Amelia Island, FL: So Far Away is So Close
By: Stephanie Olsen and Heather Denning
Do you want to feel far away in a magical, new destination, but have all of the amenities of home only minutes from a major airport? From the moment we stepped off the plane in Jacksonville, FL, the warm humidity enveloped us, welcoming us to a dreamy southern setting. Only minutes away, we arrived in lovely Amelia Island, Florida. Our off-season visit afforded us a quiet, uncrowded visit to north Florida, complete with southern hospitality and gorgeous seaside backdrops.
Summer Beach Resort featured great proximity to the beach, breathtaking ocean views, and a plethora of fun activities to enjoy. Our clean and stylishly cozy condo, gave us the opportunity to enjoy budget-friendly meals “at home” for a portion of our stay. A short walk through the protected dunes on designated boardwalks shared a peek into the island’s best features, the pristine sea and the clean sandy beaches. We saw gopher tortoises, collected sea shells, and searched for shark teeth, all while watching families play and fish in the waves. Miles of walking and bike paths provided a scenic place for morning runs through the thick, live oak canopy.
The enticing atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Spa invites guests to enjoy 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 and linger after to relax in any of the lounge areas or private pool. Heaven in a Hammock, exclusively created by the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton, was a unique spa experience. While wrapped in the specially-designed light-weight hammock, you experience a massage from 360 degrees: above, beside, and under. Memorable to say the least, they elongate your spine with hanging and relax you with soothing rocking rhythms. Another unique spa treatment was the Hadashi. Instead of the usual hands-on treatment, in this feet-on treatment the therapist balances from bars while using his feet to perform deep, soothing strokes. It was easy to get lost in relaxation while enjoying these non-traditional massages.
The Amelia Island Plantation invited us to enjoy an authorized Segway tour of their grounds. Over bridges, around the golf courses, through upscale neighborhoods, along the beach, and through the scenic marshlands, we experienced an up- close tour of Amelia Island. We were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to learn to ride. The Segway was a relaxing, but fun way to experience Amelia Island.
The restaurants we were lucky to experience were exciting for us as tourists, but felt like local favorites. Espana Restaurant was a taste of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, where we were favored with excellent interpretations of traditional paella as well as other seafood specials, such as the Shrimp Mozambique—a spicy, coconut-milk sauce over delicious prawns. The Happy Tomato Café welcomed us with a smile to its quaint atmosphere and bustling courtyard. We sampled the house specials of pulled pork, chicken salad, smoked ribs, and shrimp salad. Topped off with lemonade and a homemade chocolate chip cookie, we rolled out as happy as the tomatoes.
Not to be missed during your visit to Amelia Island is the quaint Fernandina Beach historic district. With its 50-blocks of beautifully restored buildings, local eateries, charming shops and tree-lined streets leading to the water front, this area is perfect for an evening stroll, a day of shopping or a place to settle in for a delicious meal. We were fortunate enough to find the Fernandina Beach Farmer’s Market in full swing as we arrived and were treated to gourmet breads, local honey and delicious desserts in addition to farm direct produce. (Open Saturdays 9-1)
The morning we were scheduled for a bike tour at Fort Clinch State Park with Kayak Amelia, weather foiled our plans. We did, however, pay a visit to their headquarters located in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. This “urban park” is technically in Jacksonville’s city limits, which is surprising when you look around at the solitude and peace in these quiet marshlands. Our next visit will definitely include a visit to Ray, Kayak Amelia’s passionate owner who wants everyone’s first paddling experience to be only the first of many.
We were thrilled with the quiet natural treasures of this area, made even better by the accessibility and affordability of such a beautiful destination. We could see why Amelia Island ranks so high in North American island getaways. Amelia Island, we’ll see you again soon!