One of 20 Naples Beaches
When the winter is cold and the world appears to be in turmoil, as it so often has been recently, we wonder whether there is an easy way to find calm, warmth, and perhaps a touch of beauty.
Late last winter, we decided to try to meet this challenge. After a few days in Ft. Lauderdale (which we shared with readers in a previous post), we were speeding across Alligator Alley to our rental home in Naples, Florida. With masks and vaccination cards in hand, and a spacious stand-alone house with a lanai and its own pool to call ours for a month, we felt at least the beginnings of calm immediately upon arriving in our new, quiet, setting. The sun was shining, the trees were green and the breezes warm. But what would we do with our month off? What was there beyond swims in the pool and quiet hours for reading? What did we know about this place called Naples?
Naples was barely to be found on a map a century ago. The ancient home of the Calusa, a native American people, it was for hundreds of years a very sparsely inhabited shore community, located directly on the Gulf of Mexico. Today it is a place to be nourished by the sea, refreshed by the sun, and relieved of snow and at least some of the ‘woes of the world’ for as many days as one can spare.
Palm trees, beaches, parks and golf courses are abundant, but so are concerts, theaters, first-rate restaurants, and a plethora of other attractions. As one of the most affluent towns in the country, there is landscaped beauty in abundance and a general feeling of wealth and harmony. It would be hard to find more gorgeous residential neighborhoods anywhere in the country than those that adjoin the Gulf heading south from Vanderbilt Beach through Pelican Bay to the area known as Old Naples.
We found plenty of things to do, and some rich cultural surprises: The first was that we could easily obtain tickets (front row seats at that!) to hear the Chicago Symphony perform, under the baton of the esteemed Riccardo Muti, at the elegant Hayes Hall of Artis Naples, the local performing arts center. And not just once, but twice! The Naples Philharmonic was another surprise, with appealing programming and strong performances. For theater, there was the top notch Gulfshore Playhouse, a regional theatre that casts all its shows from New York City, attracts leading directors as well as performers, and is in the process of building a dazzling new facility. The Baker Art Museum engaged us with a freshly renewed facility with special exhibits, permanent works, and a gallery full of Magritte paintings that have just been put on long-term loan to the Museum.
Naples Botanical Garden
On the more outdoor side of life, we couldn’t get over the Naples Botanical Garden, a 170 acre gardeners wonderland. Whether you want to just see a little or a lot, this world-class garden is visitor-friendly and engaging with an Orchid Garden, Brazilian Garden, Caribbean Garden and an Asian Garden, among others. Its café provides a cool setting and healthy, affordable food.
We were in Florida, so even though we are not by any stretch sun worshippers, we had to at least get a feeling for the beach options. Naples has 10 miles of beaches. At the beach end of many Naples streets are a handful of parking spaces and wooden walkways to the very nearby beaches. Lowdermilk Park is much larger in terms of parking, with a covered pavilion, restrooms and food service. For a more back-to-nature experience, we loved visiting the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, a 166 acre park that is actually a barrier island just north of Vanderbilt Beach and extending for a mile to Wiggins Pass. Its string of five long and narrow, but ample, parking areas make it possible to access the beach in just a few steps and through peaceful shaded, wooded, and uncrowded picnic areas. There is an observation tower and a quarter-mile boardwalk at the Park’s north end, and kayaks can be rented in parking area 5. It is a marvelous place for observing shore birds and eagles, ospreys and owls. A day pass costs $6 per vehicle.
A tourist has to eat, so what about that? Coming from restaurant-rich city Philadelphia, we found Naples more than worthy. Pleasant dining, whether outdoors or in, was a cinch. We couldn’t get enough of Bricktops, Bravo, Ridgway, or the Claw Bar. For sophisticated dinners, Bice, Escargot 41, USS Nemo’s, and Pazzo were perfect. In high season, reservations at least 24 hours in advance are a must.
What remains to be said about Naples? For a real sense of escape, the beauty everywhere can hardly be matched. While almost everything here has been constructed in the last fifty years, thus ensuring freshness, it is the good design, lovely layouts and landscaping of homes, parks, shops and even beaches, that impress.
A few pleasant weeks can be mightily restorative. Invigorating walks, concerts, theater, and palm treed-vistas tend to remain in thought, ensuring not just good memories, but reentry into the ‘real world’ with fresh sights and insights, and that sense of calm that motivated travel in the first place.
Jeanne Sigler is a happy resident of Society Hill, having moved here after a 30-year career as President of Jeanne Sigler and Associates, Inc. in New York City. The full-service fundraising consulting firm served a broad array of nonprofit organizations in the arts, education, and the environment, among others. She and her husband, Jim Fratto, traveled extensively both for work and pleasure. With this and other articles, she shares their love of discovering new points of interest near and far, and during the pre, during, and hopefully, post-pandemic era.
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