Florida is a long, narrow peninsula which enables us to visit many destinations as a day trip – no overnight stay required. That works for us because we are spontaneous travelers for the most part. It is nice to decide on Friday to take a drive on Sunday and be greeted by something beautiful and interesting just a couple of hours away. Lake Wales is one such place. It is located in the middle of the state, about two hours from our home. There are several reasons that you might want to visit there, but our favorite is the Bok Tower Gardens and Pinewood Estate. The Gardens and Estate are open year round, with some blackout dates. Please check the schedule on their website before you go. Our favorite times to visit are at Christmas and in the Spring. Springtime offers a glorious display of azaleas and camellias while the winter draw is the fully decorated Pinewood Estate. The home was built in the 1930’s for Bethlehem Steel Executive, Charles Buck. The Mediterranean style home has distinct Latin influences throughout that reflect the owner’s interests. It is well worth a tour even when not decorated for Christmas.
The photography enthusiast will appreciate the reflective pond in front of the tower. Find just the right spot to set up your tripod and you will be rewarded with a full reflection of the tower. The photo below will give you an idea of the possibilities.
Admission is reasonable at $18 per person and you can likely find a Groupon or other discount rate through a search on the internet. Plan several hours here to fully enjoy the gardens and home. The walking trails meander throughout the estate and vary from gravel to paved paths, so sturdy walking shoes are suggested.
Pack a lunch and eat on the grounds, or enjoy something from the menu at the Blue Palmetto Cafe. As a side note, bicycles are not allowed inside the gardens.
If you happen to have your bikes with you and want to extend your trip overnight, head North to Winter Garden, which is about one hour away. There you can ride the West Orange Blossom Trail. This well marked, paved trail extends 22 miles from the Orange/Lake County line, through Killarney, Oakland, the city of Winter Garden, and downtown Apopka. We mapped a ride of about eighteen miles and took our time, enjoying several rest stops along the way. Our favorite stop was in downtown Winter Garden for a slice of pizza at the Winter Garden Pizza Company. Of course, you can skip the pizza (that would be criminal) and power ride the entire trail if that is more your thing. The full trail does not loop around, but there are sections that do. It is shaded in areas and exposed in others. Most of the trail is scenic, however, it does wind through a couple of residential and industrial areas. Take a look at the Park website here to plan your ride.
The start of a new year is a good time for resolving to break bad habits and begin positive new ones. One of my favorite resolutions, and the one that we made together some years ago, was to devote more of our travel time to seeing our own back yard – Florida.
We have stayed true to our resolution and continue to seek out new experiences within our state. We will share many of our adventures here, both past and future. Our Florida excursions are typically laid back, casual, bikes on the rack kind of trips. But, once in a while we stumble onto something really special. The Food and Wine Weekend at Boca Grande has become one of those treats. Malcolm and I are passionate about many things, but food and wine top the list. To have this weekend right in our “back yard” is incredible.
This is an annual event that brings guest Chefs and wine Vintners together for a weekend of incredible food, wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and a seven course Master Chefs dinner that is incomparable. The weekend begins on Friday night with a “taste around the world” dinner party at the beach-side pavilion across the street from the Gasparilla Inn, which hosts the entire weekend. Saturday is filled with wine tastings and cooking demonstrations from renowned Chefs. The really neat thing is that the Chefs liberally share cooking techniques, restaurant “shortcuts” and recipes with participants. I love that no question is ever too basic. One big take-away from the weekend is always the recipes!
Time is allowed for lunch on your own, but we rarely make it to one of the Inn’s suggested restaurants since we tend to fill up on the Chef’s delicious samples. Saturday night kicks off with a cocktail party at the Inn, followed by a formal diner prepared by all of the Master Chefs. Caution, this night should only be experienced by those who love, I mean really LOVE food that is inventive, expertly prepared and masterfully presented.
One of the featured Chefs at the 2016 Food and Wine Weekend was renowned Chef John Folse of New Orleans. We attended a demonstration in which he prepared Osso Buco with stone ground grits. The grits were rich with heavy cream and butter and the Osso Buco was generously seasoned and fall off the bone delicious. Forget counting calories this weekend and simply enjoy.
Our favorite wine sampling was a Newton unfiltered Chardonay that was served at the around the world reception on Friday night. There was also a lovely assortment of Greek wines that were represented by the Vintner himself. All of the Vintners and Chefs were accessible throughout the weekend to answer questions and provide expert instruction.
The Gasparilla Inn is the most gracious Inn of it’s era still in operation. The hotel offers rooms, suites and cottages, and sits within walking distance of the Gulf. Amenities include golf, tennis, croquet, boating, spa services and beach side dining to name a few. You can check out their website here to plan your special experience.
The 2017 Food and Wine weekend is scheduled for January 13 – 15.
We have been doing this ‘retirement thing’ since 2006 and in the beginning, we struggled to find our “new identity” as a retired couple. But, through trial and error we have managed to get to a comfortable place where we at least know what we want out of our retirement years. What we want, is to have a home base that is reasonably close to where our daughter lives, some time set aside each year for travel and adventure, and a balanced lifestyle that includes hobbies, volunteer work, friends and family. Fitness and health are very important at this stage of life and while we do pay attention, we are not fanatical about what we eat or how much we exercise. All things in moderation works for us.
We live in Florida where the sun shines 95% of the time and temperatures average in the 80’s for most of the year. We are surrounded by water and flat terrain. Both of which provide great opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors. We have access to several international airports, universities, hospitals, theaters and fine dining establishments. Our town has a well-developed network of volunteer opportunities and an abundance of community activities that can be attended for free.
We can watch the sunrise on the Atlantic and set on the Gulf of Mexico in the same day, should we chose to do so. Coast to coast is a short three-hour drive. The Florida Keys are a bit further, but still accessible, and the Forgotten Coast is a day trip away. Our beloved Treasure Coast provides a myriad of activities, with nooks and crannies still to be discovered. From Tallahassee to Miami, our cities and towns are culturally diverse, laid back, trendy, eclectic and always fun to visit. We have more State Parks than we could ever visit, although we are trying and our wetlands and preserves are teeming with nature just waiting for the avid photographer to discover. This is paradise, and we get to call it home!
Photography is a hobby that we both enjoy and our blog posts are picture intensive. All of the photographs here were taken by either Malcolm or myself. You are welcome to copy and share, but please give photo credit to “Picture Retirement.” You will find more of our photography on Instagram at Picture_Retirement.
We hope you will follow along as we continue our journey.
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