Tampa to Sarasota
Doing an American road trip does sound enticing and exciting. Hitting the open road in a Chevy or Cadillac does make you think of wide roads and interesting places. Our ‘old bones’ now need more Vitamin D! So, we decided this year to join the Snowbirds in their flight to the sun in Florida.
One thing you must remember being a snowbird is that there are thousands like you, ‘flying’ south to enjoy the winter sun. If you do not plan your route and accommodation stops, you may be left searching for a ‘room for the night’ as we did. Well, eight motels later! we found the Quality Inn just outside Sarasota, cost $240 per night. So, plan your route and if possible, your accommodation, especially at this time of year.
Sarasota was the destination for our first stop. Travelling down to Sarasota from Tampa is a pleasure as you take the route over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a wonderful man-made structure that takes your breath away. The ‘rest’ stops at either side of the bridge are excellent ways to take some good pictures of this iconic bridge.
Sarasota is a beautiful place with an excellent climate. It is a city of culture with wonderful museums and art galleries plus excellent theatres. Many British snowbirds stay for six months and have bought holiday condos or apartments there. The area around the marina is vibrant and lively, with walkers and cyclists. Cafes and bars are abundant in this area, try O’Leary’s on the water’s edge for breakfast or at any time and you won’t be disappointed.
Sarasota was once the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus and The Ringling Museum of Art, which showcases old masters and modern art. Pop into the Information Office in the Old Town and check out the what’s on in the area, or of course, look at the internet or perhaps just ask a local or a snowbird, they are very happy to help.
Sarasota is also a gateway to miles of beaches with fine sand and shallow waters. A visit to Siesta Key is on many traveller’s itinerary with its beautiful beach and a very lively atmosphere with bars and restaurants that attract young and old to see the wonderful Florida Sunsets.
Matlacha and Pine Island
Our search on the website for hotels or motels led us to a lovely ‘old world’ part of Florida, with brightly coloured properties sitting lovingly on the board walks, being lapped by the creeks that came off the inlet that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Many people head for Sanibel and Captiva Island or Fort Myers, but stopping at Matlacha (pronounced: Mat-La-Shay) and Pine Island was a blast from the past. Matlacha is a fishing area with an arts community enjoying the laid-back gentle way of life.
We stayed at the Angler’s Inn in Matlacha. A small motel with only four rooms to let, Jeanette, the owner, looks after this quirky, brightly coloured, comfortable, interesting motel – cost $170 per night. The Angler’s Inn motel is set on a creek where fishing is encouraged, rods can be borrowed, and a small boat can be hired or you can just sit on the decking and watch the ospreys building their nest or the pelicans on the lookout for food.
The motel is near to shops and restaurants so if you feel like doing ‘al-fresco’ then the motel does have a substantial kitchen and tables and chairs for outside dining. But if you prefer to dine out, then you can walk to the Blue Dog restaurant that has a comprehensive menu and a lively atmosphere. The islanders do not party until late, most restaurants stop serving food at 9pm.
Matlacha is a sleepy, rural community where tourists and fishermen blend in, you can drive straight through and miss this lovely ‘jewel’ of the past, so slow down a little and enjoy the ambience of this place before it disappears under the tourist stampede.
Pine Island is the largest island in the state of Florida. The Island is located in Lee County on the Gulf of Mexico with a handful of fishing villages – with an artistic twist. Making your way over the bridge from Matlacha, the peace and tranquillity stays with you and at the crossroads do you take a left or a right? Well, we went right and found our way to the stunning hotel Tarpon Lodge nestled on the water’s edge and if it is luxury you want, then this is the place to be.
Tarpon Lodge is a beautiful colonial hotel with an excellent restaurant and an exclusive water’s edge marina. It is expensive but, why not, you are on holiday! At a cost of $175 per night mid-week, but at the weekends the prices rise (check the website). People come to the Tarpon Lodge to see the sunsets and to get away from it all. If you want even more exclusivity, then why not try the sister resort hotel on Cabbage Key which can only be accessed by boat and is very exclusive.
Whilst we stayed on Pine Island we went to Sanibel and Captiva Islands for the day. You have to pay to go on the island which is $6 per car. The beaches are fantastic, and the areas are beautiful. When you get on Sanibel Island the road runs to the North and becomes Captiva Island. I would recommend anyone to visit this beautiful area of Florida at least once in their lifetime.
Time to go to our next destination, we wanted to make our way nearer to Orlando for our flight home, so we set off for the East Coast.
New Smyrna Beach
Thanks again to the internet we booked into a stunning hotel called the Night Swan for bed and breakfast. The hotel is an old colonial building with 16 charming guest rooms with a swing seat outside and rocking chairs (just like you see in the movies). It is set across from the Indian River and has a jetty for people who would like to bring their boat to sail with no mooring cost. There are sunbeds and chairs for the people who come to just admire the view and watch the dolphins swim and play or maybe catch a glimpse of a manatee as they glide by.
Our excellent hosts, David and Madeleine, were welcoming, attentive and always on hand if help was needed. Home-made food is served at breakfast – the yogurt and granola is delicious. The hotel rooms are excellent and well-appointed and there is an annex with five rooms plus a communal kitchen to make drinks and heat up food if required. The cost was $190 for bed and breakfast per person.
New Smyrna Beach is a busy area, but weekends see an influx of tourists from all around the area to ‘play’ on the beach or sail their boats down the Intercoastal Waterways of Indian River. The motto of New Smyrna Beach is “a swan among ducks” well, they are right and staying at the Night Swan Hotel made the motto true to life.
The beauty of this area is that you have the excitement of Orlando and the theme parks within easy reach or the thrill of Kennedy Space Centre, all within driving distance of New Smyrna Beach.
Our road trip was coming to an end and what a trip – we had been there and most certainly got the tee shirt!! The variety and experiences we had whilst we travelled and the memories and friendships, we made along the way will stay with us forever. The snowbirds know that flying south is the right thing to do in the winter and I would not hesitate to join them again.
Silver travel Advisor recommends American Sky