Cross the modest toll bridge onto the elite barrier island of Boca Grande and prepare to step back into the depths of time. Think early 1900s, a time of great wealth and understated elegance. Imagine The Great Gatsby, but in tropical style. The Gasparilla Inn & Club is a romantic hideaway retreat, providing guests a glimpse into a way of life during an elegant era.
A longtime playground and secret island getaway for the rich and famous, I was excited to discover for myself why guests return year after year. This favored vacation spot of the Firestones, Fords, and DuPonts to “winter” a hundred years ago continues to hold its allure. Today, Jimmy Buffet, Harrison Ford and the extended Bush family frequent this spot, too. What is the Inn’s secret? Providing scrupulous privacy and legendary hospitality.
Arriving at this stately, sprawling mansion and walking past a huge, southern-style veranda with ubiquitous rocking chairs, the front door is opened by a smiling staff member declaring, “Good morning and welcome!” Pervading my senses was the feeling that I must have been here before. My deja vu led me to realize it was this type of friendly, positive familiarity that immediately makes you feel at home. With the fast-changing pace of today’s world, how many places can you return to and expect it to stay the same?
Stepping inside, I was surrounded by old Florida charm. “Florida as it was meant to be,” is the Inn’s motto, and I couldn’t agree more. This member of Historic Hotels of America announced its opening on Valentine’s Day, 1913. Boasting history, elegance and beauty, it contains all of the elements for a romantic setting—expansive wooden floors, tables made of seashells and other beach treasures. Trying to rediscover the lost art of relaxation, I found the separated lounging areas to be the perfect spots to settle in with my latest read, especially the all-pink ladies “writing room” (of course). Details make the difference, from the live plants to the photo print of George W. Bush placed on a coffee table, just as if it were your own living room.
Beyond the ambience, resort options are abundant. This sprawling gem occupies 180-plus acres with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico and Charlotte Harbor surrounded by pristine sparkling blue water, flowering plants and palm trees. Check out the award-winning Pete Dye-designed Gasparilla Golf Club, Tennis Club, Croquet Club, full-service marina, Gasparilla Inn Spa and the Gasparilla Beach Club. Last but not least, Gasparilla Inn Adventures offers kayaking, paddleboarding and biking.
The Gasparilla Inn’s motto, “Florida, the way it was meant to be,” is truly the way life should always be.
When you go…
Where to dine: The Inn’s Pink Elephant, or “The Pink” as return guests have nicknamed it. It’s a short walk from the Inn. Try chef Rob’s lobster mac & cheese with its special Cajun-style cheese sauce.
What to reserve: Check out Gasparilla Inn’s Valentine’s Day Perfect Match Couples Package: It includes the Touch of Gasparilla Experience in your room followed with a glass of Champagne to be enjoyed in the courtyard; gasparillainn.com; 941.964.4500.