Travel: See a dif­fer­ent side of Florida

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Come On In! -

With golden-hued sands, wild dol­phins and in­de­pen­dent art gal­leries, New Smyrna Beach is a world away from Florida’s theme parks

As our boat nudges through the still wa­ter re­flect­ing the bright Florida sun­shine, the sur­face is sud­denly bro­ken by a sleek, grey shape. It’s closely mir­rored by an­other. A few feet away is a wild dol­phin with a calf fol­low­ing her ev­ery move.

The guide ex­plains how dol­phins have adapted to liv­ing in the shal­low la­goons of the In­dian River off New Smyrna Beach, choos­ing never to join their coun­ter­parts at sea.

With a daily sup­ply of fish washed in by the tide, and tran­quil wa­ter­ways flanked by man­groves, I don’t blame them. I’m al­ready feel­ing very at home in this de­light­ful part of a state bet­ter-known for the thrill of its theme parks than its nat­u­ral at­trac­tions.

Founded in 1768 by Scot­tish physi­cian Dr An­drew Turn­bull – and Florida’s sec­ond-old­est city – life moves at a gen­tle pace in New Smyrna Beach. White-knuckle rides are re­placed by boat trips, wa­ter sports and ac­tiv­i­ties that com­ple­ment the beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings and 13-mile beach. Any crea­tures you spot will be the real deal, not cartoon char­ac­ters.

Al­though just a 60-minute drive from Or­lando In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the re­gion is a world away from the con­ven­tional view of the Sun­shine State, Amer­i­can fast-food joints and gi­ant shop­ping malls. On the first morn­ing, we felt like time trav­ellers when we stopped for cof­fee in Canal Street’s Lit­tle Drug Co, a clas­sic 50s-style soda foun­tain inside an old the­atre build­ing.

The area around Canal

Street is linked by a bridge to Fla­gler Av­enue, the heart of the down­town area in New Smyrna Beach. It was here we checked into the Hamp­ton by Hil­ton ho­tel, a com­fort­able, cen­tral base sur­rounded by shops, restau­rants and bars, and only a short walk from the beach.

For­ti­fied by the buf­fet break­fast, and with a sheaf of sight­see­ing sug­ges­tions pro­vided by the friendly re­cep­tion­ist, we head out the next day to try a ‘must do’

New Smyrna Beach pur­suit. A five-mile stretch of com­pacted sand is open to cars and cy­clists; com­plete with ‘road

signs’ and a 10mph speed limit. Leav­ing the hire car be­hind we de­cided to try pedal power, and hired bikes from a rental shop. It’s great fun, and for any­one who loves cy­cling the city is very bike-friendly. Aside from the beach, the quiet roads have wide cy­cle lanes.

Af­ter the mem­o­rable dol­phin dis­cov­ery trip on In­dian River, which is North Amer­ica’s most bi­o­log­i­cally di­verse es­tu­ary with more than 4,000 species of plants, an­i­mals and marine life, we re­turn to see it from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive; this time on a guided tour with Pad­dle­board NSB. Charm­ing own­ers Erik and

Lau­rel reckon any­one can get to grips with stand-up pad­dle­board­ing, but want­ing to con­cen­trate on the sur­round­ings rather than stay­ing up­right we opted to pad­dle a kayak in­stead. Again, we were soon re­warded with close-up views of dol­phins.

All that ex­er­cise works up an ap­petite, but you don’t need to look far for some­where good to eat. It’s re­ally re­fresh­ing to find the ma­jor­ity of restau­rants are run by lo­cal chefs and fam­i­lies who pride them­selves in us­ing fresh, sea­sonal and lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. The sur­round­ings are of­ten equally novel, with Nor­wood’s Eatery boast­ing a fan­tas­tic tree­house bar. On the out­skirts of the town is an iconic Dairy Queen, opened in 1953 and sell­ing the chain’s trade­mark soft ice cream and 99 cent hot dogs. The retro food out­let was among sev­eral New Smyrna Beach lo­ca­tions fea­tured in the Ge­orge Clooney film To­mor­row­land. An­other in­sti­tu­tion, around 20 min­utes out of town, is Aunt Cat­fish’s in Port Orange, fa­mous for cin­na­mon rolls served on the side with savoury dishes.

Sim­i­larly, the ma­jor­ity of shops in New Smyrna

Beach are in­di­vid­u­ally owned, and in­clude many gal­leries show­cas­ing the work of tal­ented lo­cal artists. Cel­e­brat­ing its 40th an­niver­sary, the At­lantic Cen­ter for the Arts was founded in 1977 by lo­cal artist, sculp­tor and vi­sion­ary Doris Leeper. The main cen­tre, pro­vid­ing res­i­den­cies for visit­ing artists is set in a lush 11-acre for­est a short drive out of town. The free gallery is open to the pub­lic and fea­tures a stun­ning per­ma­nent por­trait ex­hi­bi­tion by Jack Mitchell. The ACA also has gal­leries and stu­dios in cen­tral New Smyrna Beach with a chang­ing pro­gramme of vis­ual and per­for­mance art by visit­ing artists.

Our last day is spent at Dunes Park, where a two-mile el­e­vated board­walk circles 250 acres of sand dunes and beach at the north­ern tip of New Smyrna Beach. As we walk to the shore we’re lucky enough to spot a large go­pher tor­toise – the only tor­toise na­tive to North Amer­ica. On the way back, all that re­mains are its tracks in the soft sand. Which just goes to show; you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need Mickey Mouse and his friends to en­joy a mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in Florida.

Dol­phins in the In­dian River Browse the many shops in Fla­gler Av­enue Na­ture lovers will love New Smyrna Beach

Part of Dunes Park’s two-mile board­walk You’re never far away from the beach

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.