Visiting historic old towns that promise a wealth of heritage homes, folksy merchants, and handmade chocolates always fills me with a sense of keen nostalgia.
That small town wistfulness was well sated as I strolled along the leafy streets of Apalachicola, an eclectic southern gem located in Florida’s Panhandle. Apalach, (as the locals call their town), was founded in 1831 and has more than 900 historic sites, structures and homes recorded in the National Register.
“Some of the homes that I think are just the epitome,” states Anita Grove, Executive Director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, “include the Coombs House, the Porter House, Lee Willis House, and the Bickel House. When these celebrated old homes were built, they were all fitted with tongue and groove, from floors, to walls, to ceilings; drywall is nowhere to be found.”
A historical artifact with definite cool factor is the 50-foot Traders’ Canoe unearthed in 2006 in the Apalachicola River. The canoe, housed in a restored 1836 cotton warehouse, is thought to have paddled the river between 1750 and 1850, serving traders of Spanish, British and American descent.
Once your history’s buffed, stroll Apalach’s sun-dappled streets and shop some of the wonderfully eclectic merchants, such as the Riverlily on Commerce Street. Tinkling treasures hang from the ceiling, designer toiletries nestle in nooks, merry mermaids glitter and shine, and laugh out loud greeting cards are an absolute hoot. Amongst my purchases was a cute little Thelma and Louise emery board kit for a friend who still fantasizes she’s Thelma, in the movie cliff hanger of the same name.
A must stop for sugar lovers is the Apalachicola Chocolate Company. Now I have eaten my weight in chocolate twenty times over, but never (ever) have I eaten turtles like the ones handmade at this shop. George Stritikus, owner and exquisite candy maker, crafts his savoury chocolates in the shape of the area’s legendary sea turtles, who gather on the beaches each summer to nest and deposit their eggs. Stritikus hand crafts his turtles individually with quality Belgium milk chocolate, pecans and not-too-sticky creamy caramel.
“Some of the turtles end up larger than others,” Stritikus laughs, “at which point I tell my customer, ‘this one stayed in the nest a little too long.’” Fudge, homemade Gelato and tupelo honey (native to the area) caramels will keep you smacking your lips well after you leave Stritikus’ shop.
If seafood excites your palette, Apalachicola Bay has over 7,000 acres of public oyster bars, which provide 90% of Florida’s oysters. Locals are so enthusiastic about their oysters’ supple gourmet flavor that I decided to try oysters for my first time. Much to my surprise, I found myself openly savouring the taste, emitting pearls of praise for their succulent, tender texture.
A short drive over the bridge from Apalach is St. George Island, whose State Park was named the Number Six Top Beach in the World (2011), by Dr. Beach, ( Dr. Stephen Leatherman, Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research, Florida International University).
As I strolled barefoot along the soft honey beach on this gloriously serene nine miles of undeveloped Florida Panhandle shore, it occurred to me that this never ending beach could well be Nature’s answer to the infinity pool. Only much more gorgeous, and not a drop of chlorine.
Part of the charm of this barrier island is its ‘protected status’ regarding development. There are no high rise apartments, office towers, rush hour jams, or large chain restaurants.
This isn’t to say, there isn’t a lot of cool things to experience. After crawling up 92 winding, increasingly narrow stairs, I saluted a riotous red, orange and yellow sunset from the widow’s walk of the 77 foot Cape St. George Light house.
And if you love nature, this is the place to be. Tens of thousands of butterflies land here in October, the last stop on their winter migration to Mexico. Locals make it a point to drive extremely slowly during this season, to ensure the safety of the scads of butterflies that swarm their windshields.
Each summer, sea turtles come to this area to nest their eggs and provide shelter for their baby hatchlings. This is a wondrous process, not unlike the spawning process of our salmon, with approximately only 1% of turtles making it back to their original hatching ground.
And while birding might not sound like the most exciting of sports, perceptions change when a bald headed eagle swoops mere inches from your windshield or a great horned owl nest is pointed out on the tree above you.
Besides oystering, a good day fishing can net you grouper, red snapper, amberjack. Even barracuda have been known to show their fins.
And wow! the homes you can rent on the Island. I felt like a guest on that ‘rich and famous’ television series. My head was abuzz envisaging extended friends get-aways, beach lay abouts, and wine-fuelled parties in the six bedroom house on the Gulf of Mexico that I was a dinner guest at.
The house I stayed in, a Resort Vacation Properties rental, was a four bedroom, four bathroom, fully stocked kitchen designer’s dream. A frosty beverage, piping hot, hot tub, and steamy novel rounded out my days in a manner to which I would like to be accustomed. Like for good.
Cece Scott’s trip was subsidized by Franklin County Tourist Development Council www.anaturalescape.com 866-914-2068
Oyster photo courtesy of the Franklin County Tourist Development Council
The Apalachicola Chocolate Company 850-370-6937
Collins Vacation Rentals, Inc. www.collinsvacationrentals.com 866-731-7558
Resort Vacation Properties www.resortvacationproperties.com 800-756-5470