Lovely - and quiet - Amelia Island in northeast Florida and Omni Resort
AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA - "People come for the beach, but they stay for the beauty and the trees and the marsh."
Amy Lacroix, who works at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort northeast of Jacksonville, is showing me around the small 1,350 acre property, explaining about the spas and the tennis courts and the shops and more, when we suddenly pull up to a nature centre on the western part of the property, overlooking the sprawling marshes.
"Listen," says Lacroix.
I stop talking and open my ears to ... absolute silence. Oh, there might be a bird twittering off in the distance, but mostly I hear a light breeze and nothing else. The sun is shining in the late afternoon, and I can see a white egret prowling the sides of the marsh, just inches from the deep green grasses that gently wave.
I see what she means. It looks like a fabulous place to sit and contemplate life, or maybe drop a line for a bit of fishing or to read a book.
For those seeking a more active vacation, this is a resort with something for everyone. The beach goes on forever on the east or Atlantic coast of Amelia Island, which butts up against the Georgia border. The rooms are fine, but the best part is they all have oceanfront views. Not just angular "tilt your head and you can see the water" views, but full frontal views of a glorious stretch of beach andi in some rooms, great views of two of the three on-site golf courses.
The property also features two swimming pools with tons of activities, 49,000 square feet of meeting space at the convention centre, 23 Har-Tru tennis courts under a canopy of thick, luscious trees, a spa with 20 treatment rooms, a series of lovely shops overlooking a pond, a "yoga treehouse," bike paths galore, an island in a small lake that feels like a real version of Disney's Tom Sawyer Island and tons more. You can even rent a Segway and ride it on the beach, which sounds much better than driving your pickup truck on the sand at Daytona.
I didn't much like the lobby, which was quite formal and had a fireplace that made it feel like it could be a hotel in Toronto or Seattle or something. But Lacroix told me they're expanding the hotel and opening up the lobby so there will be views of the ocean. Smart idea.
In all, she said the owners are spending $85 to $90 million on their "reimagining" project.
Amelia Island is just a few minutes off I-95 south of the Georgia border. You also can reach it by road from Jacksonville or via a five-minute ferry ride from Mayport, on the north edge of Jacksonville, and then a short drive over a couple of smaller islands with glorious views of marshes and the sea.
The adorable town of Fernandina Beach is maybe 10 minutes up the road from the Omni. They have plenty of nice shops and angle parking, which makes it feel like a step back in time. Bigger box stores also are nearby if that's your thing.
Be sure to stop in at the Beech Street Grill if you're in town. They have a wide-ranging menu that features everything from steak to duck, but the chef is known as a whiz with scallops and mine were absolutely fabulous; tender and cooked just right and served with a sherry vinegar cream and white truffle oil. Yum. They'll also serve you a slice of "bruschetta" with melted cheese, herbs and diced tomatoes for just a buck.
All in all, a great spot on a great little island in a part of Florida that doesn't get the attention it deserves.