Mag­i­cal Mat­lacha

Spend the day— or longer— in this col­or­ful is­land com­mu­nity

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY ANN MARIE O’PHE­LAN

Some come wear­ing walk­ing shoes. Oth­ers ar­rive by boat, while still oth­ers travel by car. But come they do, from dis­tances both near and far. Un­less they are one of the nearly seven hun­dred folks who hap­pen to live in col­or­ful and charm­ing Mat­lacha.

This his­toric Lee County town ( pro­nounced Mat- la- shay) is, for the most part, lo­cated on an is­land that’s nes­tled be­tween two bridges, al­though the town stretches be­yond the is­land it­self. Mat­lacha Bridge, a draw­bridge that con­nects the is­land to the main­land, is also called “The World’s Most Fishingest Bridge.” No doubt this pop­u­lar­ity is due to the plethora of snook, red­fish, snap­per, and other game fish that lies be­low in Mat­lacha Pass. An­other bridge that con­nects Mat­lacha Is­land to Lit­tle Pine Is­land is also a pop­u­lar fish­ing spot.

Al­though much of the his­toric down­town area of Mat­lacha is nes­tled be­tween those two bridges, the town be­gins to take shape once you turn onto Pine Is­land Road and head west. You’ll first see Trop­icaya Fruit & Gift Mart, where fresh fruit smooth­ies are a must. “Mango is my fave,” says lo­cal Wil­liam Paul Brown, who lives in Mat­lacha Isles.

Shortly af­ter, you’ll note the many col­or­ful busi­nesses, restau­rants, mo­tels, and homes for which Mat­lacha is fa­mous, all lin­ing ei­ther side of the road. They’re painted in bright shades of yel­low, green, blue, and pink, all rem­i­nis­cent of Old Key West.

The first pink build­ing on the right is Is­land Decor & More. This fifty- year- old build­ing used to be a fish and ice house. Nowa­days, visi­tors stop, shop, and en­joy a photo op with the giant shark statue out front.

Just over the first bridge lies the down­town area that’s of­ten bustling with tourists car­ry­ing whim­si­cal shop­ping bags, pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tur­ing soar­ing ospreys in midair, fish­er­men wear­ing white boots ( Mat­lacha Ree­boks), and young chil­dren fresh

from the play­ground at Mat­lacha Com­mu­nity Park. Visi­tors come for a full day, an en­tire week­end, a whole week, or more, be­cause there’s enough to see and do to keep any­one’s itin­er­ary full.

You can en­joy some of the newer of­fer­ings, such as a re­lax­ing treat­ment at the fam­ily- run Spa 33 or a fresh seafood lunch at Mul­letville, or check out some of the es­tab­lished gal­leries and shops. The town spans about a two- mile stretch, so just about any­one with a good pair of walk­ing shoes can cover the dis­tance.

“Ev­ery time I en­ter­tain visi­tors, we make a point of stop­ping into the unique gift stores and art gal­leries, as well as en­joy­ing

VISI­TORS COME FOR A FULL DAY, AN EN­TIRE WEEK­END, A WHOLE WEEK, OR MORE, BE­CAUSE THERE’S ENOUGH TO SEE AND DO TO KEEP ANY­ONE’S ITIN­ER­ARY FULL.

the great se­lec­tion of food and drink at the var­i­ous restau­rants,” says Brown. And for him, a trip to Great Licks for an ice- cream cone is al­ways a must.

While the his­toric town of­fers all kinds of at­trac­tions, the wa­ters that sur­round it are equally im­pres­sive. Depend­ing on the sea­son, you’ll likely find jacks, mack- erel, sheepshead, and more swim­ming in them, along with plenty of play­ful dol­phins div­ing along­side.

Serv­ing up some of the fresh catches are seafood restau­rants like Andy’s Is­land Seafood ( the lime- green build­ing) and the Olde Fish House Ma­rina ( cov­ered with mu­rals of fish­er­men), both lo­cated near

MAT­LACHA BRIDGE IS ALSO CALLED “THE WORLD’S MOST FISHINGEST BRIDGE.” NO DOUBT THIS

POP­U­LAR­ITY IS DUE TO THE PLETHORA OF SNOOK, RED­FISH, SNAP­PER, AND OTHER GAME FISH THAT LIES BE­LOW IN MAT­LACHA PASS.

the Mat­lacha Bridge. Many din­ers tie up their boats at these fa­vorite spots while they en­joy lunch and an ice- cold beer. On the west end of Mat­lacha sits the Sandy Hook Rib and Fish House, where de­li­cious seafood and a breath­tak­ing view of Mat­lacha Pass are both served up in a fan­ci­ful, nau­ti­cal set­ting.

The fish aren’t the only ones who en­joy the area’s warm wa­ters. Boaters, kayak­ers, and pad­dle­board­ers can all be found in the Pass, which is also part of the Great Calusa Blue­way Pad­dling Trail, a 190- mile marked ca­noe and kayak trail.

Overnight guests of­ten stay in the cozy ho­tels that line ei­ther side of Pine Is­land Road. Many of­fer pic­turesque views where egrets, ospreys, pel­i­cans, and ea­gles can eas­ily be spot­ted.

“Our guests en­joy a glo­ri­ous wa­ter­front view of Mat­lacha Pass, where they can also re­flect on the rem­nants of the Calusa In­dian cul­ture [ once found in these parts],” says Marta Gib­bons who, with her hus­band, Michael, owns and man­ages the three brightly painted his­toric units that make up Mat­lacha Cot­tages. The ca­ma­raderie be­tween the lo­cal innkeep­ers and other busi­nesses, says Gib­bons, re­sults in a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for all.

What’s of­fered on land and by sea is cer­tainly spe­cial. But what makes Mat­lacha even more mem­o­rable is the warm hos­pi­tal­ity and friend­li­ness ex­tended to all who come to visit. Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a lo­cal writer who has spent many a day in Mat­lacha.

The newly re­done Mat­lacha Bridge

is a pop­u­lar spot for fish­ing.

Mat­lacha is known for its charm­ing at­mos­phere, whim­si­cal touches,

and build­ings done up in bright colors rem­i­nis­cent of Old Key West.

Fresh catches from the wa­ters around Mat­lacha are served at Andy’s Is­land Seafood ( above); Mat­lacha Cot­tages fea­tures three wa­ter­front units of­fer­ing peace­ful views of the area ( top and bot­tom left).

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