the flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. flown over it since 1562. In fact, it is the only municipality in the United States that has flown eight different national flags.
To celebrate a part of the towns history, The Fiesta de Santa Maria takes place in Fernandina Beach each year in September to celebrate its historic Latin heritage. Visitors enjoy Latin cuisine from area restaurants, music, dancing, plus a marketplace with a variety of vendors.