You’d never believe it when you set foot on Amelia Island’s pristine beaches and wander the charming historic downtown of Fernandina Beach, but pirates once roamed the shores of this island getaway and President James Monroe even called Fernandina Beach a “festering fleshpot” of immorality. Now, it has become one of Florida’s last secluded getaways and a place to slow down, relish the salty sea breeze, and truly unwind with nature. Amelia Island is the same size as Manhattan but with only 18,500 people instead of 1.6 million. It’s just drive 30-minutes from Jacksonville International Airport to the unspoiled seashore and salt marshes. Samantha Brown recommended Amelia Island as one of her top places to visit in 2015 and we couldn’t agree more.
Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is the most classically luxurious property you can find on one of Florida’s last secluded getaways. With 446 recently renovated oceanview guest rooms, this is the largest property on the island, but personalized touches and friendly staff create a more intimate vibe. The Ritz Kids Club by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society takes little ones on arts and crafts and nature adventures so mom and dad can have some romantic alone time.
Take an early morning stroll along the 1.5 miles of dune-lined beaches or play golf on the adjacent 18-hole PGA course. There are both indoor and outdoor heated pools and a whirlpool are great for leisurely lounging. For more active water sports, the resort can help arrange for deep-sea or backwater fishing, kayaking, sailing, and even surfing.
Where to Spa
At 27,000 square-feet, The Ritz-Carlton Spa is the hotel brand’s third largest. It’s incredibly spacious, with a private pool and hot tub outside, a wet sauna area for men and another for women as well as a co-ed relaxation area. For the most romantic two-and-a-half hours with your love, try the A Wrap Two Remember in a private couple’s suite. Enjoy a bottle of Mumm brut prestige sparkling wine while soaking in a milky bath, before a full-body sugar scrub exfoliation. You can hold hands as you’re cocooned in a strawberry and chocolate mask while your hands and feet are encased in paraffin and you receive an agave nectar warm oil scalp massage. You’ll rinse off in a shower with your sweetie with a dozen shower jets before sinking into a customized massage with whoopie cream. You’ll certainly smell like dessert when it’s complete, so it’s only fitting that on your way out, you’ll receive a Ritz signature Grand Marnier confit orange-studded Valrhona dark chocolate cake to enjoy back in your room.
Another standout treatment is Heaven in a Hammock. This one-of-a-kind touch therapy was born here and exclusive to this spa. You’re suspended perpendicularly in the hammock to elongate the spine and create a sense of weightlessness while gentle stretching and rhythmic rocking relax you. You can also opt for an ancient Asian hadashi barefoot massage or a honey butter wrap using local honey. The options here are endless with so many rare and intriguing specialty treatments.
Himalayan salt crystals are used throughout the spa – from footrests and lamps in the relaxation area to a collection of detoxifying and healing body treatments. Himalayan salt contains more than 84 minerals and trace elements and the heating of salt lamps causes the crystals to release negative ions, which acts as a natural air purifier and can help alleviate fatigue and headaches. On your way out, you’re presented with a signature salt crystal blend gift – in lavender, lemongrass or orange peel varieties.
Where to Dine
The Himalayan salt theme carries through at Salt, famous for simply prepared meats seasoned with the finest finishing salts. There are plenty of vegetarian and pescetarian options as well, but the “Steak and Eggs” can’t be missed if you’re a carnivore. Six ounces of Painted Hills beef tenderloin and quail eggs in a tiny skillet are served beside a rosemary Himalayan salt block so you can cook your own meat and dress it with a touch of bordelaise or orange rosemary glaze. Bread is a highlight as well – all of it made in house and served with unsalted Normandy butter and four different salts including from black volcanic flakes from Cyprus and Yakima applewood smoked sea salt. Purchase some of the specialty salts – more than 40 flavors – at a salt-centric gift shop just down the hall. Green tea coconut, roasted garlic, and ghost pepper are a few of our favorites.
What to See
Venture to Fernandina Beach’s historic district downtown and spend a day wandering Centre Street and exploring eclectic shops which sell shark teeth and fossils to antiques and locally made jewelry. When you get hungry, head to The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill for a cold drink and simply prepared fresh seafood. The broiled oysters are a must – served Rockefeller style, with cheddar, jalepeños, and bacon or horseradish butter and Parmesan. Bar food staple chicken wings come with a choice of sauces – try the housemade Sriracha Guinness BBQ.
On a sunny day, the best way to see the island is on a catamaran with Amelia River Cruises. The guides are so sharp – friendly and funny and enthusiastically knowledgeable about the island’s history. Learn about Amelia Island’s shrimping history and explore the salt marshes, a Civil War-era fort and nearby Cumberland Island, where you’ll spot wild horses, egrets, osprey and maybe even manatees and sea turtles!
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