The Secret of Naples

Waterfront dining is a favorite form of recreation for locals and tourists alike.

Come and enjoy this sophisticated Gulf Coast city where roses bloom in the winter.

By Linda Marx 

The elegant homes on millionaire’s row lining wide boulevards and immaculate streets possess a southern grandeur, like lace gowns preserved in a crystal case. At dusk, in the historic section of Naples, Florida, a long wood pier stretching serenely out to sea is the scene of colorful sunsets that grow more beautiful as autumn turns to winter.

It doesn’t take long to understand why so many people like to escape to Florida’s laid-back West Coast for long weekends of beach combing, bike riding, boating, shopping, gallery browsing and attending cultural events on par with any larger city. This sultry Gulf of Mexico destination, with a great sandbox and calm waters, has a population of about 23,000 that swells by 35 to 40 percent in the October-April winter season, yet takes visitors back to the slower pace of old Florida. Most people who live here come from the Midwestern states and prefer a quieter lifestyle.

“Tourists in Naples are intense and walk and talk fast until they have spent a day or two here, then they sort of chill and enjoy the beauties of life like the locals do,” says Mark Meranda, a 30-year resident who owns Smart Marketing, a national marketing firm for attorneys. “We have limitations on building heights and signage to keep Naples the way all of Florida used to be.”

About a 2-1/2 hour drive fromtheMiami-Palm Beach area, Naples offers nearly year-round temperate weather because it borders the Evergladesand the gentle Gulfstream waters; as a result, outdoor sports like kayaking and golf are part of daily life. There are nearly 100 golf courses in Naples—more than in any other city its size—and another 150 in surrounding Collier County.

Stay at the Five Star, AAA Five Diamond  located on 20 beachfront acres of the Gulf ofMexico. Or, if you have a pet, the sportier, Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, about three miles away, welcomes most four-legged friends and houses Tiburon, the 27-hole championship golf course designed by Greg Norman. An airconditioned bus transports guests between the hotels every 30 minutes.
Both ultra-luxe resorts offer guests complete koshermeals, fromhors d’oeuvres to desserts— as long as the kitchen has a four-day lead time, because the food—which is freshly made, Glatt Kosher and OU-certified—is driven over from the East Coast. The Chabad Jewish Center of Naples and Beth Tikvah hold regular services, are close to either hotel and welcome visitors.

The chic Third Street shopping area is packed with upscale boutiques and eateries.
The chic Third Street shopping area is packed with upscale boutiques and eateries.

After enjoying the Gulf front Ritz-Carlton’s designer decorated guest rooms with gorgeous marble baths, walk along the beach and partake in nature tours, which include all-day children’s programs. Check out the vue, the resort’s new high tech entertainment lounge, or get a treatment in the 51,000-square-foot spa, then head out to enjoy Naples’ other beautiful offerings.

There are preserves of palms, seagrapes and dogwood, cypress forests of princewood and pink trumpet trees, and mangrove estuaries where egrets, herons, sandhill cranes, white pelicans and bald eagles are living in purity and thriving. For a canvas of well-tended gardens, the renovated Naples Botanical Garden filled with lush tropical plants, children’s gardens and the Technicolor Butterfly House is educational for all ages.

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

Of the dozen or so nature preserves in the greater Naples area, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary about an hour from town has a 2.25-mile boardwalk that takes trekkers through pine flatwoods, open prairie and into the largest forest of ancient bald cypress in North America. There is also a new Blair Audubon Center with information about the sanctuary’s 200 species of birds.

With itsmiles of pristine wetlands,Naples has always been eco-sensitive. Barron Collier, a street-car advertising magnate from New York, bought one million acres of land in southwest Florida during the early 1920s. In 1927, he convinced the state legislature to turn part of his holdings into Naples, now the seat of Collier County. Before he died, he had bequeathed 74 acres to the government for the creation of public parks.

Another of themore impressive details about Naples is its harmony of the arts in park-like settings. Pelican Bay’s Bauhaus-designed Philharmonic Center (“The Phil”) for the Arts is a $19 million, 90,275-square-foot, modern-day castle with spires to illustrate lightness and lift the spirits. Half the fun of attending a live performance is walking through the green, marbled porte-cochere where the imported Italian stone harmonizes with the forest green of the pillars, carpet and upholstery. At night, the triangular canopy above the semicircular entrance illuminates like a constellation. Performances range from opera, musicals, ballet and dramatic plays to lectures, ragtime, jazz, chamber music and children’s theater. Hear the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, visit the Daniels Pavilion for cabaret, and during the day explore the adjoining Patty & Jay Baker Naples Art Museum.

Interior luxury with a distinctly Florida feel at the Ritz.
Interior luxury with a distinctly Florida feel at the Ritz.

This 6.5 acre-complex, designed by architect Eugene Aubry, who created the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, would not exist without the fundraising and creative efforts of Jewish residentMyra Janco Daniels, whomoved to Naples in 1978. (Her husband, the late Chicago advertising legend Draper Daniels, was the inspiration for AMC-TV’s, award-winning show Mad Men. Its producer, Matthew Weiner, based his ad agency star Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, in part, on Draper Daniels.)

Shopping in quaint, historically correct neighborhoods is a good way to exercise. And on foot you’re able to see the dozens of galleries interspersed with boutiques.

Other Naples attractions worth visiting are the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida; PalmCottage, a restored living history of the city with antiques and furnishings, plus its threeyear- old Norris Gardens; the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens where zebras, African lions, golden tigers, and black bears interact with thousands of subtropical plants; and Tin City, a collection of rustic and unusual waterfront shops selling everything from crafts to crystal. Shopping in quaint, historically correct neighborhoods is a good way to exercise. And on foot, you’re able to see the dozens of galleries interspersed with boutiques in the higher end Historic District. Fifth Avenue South was transformed by Miami architect-town planner Andres Duany from an aging fishing village to a pedestrian-friendly, lushly landscaped venue of 100 sophisticated stores, galleries, arts and crafts studios and antique shops.


The Sand Bar at the Ritz- Carlon Naples.
The Sand Bar at the Ritz- Carlon Naples.


Third St. South, near the Naples Pier in the heart of Old Naples, is on the National Register of Historic Places with its own uniformed concierge. The street is chock-a-block with galleries like Four Winds, The Englishman and Gallery One. Old line local retailers reside next to hipper shops like Marissa Collections, which carries Valentino, Michael Kors, Brunello Cucinell and interior design books, Uno, a cool tabletop, candles and pillows store, and Cleopatra’s Barge, a fine jewelry shop.

More romantic shopping nearby at The Village on Venetian Bay is a way to get lost in an afternoon. This outdoor mall of small specialty shops is a colorful and architectural replica of the canal-side of Venice and is worth a visit because of its waterfront charmand local flavor. Check outMondo Uomo formen’s clothing and the lovely assortment of design stores.

Five minutes north are the more exclusive Waterside Shops, like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Ave., Louis Vuitton,Gucci, Ferragamo, Tiffany&Co. and Hermès. Similar to Bal Harbour, this retail cluster offers valet parking and a high-end ambience. Wherever you linger, get back to the beach in time for sunset. Behind the Ritz-Carlton, the deck comes alive with tiki torches along with sights and sounds of the sea breezes. The scene is not as crowded as the Naples Pier, and the killer sky views of changing colors will remind you why you are here.