Most of us at one time or another have a fantasy of escaping to a deserted beach paradise with translucent blue water and sugar-white sand. I wanted to go to a place where I could feel as though I was “lost in paradise” — no high rises, crowds, noise or cars. I was in the mood for a QUIET environment.
Rosemary Beach, tucked into the gulf-panhandle of Florida, and a 30-minute drive from the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, was the perfect solution for the destination I had in mind.
Soon after arriving, I discovered it would be easy to spend hours walking the long stretches of sandy beaches with hardly a soul in sight. I spent one afternoon under an umbrella mesmerized as I gazed at the sun dancing across the water and laughing as the dolphins splashed around in the background beyond the sandbar. I have always been amazed by dolphins and feel like I could watch them forever.
Dolphins evolved about ten million years ago. They can leap effortlessly to towering heights of 15 to 20 feet while turning somersaults in the air. They have been clocked swimming at speeds up to 25 miles an hour. As I watched the dolphins, I realized how lucky I was to be in a place that still feels a little wild and undisturbed.
Rosemary Beach, founded in 1995, is filled with unique and special touches. Building “green” was an intricate component for the foundation and design of this small beach community. The town, consisting of 107 acres, is a perfect case study for incorporating “green” concepts into a way of life. Roadways were laid to conform to the natural contours of the land and the natural topography was not disturbed when the community was built.
An elaborate network of footpaths, boardwalks and pathways are threaded throughout the community to protect the fragile eco-system. The town center is a five-minute walk from anywhere within Rosemary Beach. Towns like Rosemary Beach are referred to as the “New Urbanism.” The idea behind this concept is to put your car in the garage and walk everywhere you want to go.
During my visit, I stayed in a carriage house with a fully-equipped kitchen and ocean-view balcony. There are more than 200 one-of-a-kind cottages, carriage houses and lofts available for rent all over town and they come with every amenity under the sun, including gourmet coffee and Bischoff cookies. The quaint, old-style buildings with big shutters, expansive decks and outdoor courtyards bring up feelings of nostalgia and remind me of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.
My days at Rosemary Beach were simple and fun. Cars were rarely seen and stayed in their garages most of the time. I rented a bike from Bamboo Bicycle Company and walked or rode my bike everywhere.
Rosemary Beach has everything you could want, including four heated swimming pools, spas, wine & cheese bars, boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, clay tennis courts, a 2.3 mile fitness trail with exercise stations, a butterfly garden and state-of-the-art fitness center offering yoga and Pilates classes.
One afternoon I rented a Hobie Cat and ventured out into the bay. The next afternoon I wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding on a yolo board. Some people say stand-up paddle boarding is the fastest growing water sport in the world and I can see why. It’s a blast and easy to do!
We drove about 10 minutes to a coastal dune lake where we met with our instructor before embarking on our adventure. He answered all our questions and gave us perfect instructions about how to operate the boards with confidence. We paddled across the serene waters of the lake with a perfect view of the mangrove flats and wide-open spaces.
On my last day, I woke up early and rode my bike on the ten-mile walking/biking trail to the Coastal Dune Lake at Deer Lake State Park. The trail winds along the coast and goes through countless picturesque seaside communities. Coastal sand dune lakes are rare and exist in only five places in the world, including Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia, Northwest Florida and Oregon.
These lakes are called dune lakes because the water periodically blows out into the gulf, mixing fresh water with salty ocean water. This mixing of the waters provides eleven distinct natural habitats within Deer Lake State Park: swamp, marsh, estuarine tidal creek, depression marsh, basin swamp, beach dune, scrub, sandhill, coastal dune lake, blackwater stream and estuarine tidal creek.
The ecosystem created by this meshing of the waters also provides a delicate habitat for migratory birds, butterflies and loggerhead turtles. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in a very special place.
Dining at gourmet restaurants in the evening was a wonderful way to cap off each day! There are a couple of fabulous ones to choose from. Restaurant Paradis was a favorite, offering understated warmth and elegance, along with excellent food and a full-service lounge. Dishes such as Ahi Tuna served with coconut and baby bok choy and snapper served atop Queso Blanco polenta with a tequila lime sauce are examples of why this restaurant has received outstanding reviews.
Onano was another favorite, with intimate indoor and outdoor dining and a view overlooking the Western Green. I sat outside with my friends on this balmy, incredible evening and enjoyed wonderful dishes served up from the recipes of northern Italy.
In an ever-increasing complex and complicated world, simplicity is now what I search for more than ever in my personal life and when I travel. Rosemary Beach is awash with solitude. It is unspoiled and untrampled and a great place to soothe your soul. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Rosemary Beach Cottage Rentals: (888) 855-1551, or visit www.rosemarybeach.com
Bamboo Bicycle Company: (850) 231-0770, or visit www.bamboobicyclecompany.com
Yolo Board: (850) 622-5760, or visit www.yoloboard.com
Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego, CA