Sunday, 14 October 2012

Stunning Gulf Coast Villa: The Aquatic Preserves of Charlotte Harbour   In 1...

Stunning Gulf Coast Villa:
The Aquatic Preserves of Charlotte Harbour
In 1...
: The Aquatic Preserves of Charlotte Harbour   In 1975 Florida decided to protect the coastal and inland waters for all future generatio...

Rotonda West ……..  In The Beginning

How did this unique area begin and become the residential area it is of today. 

If we look at the history of Florida it was in 1821 the Spanish handed Florida to the then President of the United States, James Munroe.

The Spanish such prolific invaders failed miserably in their attempts to tame this 
diverse land. Simply beaten by the Indians, the heat, mosquitoes, snakes and other dangerous indigenous animals.

Finally in 1845 Florida became the 27th state of the union, Andrew Jackson became the first Governor and in fact he became the 7th President of the USA. 

Florida largely remained the wild country it had always been until the early 1900’s and this was especially true of the south west coastal areas.
There were early settlers from Georgia and the Carolina’s seeking refuge from the impending civil war but many died and many returned home unable to endure the same hardships the Spanish had faced years before.

Florida belonged to the Indians, snakes and alligators. The most well known of the tribes was the Seminole Indians and they are still prevalent today. On a side note it is the Seminole tribes which have sole rights to gambling establishments in Florida today.

However Charlotte Harbour  and surrounding areas were ruled by the Calusa tribe. 
According to the history archives these Indians they had been in this area since 3500bc.   

The Swamplands Act finally gave all the land to the State by decree. In Tallahassee, five trustees were appointed to sell the land off. So the first recorded sale of what is now Rotonda West was in 1885 and it was to the railroad company of Gainesville, Ocala and Charlotte which bought the land. As the deed was filed in Manatee County it then included Rotonda West and its surrounding acres. However in 1887 Manatee county was divided and so came about De Soto county where all land sales records were sent. Charlotte county simply did not exist then, it would be another 33 years before our county came into being.

Before 1951, Rotonda West and the surrounding land was sold in small parcels and was owned in the main by the Morse Realty company. Then came along Alfred and William Vanderbilt who acquired 26,000 acres  and started a cattle ranch and instigated a fresh water plant at Cape Haze. For 18 years the area remained under their ownership they finally sold in 1969 to the Cavanagh Leasing Corporation for the princely sum of $19 million.

In January 1970 a surveyor placed a stake in the middle of the 5 million gallon reservoir and declared this was the centre of a new planned community - Rotonda West was born. The first residents moved in, in 1971 to this unique area which now is home to many full time residents as well as overseas vacation home owners.
Rotonda West is the largest Home Owners Association in North America.

So come visit this unique area I do not think it will dis-appoint.

The Aquatic Preserves of Charlotte Harbour  

In 1975 Florida decided to protect the coastal and inland waters for all future generations to enjoy and also to preserve a unique biological and scientific area.  The Aquatic Preserves Act of 1975 came into being and this ensured submerged lands which were state owned were forever protected.
September onwards is a fantastic time of year to visit this stunning natural habitat of mangrove forests, wetlands, marshes, scrub habitats and pine flatwoods and is a birdwatcher’s dream. The intense heat of the summer months is beginning to lessen and the local wildlife and forna start to flourish during the cooler days. These cooler temperatures and the usually drier trails make the backcountry experiences far more pleasant for the visitor.

The Preserve is protected and is constantly being restored and with the assistance of volunteers who spend many hours in this beautiful environment in their own time helping to maintain the trails.
The preserve is approximately 42,000 acres in area and also protects 70 miles of shoreline of this unique and beautiful coastline. Most of the preserve is shallow water, offering the visitor the chance to see wading birds, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife. With six miles of marked trails and paddle ways there is an opportunity for everyone to experience Florida’s natural habitat. 

The best way to see the preserve is by kayak or canoe using the two paddle trail systems which meander through the area. For those who prefer to keep two feet firmly on the ground there are walking trails in the upland areas in each section and so can be explored by traversing the three marked trails. 
It is also possible to visit and explore other areas of the Preserve, (unless posted as closed), however for the in-experienced hiker/visitor these areas can be very remote and very much a primitive wilderness. It is essential if you venture off the known trails you carry a compass, a map, a torch and enough water for your planned stay. 
Even on the marked trails is is essential to carry water as Florida's heat and bugs even during the cooler months can still be overwhelming for the unprepared. So do bring plenty of water and bug spray with you; there are no restrooms or drinking fountains available. 

The best way to experience the Preserve is to simply relax and walk slowly, taking in the beauty; there is no need to rush, the silence, the solitude and the scents will fill you with a true feeling of well being.  

Sunday, 5 August 2012

An Evening on St Armands Circle

The Sun Sets on Armand Circle
As the sun sets on the St Armands Circle, the tinkling sounds of a wooden upright piano resonate thru the air, it is played by Ed Williams. Ed has been playing to the locals and tourists for the past 22 years and has become part and parcel of this quaint upscale neighbourhood.

St. Armands Circle grew from a simple mangrove patch in the early part of the 20th Century and is now a haunt for the rich of residents of Sarasota Bay area and to live here you would certainly need a few zero’s tagged on to any prime number.

It is also a draw for thousands of tourists who flock here to sample the ambiance of its tropical surroundings, shops and restaurants each year.

Frenchman Charles St. Amand who the circle is named after bought more than 130 acres on the island in 1893 when it was nothing more than a mangrove; as the years went by an error spelling his name on land deeds led to the spelling of the name today.

John Ringling another famous bay area resident purchased property on the Key in the early 1900’s with a plan to build a shopping centre and residential homes, the lots were planned as a circle. However his plan did not come to fruition until the 1950s. 

The Ringling Statues
Ringling’s influence is very apparent in the architecture, the layout and the Italian statues which makes’ for an interesting walk. Dining on the circle is a real treat and the choice is vast form a casual coffee shop to the sophisticated Cafe L’Europe which began life in 1973. 
For Happy hour in a more relaxed atmosphere try Hemingway’s Retreat, Happy hour starts at 2pm and ends at 7pm everyday. 

One of the many eateries to be found in this unique location
Of course there is always the ever popular Kilwin’s Chocolates & Ice Cream, where you will find homemade fudge and a huge choice of ice cream flavours. 

For a great lunch, the famous Columbia Restaurant has a menu to suit all tastes. The signature original salad “1905” is simply scrumptious it is tossed at your table. Consisting of crisp iceberg lettuce with julienne of baked ham, natural Swiss cheese, tomato and olives; then dressed with Romano cheese and the famous family garlic dressing, I would also strongly recommend a glass or carafe, (if there are more than two of you), of the Sangria. . . . . . . .
Or if a Martini lover then the Columbia's Signature Martini is one of the best I have
experienced and the Mint Julep is another favourite of mine. 

Outside seating at the Columbia
For Jazz lovers, on the 4th Friday of every month St. Armands Circle hosts “Smooth Jazz on St. Armands, it is free and is open to the public. 

There is something for everyone here, young and old alike and St Armands Circle is easily accessible from Rotonda West, Florida, using route 41.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Charlotte Harbour on the Cape Haze Peninsular.

Charlotte Harbour on the Cape Haze Peninsular

Charlotte County is home to two freshwater rivers, the Myakka River and Peace River both of which flow into Charlotte Harbour and Lemon Bay and on into the ocean.

Charlotte Harbour’s bay is located at the bottom of the Cape Haze peninsular and is second in size to Tampa Bay. It is an important ecological bay that is off the beaten track of the well known Florida and hides an area that is often referred to as “Old World Florida”. A good way to experience this waterway is by kayaking, for the less brave, larger boats are available to hire, or take a guided cruise

One of the oldest communities on Charlotte Harbour bay is Punta Gorda which started life in the 1800’s. It was here the wealthy built summer homes to escape the sultry heat of the north. These mansions line the waterfront by Gilchrist Park which now is a gathering point for the locals & also hosts musical evenings.

Downtown Punta Gorda has been renovated & now has an interesting mix of shops, galleries and cafes. Towards the end of the Gilchrist Park is Fisherman’s Village where harbour cruises and fishing charters leave from. The afternoon cruise is an opportunity to see the bay and its surrounding communities, coupled with a commentary by the Captain on the history of the area. Afterwards take time to stroll through the now restored buildings, home to an eclectic mix of shops; stop for lunch and watch the sun glistening on the water, or stay for dinner and watch the sunset over the harbour.

Across the bay is Port Charlotte which is a modern city and is the newest. It is a family orientated community with a beach park, bordering the harbour.

Here the visitor will find a small beach, recreation facilities, a fishing pier and swimming pools. Port Charlotte is also home to one of the largest malls in south west Florida, found on the corner of US41 and State Rd 776. It has a thriving business district and is the busiest of the small towns bordering this bay. 

Heading further north from Port Charlotte, the visitor traverses small communities & an abundance of golf courses until they reach Englewood, another delightful old world Floridian town, nestling beside Lemon Bay.

Dearborn Street is in the heart of the Historical district of Englewood and is lined with art galleries, gift shops, coffee parlours and restaurants. Check local papers for dates and times of events held here on a regular basis. The summer months are very quiet as once the Snowbirds, as they are affectionately known, have returned home to the colder north Englewood once again returns to the slower pace of life of old world Florida.

I do not think the visitor will be disappointed by time spent on the Cape Haze peninsular, it has something for everyone. The area is rich in nature and has a laid back approach to life, a chance to stop and rest from life’s all too hectic pace. 

For further information on this unique area please see our website. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Boating off the Cape Haze Peninsular

The barrier islands and warm waters of the Cape Haze peninsular offer a safe environment for even the novice boater and offer a magical half or full day of relaxation and an opportunity to see the barrier islands from the water. Discover hidden bays and deserted coves, meander slowly or bounce along at speed, it will not disappoint. It is truly magical to be able to gently boat through the the warm waters of the Gulf, teeming with shoals of small fish to schools of the mightier Dolphin.

Our trip to Cayo Costo State Park, June 2012

We had reserved a boat from Gasparilla Marina a couple of days earlier; the staff here willingly take the novice boater through the rudiments of boating, they explain the charts, provide life jackets and their boats are fitted with beacons, in the unlikely event of an emergency. They show you how to lift the propeller if you wish to beach the boat and how to anchor in the water.

The day dawned early as the anticipation of being out on the water once again pushed sleep away.

We planned the day before what we would eat for breakfast and lunch and soon we were busy filling the coolers with food and drinks. Hats, suntan creams, sunglasses and beach towels were loaded into the car together with the coolers and cameras.

The marina is located on the Gasparilla Road so a short drive from the villa and there is plenty of parking.

After a short run through of the controls we loaded the gear and headed out. The channel is bounded by newly built condominiums on one side and the inevitable larger homes on the other but soon these are left behind and a wonderful expanse of water meets the eye. 

On this trip we had decided to head to Cayo Costo it was a visit we had intended to do on other excursions but had never quite made it. On the leaving the channel the bridge to Gasparilla Island is found to the right and Gasparilla Island itself stretches on towards the sound, a great spot for fishing and spotting Dolphins early morning.To the left of us is an expanse of blue water with the odd boat dotted on the horizon, heading who knows where. We gently cruise keeping Gasparilla Island to our right and breathing in the fresh salty air and feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin. Various smaller islands come into view and there is the odd boat anchored while the occupants busily fish.

On passing the tip of Gasprilla Island there is a plethora of boats no doubt fishing for snook or maybe even late Tarpon.
We carry on waving to the boaters as we pass gently bobbed by the wake of faster boats passing by.

We gently bend to the left and head towards Cayo which is in the distance and skirted by shallow bays. The tide is in today so we have no concerns about depths as we glide towards these bays for a closer look. 

We are glad to see there are no other boats docked on Cayo so we should have the beach on the gulf side to ourselves at least for a bit. Once we have docked we decide breakfast is next on the agenda, all this sea air makes for a good appetite. As we gently rock eating our fruit and muffins a visitor appears. It is the park ranger and he chats about Cayo Costo and explains how often the tram or golf cart goes across to the beach side. There is a small charge for this service and it takes about 15 minutes. Travelling through the natural vegetation, we pass wooden huts where if brave enough you can stay and live in isolation for awhile. There is no electricity, the basic washing facilities are communal and cooking is on a charcoal grill; my fear of certain insects and snakes would prevent me from experiencing this most basic but natural beauty and the thought of my lovely air conditioned villa with all mod cons beckons from the mainland.

The beach as we hoped is deserted 
and soon Bob heads away for his solitary walk whilst I wander amongst the shallows searching for shells and sharks teeth.

It is silent apart from the surf gently breaking on the sand and I savour this feeling of intense inner peace as I circle and see no buildings, people or anything apart from the natural landscape and sand between my toes. Bliss.

After an hour the tram returns and this time brings a family who will now experience this same solitude as we did. We now head back to the boat for more time on the water. We gently loose the ropes and reverse the boat out into the bay and for awhile just bob without the engine and watch the birds swoop into the sea and enjoy the gentle lapping of water against the hull. Lunch now seems to be the order of the day as a good couple of hours have passed since breakfast so we linger over our feast of shrimp and salad and watch the waters, wondering what lies beneath.
This trip the tide is in so whilst we see less shoals of fish there is a better chance of spotting Dolphins.

Soon Bob is eager to put this boat through it’s paces and we head back into the open water where he opens her up and we speed along but I much prefer a slower pace so I sit in the sunshine and let him enjoy the speed.

We pass other boats and everyone waves, it is friendly out on the water and soon we spot a solitary Dolphin and head towards him but a couple more glimpses and he is gone. 

Now Gasparilla Island is ahead of us on our left and we head towards the sound to get a closer look at the boats we had passed earlier that morning. They are all congregating together and have no plans on moving from this great fishing spot.

We continue back towards the bridge with the intention of heading further up the inland waterway and into Lemon Bay. As we near the bridge a magical sight awaits us three or four Dolphins are frolicking in the waters so we move out of the channel markers and cut the engine to watch these magical mammals of the deep. Try as we might photos are snatched as they dive so quickly and appear as if by magic a few feet away.We realise we are amidst a large school and there are probably ten or twelve of them. They seem to almost kiss each other as a few of them burst upwards from the water and rub their noses. One or two swim quite close to the boat and I hope by some miracle I can briefly feel one as it swims by. They seem to circle all around us and we switch from one side of the boat to the other to watch them. Gradually they move further away and head off to no doubt some well known feeding ground where they will fill their stomachs.

We feel honoured to have seen such a magical sight and for awhile do not speak, perhaps speechless or just not wanting to spoil the moment.
Then as if by telepathy we realise our time is nearly up and we must head back to the marina to return the boat.
So a gentle meander between the markers and our time on the water is over until our next trip when we plan to head to Captiva Island so we look forward to this and feel blessed we can return time and time again to this beautiful location.