Florida’s Paradise Coast

Florida's Paradise Coast The sun sinks low on a flaming pink and orange horizon, seemingly inches off the foam-licked sandy shores. The thick palm fronds are brushing against each other in the salt-tinged tradewinds, and the hotel guests are talking about their afternoon round of golf and the bottlenose dolphins that swam by their sailboat. This is Naples and Marco Island, where the locals are committed to the classic Floridian lifestyle: lots of outdoor activity, low-key luxury, a laid-back pace and fresh fusion cuisine. We’ll get to the ferocious man-eating lions in a bit.

We’ve checked into The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, a throwback to Florida’s original beachfront hotels where expansive lawns and lush landscaping demand fully contented sighs. And that’s exactly what the clientele here wants. The relaxed, 319-room hotel is housed in six different style buildings, some with jalousie shutters, wicker and bamboo-motif furnishings and long Southern pine decks with wooden rocking chairs.

“This place really captures Old Florida, from the aged coconut palms to the tropical architecture, and you can walk to all the amenities, which makes it easy to just chill,” says David Tyler, director of sales. He explains this is the region’s only beachfront resort with a PGA championship golf course, a world-class spa, and an award-winning tennis center.

“Having all three makes us pretty unique. It’s not a private golf club so companies can come in for a tournament or team-building event without staying here at the hotel.” He says $16 million was invested in recent renovations, plus another $5 million spent for a new pool complex. There’s also 22,000 sf of new meeting space, for a total of 34,000 sf, and the end result is a resort that feels brand new. But not too new.

Three words never fail to turn our heads: Golden Door Spa. So it really wasn’t an option to bypass the 474-room Naples Grande Beach Resort, part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection. Their new Artisan Massage is a medley of soothing Swedish and therapeutic deep tissue massages combined with the rejuvenating effects of hot basalt stones. Post-treatment time is spent outdoors in the modern Japanese-style courtyard pavilions with a small pool tucked among the blooming flowers and sylvan sophistication.

“Golden Doors are destinations in themselves, and spa breaks can be incorporated into any meeting,” says spokesperson Jillian Merschat. “We’ll set up a room of aromatherapy and chair massages so attendees can decompress before returning to session. We want our groups to feel like they’re the only ones here, but not boxed in.”

For smaller groups, the 189-room LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort plays up the romance with its blend of Brit Colonial-meets-Bahamian decor, especially well-suited for high-value incentives and exec retreats. We love the French doors and crystal chandeliers in the lobby, and yet the overall barefoot ambience is anything but stuffy. Our favorite aspect is the compact nature of the property surrounded by 64 acres of untrammeled nature and sandy shores. It’s hard to put a price on all that real estate.