South­west Florida a per­fect place for cou­ple’s 24-hour get­away

RSWLiving - - Departments - Capt. Brian Ho­l­away is a Florida mas­ter nat­u­ral­ist and has been a South­west Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His char­ters visit the is­lands of Pine Is­land Sound, in­clud­ing Cayo Costa State Park, Cab­bage Key, Pine Is­land and North Captiva.

South­west Florida has been a trav­eler’s des­ti­na­tion for cen­turies—its beauty sur­rounds you. Our jour­ney off the beaten path starts where the road ends on Captiva Is­land at McCarthy’s Ma­rina, known as the city dock be­fore the Sani­bel Cause­way was built. The mail boat and is­land ferry would pull up to the dock with mail, is­lan­ders and their sup­plies. It was a gath­er­ing place that filled with ex­cite­ment when the boats ar­rived. And it’s where our 24-hour get­away be­gins.

It is 4 o’clock on a Fri­day af­ter­noon when we board a pri­vate guided char­ter boat for the 45-minute trip to Tar­pon Lodge at Pineland on Pine Is­land. Salt air fills our hair as we pass his­toric fish houses and have the pure plea­sure of wind­ing down af­ter the work­week. The fish houses were once used to keep fish on ice be­fore the catch was shipped to Punta Gorda, then trans­ported north by rail. Now they are pri­vately owned for use as week­end get­aways.

We soon see the nar­row chan­nel into Tar­pon Lodge, with pel­i­cans as our wel­com­ing com­mit­tee. By 5 o’clock, the boat’s tied up and we’re off to check into our room. It’s above the res­tau­rant and the water view makes us won­der if we ever want to leave. The build­ing has an old Florida feel—with a sense of step­ping back in time. We take a short walk down­stairs to the bar for a cock­tail, fol­lowed by a walk on the vast lawn and then sit in the gazebo to “take it all in.”

Around 6 o’clock we en­joy din­ner on the screened lanai, also with a view of the water. The food is sim­ply won­der­ful and fresh. Staff mem­bers make us feel like we’re fam­ily stay­ing in their home. Af­ter din­ner, we head to the dock and watch an amaz­ing sun­set—one of the best places to see sun­sets in South­west Florida. Cloud re­flec­tions on the water and the long rays of the sun have a way of mak­ing us feel like we’re the only ones on the planet.

Af­ter the sun dips, we find our­selves back at the quaint bar for a night­cap. Con­ver­sa­tions of lo­cal wa­ter­men talk­ing about the weather and what to­mor­row has in store are over­heard. We head up­stairs to bed in our cozy room for a clear view of the night sky and a peace­ful sleep.

We awake to fresh brewed cof­fee down­stairs and pre­pare for a short boat ride to Cab­bage Key. Break­fast at Cab­bage Key may not be well known but it’s de­light­ful. The French toast comes highly rec­om­mended—and maybe a Bloody Mary to keep a re­lax­ing vibe go­ing. Af­ter our ful­fill­ing break­fast, we stroll on the is­land’s na­ture trail. A close look into the large oak trees re­veals na­tive but­ter­fly or­chids. We climb to the top of the Cab­bage Key water tower and get a bird’s-eye view of Cayo Costa State Park, our next des­ti­na­tion.

We mo­tor to Cayo Costa by boat and the water is calm as it an­chors on the is­land’s Gulf side. Cayo Costa’s 8 miles of beach are mostly undis­turbed—a per­fect place to re­lax for part of our cou­ple’s get­away. The is­land is full of solitude, shells and a hand­ful of shore­birds.

We walk the beach and with each step seem to be more dis­con­nected from what­ever was on our minds, find­ing our­selves more con­nected to the sounds of na­ture—while col­lect­ing an as­sort­ment of beau­ti­ful shells. We en­joy our pic­nic lunch (which we’d re­quested from Cab­bage Key staff) on the beach and then re­gret­fully start back to Captiva be­fore the day ends.

When we reach Captiva, things seem a lit­tle dif­fer­ent as the boat pulls into the dock at McCarthy’s. Things have slowed down, the air smells fresher and sounds of the birds re­main in the dis­tance. Mem­o­ries of the sun­set are still fresh in our minds as we set our bags on the dock—and make plans for another cou­ple’s get­away to once again re­lax and en­joy the is­lands of South­west Florida.

Top: Cayo Costa State Park. Clock­wise from bot­tom left: Tar­pon Lodge path; sun­set view from the lodge; Cab­bage Key’s water tower; his­toric fish house in Pine Is­land Sound; a marker to Cab­bage Key.

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