Golden days on the Gulf Coast at Naples, Florida
Naples, on the Gulf of Mexico between Miami and Fort Myers, in Southwest Florida, has long lured those to its sub-tropical climate, pristine beaches and glorious sunsets.
The name was first used in a late 19th Century magazine article singing the praises of the area, which it compared with the Bay of Naples, Italy.
Visitors today will find, in Naples, a prosperous, thriving community, whose residents take real pride in their town.
This is also a major ‘snowbird’ destination for those looking to escape the winter conditions in the northern states.
These two factors help sustain the plethora of fine dining restaurants, designer boutiques and art, craft and give shops that so enhance a short stay here.
A lasting love affair with Naples
Whenever I tell anyone I am a travel writer, I know what I will be asked.
What a great job you have, you must always be on holiday? And So where is your favourite place in the whole world?
While I will happily accept there are worse ways to scrape together a living, I tend to stall on the destination question.
That’s because it’s not the place, it’s the people that makes travelling the rewarding experience it is.
The more one travels, the more one appreciates that people are all the same.
Welcoming to strangers, keen to share experiences and often helpful well beyond what one has any realistic right to expect.
Meeting someone, albeit briefly, in a bar, café or gas station; on a bus or at the beach results in those vignettes that make travelling so invigorating and rewarding.
A glutton for Florida
However, and if pushed, I will confess to being a glutton for Florida.
The glorious weather (outside of the oppressive summer months), the stunning beaches and the American culture all appeal greatly.
Look beyond the theme parks and there are so many other nuggets in the Sunshine State just waiting to be explored.
One of these is undoubtedly Naples, which offers all one could wish for in a sunshine destination, be it sand, sea and seabirds, sophisticated dining, or beer and a bite at a bar; culture and historical relevance.
The Paradise Coast
The area linking Naples with nearby Marco Island and the Everglades is marketed as the Paradise Coast.
It is a fitting description and I am proud to be an unashamed cheerleader for this stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Enjoying the finest things in life for a short while
Naples proudly lays claim to being America’s most affluent community (Manhattan is its wealthiest city) and, as such, has long attracted those with the bucks to enjoy the finest things in life.
A string of sumptuous, multi-million dollar mansions, often second or third homes, straddle the Gulf Coast and banks of the intercoastal waterways.
And other, very desirable permanent residences fan out from these.
Naples has also long been a ‘winter roost’ for rich snowbirds fleeing the snow and arctic temperatures that sweep the northern states of the USA.
Third Street South
And while the owners of the most staggeringly opulent properties are seldom there, and the snowbirds are seasonal, they both pay the taxes that underpins the areas economic prosperity.
This gives the city authority the incentive and funding needed to keep Naples meticulously clean, while lavish landscaping makes it a delightfully attractive place.
And finally, there is no pressure to allow a commercial clutter of
Fifth Avenue runs for just under a mile from its gateway at the intersection with the Tamiami Trail to
The boulevard is lined with towering palms and lush landscaping that fronts art galleries, designer clothing, jewellery and classy gift stores, and ice cream parlours.
There is also a quite staggering choice of sophisticated fine dining restaurants, with each offering alfresco seating on the concessions to clutter the pristine Naples Beach.
This affluent community also underpins the designer retail, arts and culture and fine dining to be found here.
This is, of course, is a real bonus for travellers visiting Naples, provided you avoid the peak seasons, when the place can get very crowded and prices reach their zenith.
All along Fifth
Much of what the visitor will enjoy in Naples can be found in Downtown Naples, and along – or just off – Fifth Avenue South.
A serene pleasure
Strolling Fifth in early evening is a genuinely serene pleasure.
The setting suns golden glow creates an almost mystical feel before darkness falls and the lights that string the palms sparkle into life.
Happy hour cocktails
Then it’s time for cocktails, with the happy hour in the Trulucks piano bar highly recommended, before dining alfresco.
Natural beauty at its very best
If Fifth Avenue, and Third Street, offer suave sophistication, Naples beach offers natural beauty at its very best.
Stretching along 10 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, it is regularly listed among the world’s top beaches.
The warm, clear blue waters of the Gulf lap a wide expanse of white sand and, in the distance, the iconic Naples Pier offers a ‘compass point’ for a relaxing stroll in the company of the scampering, scattering sand dippers.
This wooden fishing pier, which has been a landmark since 1888, provides a grandstand for watching the pelicans dive and dolphins circle.
Come evening this is also the place to enjoy the magnificence of a Florida sunset.
Head in the other direction, along the beach and the wooden struts of a one time smaller jetty provide resting places for more pelicans, cormorants and egrets.
From Naples Pier it is but a short walk to Third Street, which provides similar amenities to Fifth in equally alluring fashion.
Tin City : a counterpoint to Fifth Avenue
Tin City, which sits on the Gordon River and is but a short stroll from the Tamiami end of Fifth Avenue, offers a complete contrast to the affluent sophistication on its doorstep.
It comprises a cluster of tin roofed wooden buildings that, in the 1920s, formed the heart of the Naples’ fishing industry that included clam shelling, oyster processing, boat construction and ship maintenance operations.
With the traditional sea faring activities falling away, Tin City fell into decline until the late 1970s, when seven of the old buildings were converted to become “The Old Marine Marketplace at Tin City”.
Though there have been ups and downs since then, Tin City retains a colourful, authentic and ramshackle charm and offers a mix of ‘one of a kind’ shops, bars and restaurants
The resurgence of Tin City, particularly in recent years, is due in no small measure to the continuing commitment of the Old Naples Waterfront Association.
The Association looks to highlight the historical relevance of Tin City while also promotes the waterfront here as a resident and visitor attraction.
This passionate group of traders and business folk have galvanised city authority support for Tin City and introduced a layer of annual events there that enhance its attraction for visitors.
The Stone Crab Festival
A highlight among these is the Naples Stone Crab Festival, which marks the opening of Stone Crab Season in October.
We visited Naples in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Irma and though the structures at Tin City suffered more than most from the brunt of the storm, the Association and members were working around the clock to get everything back into shape and open again as quickly as possible.
On the water with Pure Florida
One of the driving forces in the Old Naples Waterfront Association are Captain Lance Julian and his son Harry, who are both passionate about conservation and operate Pure Florida from the dockside here.
With its second base in Fort Myers, Pure Florida has 19 vessels providing a range of co-excursions that bring together maritime and local history with fine sightseeing.
Pure Florida offers sightseeing and sunset cruises, jet boat and fishing trips and boat and jet ski rental.
Our time on the water with the guys from Pure Florida was a fun, fascinating and hugely interesting treat.
The Parrott at Tin City
And finally, at Tin City there is the Parrot bar and grill, which is the epitome of everything one could wish for in a good time, laid back, no frills, casual dining bar.
Great local cold craft beer, an excellent fish sandwich and home fries that are just something else and all at pleasingly reasonable prices.
The Parrot opens before most other places in Naples and serves into the early hours.
With its eclectic mix and weatherworn appearance adding to the attraction, the Parrot is a real visitor’s ‘local’.
One of the finest four star properties in the world
Contemporary, sophisticated and elegant, the Inn on Fifth Club Level Suites are a perfect fit with Naples and glamorous Fifth Avenue.
I have stayed at the Inn on Fifth a number of times and love its traditional Florida charm and the warm welcome I always receive.
The stylish sister
The Suites, its stylish, new sister property, is situated directly opposite and offers just as warm a welcome as the Inn and a standard of service that is second to none.
The Forbes Travel Guide four star rating that the Inn & Suites has secured for the third consecutive year, is testament to the quality and high standards that all visitors can expect and experience.
The four star rating plaques that are proudly displayed in the Inn’s reception proclaim it to be One of the finest four star properties in the world.
That is not an overstatement.
Right on Fifth Avenue
We stepped straight off Fifth Avenue into the Suites where we were checked in and looked after by our very efficient concierge.
She made sure our cases reached our room whist we enjoyed a cool drink in the club lounge.
Complimentary treats such as homemade cookies, crisps and popcorn are available for guests throughout the day along with tea, coffee and soft drinks.
Variety jars of Hershey chocolate sweets are also available for guests to dip their hands into whenever a sugar rush demands.
Not only did we enjoy all these little extras, but we took full advantage of the delicious all-inclusive dining available. Each morning we helped ourselves to a selection of cereals, toasted beigels, cream cheese, muffins, yoghurts and fresh fruit.
Breakfast on our balcony
We took our breakfast back to our room and ate it on our balcony whilst watching the world on Fifth Avenue go by.
Every evening we made sure we were back at 5pm for cocktails and a selection of delicious hors d’oevres.
These consisted of cold meats, giant juicy prawns with a cocktail sauce, crisp crostini topped with tomatoes and onion and a selection of creamy cheeses.
At 8pm, a delightful mini dessert platter replaced the savouries, although guests could still enjoy complimentary wine, beer, fizz – in fact a full bar until 10pm.
No guest could ever go hungry or thirsty at the Suites – we certainly didn’t!
Our room, a junior suite, was chic and spacious with black and white décor and soft furnishings in cream, gold and burgundy.
Colourful modern art hung from the walls.
Our bathroom was large and bright with an oversized shower and beautifully fragranced L’Occitane toileteries.
There was a spacious seating area with a comfortable sofa and all the modern comforts needed for a short, luxurious stay.
The pool and rooftop sundeck
As Club Level guests, we also had use of a private tropical rooftop sundeck and whirlpool, an ideal spot for late afternoon sunbathing or to chill-out and relax.
The Forbes Travel Guide ratings
When referring to hotels and resorts being ‘award winning’ it is important to know a little more.
Regarding the Forbes Travel Guide star rating system, Forbes itself is a global authority on luxury travel.
Its anonymous professional inspectors travel the world to assess hotels, restaurants and spas against up to 800 objective standards.
They inspect both service and facility and only the best properties in the world earn the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star, Four Star and Recommended status.
The Mobil Guide
It all started as the Mobil Travel Guide in 1958, which was the first Five Star rating system.
Today, the Forbes standard is seen as one of the most stringent in the hospitality industry, with its inspectors staying two nights and three days at each hotel to scrutinise every aspect of the visit before producing a very detailed appraisal.
With its Four Star rating, the Inn on Fifth is classed as an exceptional property, offering high levels of service and quality of facility to match.
A third generation journalist, Ashley is a travel writer and Managing Director of the International Travel Writers Alliance (www.itwalliance), which is the world’s largest association of Travel journalists.
He is also Contributing Editor of AllWays Traveller, the consumer travel magazine from the Alliance (www.allwaystraveller.com).
Ashley Gibbins FCIPR, MCIJ
Chief Executive, The international Travel Writers Alliance
Managing Editor, AllWays traveller