The "Crown Jewel" of Southwest Florida is located on the sun-soaked white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Greater Naples has a population of 315,000. Old Naples, which is the original historical city of Naples, has a smaller population of 21,000. This is where I and my wife, Ellen decided to retreat to for the month of January when Mother Nature started to make life miserable in the cold north. With the temperature consistently around 80 F, it was a delicious thought knowing that back home in Canada it was freezing.
Within a 40 minute walk or 20 minute bicycle ride of The Lemon Tree Inn where we stayed in the heart of Old Naples, there's lots to do. First on the list is a stroll to trendy Fifth Avenue South which is awash with decadence including up-scale boutiques, jewelry shops, antique stores and unique art galleries.
Fifth Avenue South also features 33 restaurants, just about every one of them with patios that flow onto the sidewalk. Every second Thursday of the month, there's free music and entertainment on the avenue.
At the end of the avenue are splendid million dollar homes and condos. Go beyond these homes and you walk right into the Gulf of Mexico. There is free access to all of the beaches.
One evening we rode our bikes to Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier. We first went for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico then stayed later to walk the historic 1,000 foot pier to catch a magnificent sunset. Hundreds of others did the same thing as locals fished from the pier.
On other days we grabbed a morning coffee or tea at the Fifth Avenue Coffee Shop and sat on their patio while reading the Naples Daily News. When we were there, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott and his wife Ann who live in Naples and two body guards stopped by the table beside us to talk to friends. They were out for a morning jog. We offered them greetings from Canada.
We visited the
Naples Depot Museum located across the road from our Florida "home." This museum explains the railroading boom days of the Roaring Twenties. There's restored rail cars and plenty of interactive exhibits to keep one interested. We learned that waterfront property in 1887 sold for $3.00 an acre. Today's price is around one million dollars an acre! Admission to the museum is free funded by the state's 4% bed tax.
Across the road from the museum is the historic waterfront district and Tin City. This is a collection of eclectic shops and popular casual restaurants housed in one time tin buildings where fishers processed their catch for the day. These buildings were renovated in the 1970 with the collapse of the fishing industry. Here, we caught the
Naples Princess Cruise ship for a two-hour narrated cruise of the Naples Bay and Gulf. On the cruise we spotted dolphins trailing alongside.
Behind 5th Avenue South you discover attractive Cambier Park, a municipal park that was a great place to read and people watch. We checked the schedule to learn when the Naples Concert Band and Family Movie Nights are held.
The Lemon Tree Inn in the heart of Old Naples is a well-maintained inn with cheerful staff and generously sized and immaculately clean rooms with microwave, coffee maker, a small fridge and a TV. Two Adirondack chairs overlook a sparkling pool and beautiful garden. Tommy Borodemos, the gardener, can describe the flora in the garden and the magnificent King Palms. There are on-site laundry facilities. Best of all, we would walk or ride our bikes (available at the Inn to rent for $10.00 a day) to the downtown area and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few minutes' walk is a grocery store where we stocked up on supplies for the month. Rates include a free continental breakfast.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, the Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.