Saint Augustine: Where History Meets Luxury
You can’t escape the history and romance that fills the legendary streets of the nation’s oldest continuously occupied city. Established in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Saint Augustine is a city as rich in history as it is with charm.
Filled with historical landmarks, ghostly legends and local favorites, Saint Augustine is a favored destination for all ages.
At the heart of the downtown district overlooking Matanzas Bay stands the fortress-like architecture of the city’s only AAA Four-Diamond resort. Even the landmark Casa Monica Resort & Spa, with its 138 guestrooms and suites adorned with custom-designed features like plush red velvet and gold accents, has a storied history. Originally known as the Casa Monica Hotel, owner Franklin W. Smith opened its doors in the mid-1800s with three guests. After a few years, business tycoon Henry Flagler bought the building and ran Smith out of business, but legend says that you can still see Smith’s ghost, a crying man, perched on the balcony of the hotel. Today, the renowned hotel has welcomed guests from all over the world, including the King and Queen of Spain who visited Saint Augustine during its 450thanniversary celebration and former President Bill Clinton, whose photo and signature hang in the hotel lobby.
At the invitation of The Kessler Collection, I stayed a few days at Casa Monica and explored the family-friendly city, offering adventures perfect for exploring solo, as a couple, or with children. The historic district is spread over a few city blocks, but even at the height of tourism season, Saint Augustine never feels crowded. This city is perfect to explore by both land and water.
Casa Monica Located at Saint Augustine immerses guest in luxury.
From the moment, you step inside Casa Monica’s lobby from the valet tunnel, you are immersed in a luxury experience. There is attention to detail everywhere you look – from the exquisite artwork adorning every wall to an inspiring collection of jazz playing in the guest rooms. Dining is a symphony of global fusion flavors with an array of seafood, poultry and meat dishes created by Chef Fred Mero for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Employees are known as “Grand Performers” whose singular focus is to create a memorable guest experience, and they enthusiastically share their perspectives on Saint Augustine . Hotel General Manager Kimberly Wilson is one of the most visible staff, greeting guests with a dose of personal hospitality, a genuine extension of her customer service background working at several Ritz Carlton and Marriott resorts for almost 30 years. The hotel’s art gallery is filled with pieces that hotelier Chairman and CEO Richard Kessler has chosen from his family’s collection. He is known for hand selecting and arranging the artwork in each hotel, and all of the pieces are available for sale. The hotel’s Poseidon Spa is a sanctuary of relaxation for weary travelers, offering an array of skin and body treatments.
The hotel’s Spanish style romanticism surrounds the terrace pool and nearby Sultan’s Pavilion, the perfect locale for hosting an outdoor celebration under the stars. For those guests who prefer the sand and surf, Casa Monica has partnered with the private Serenata Beach Club. Guests can enjoy food and beverage service, a private beach, family pool and adults only pool area. The resort sits high atop the dunes overlooking the historic coquina filled beach.
Locals tell you that exploring the ancient city by water is a must do. Charter boats and catamarans offer a water view of Saint Augustine, often described as a small Sausalito, California from years ago. Pack a picnic lunch for an afternoon of boating and drink in the history from a different perspective. Sailors weave tales from the sea sharing the history on how the water played a role in protecting it from invaders. Nearby Anastasia Island, an area rich in coquina shells (Spanish for “small shells”), helped fortify the 315-year-old Castillo de San Marcos, the impenetrable Spanish-built fort that protected the city from attacks. Managed by the National Park Service, visitors can tour the fort for an up-close history lesson. The daily cannon firing reenactment by the soldiers is not to be missed.
Staint Augustine Lighthouse and Mmaritime Museum rewards visitors eagle eye views.
For an eagle eye view of the city, the Saint Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum rewards visitors with a spectacular panoramic view over the city to the Atlantic Ocean. But that view comes with a hefty hike – 219 steps each way – to get to the top of the lighthouse.
The city’s Old-World charm is found along its cobblestoned streets with local favorite boutiques and eateries tucked down side streets and alleyways, like the Floridian restaurant, The Hyppo gourmet ice pops, and Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar. The Saint Augustine Distillery is a hometown favorite, creating handcrafted spirits using locally farm grown ingredients and aged in oak wood barrels piled to the ceiling. A guided tour with owner Phil McDaniel offers nostalgia on the building and the history on the communityinvested distillery – and, of course, free tastings.
Saint Augustine come alive at night with live entertainment and more.
The city comes alive at night with revelry from live entertainment and plentiful ghost tales. In search of spirits, our group booked a dead walking tour, a 90-minute history lesson and ghost hunt. Our tour guide Ashley, a very animated and enthusiastic Flagler College student, shared her knowledge about the named ghosts that haunted buildings and along dark streets. On occasion our hand-held ghost detectors would light up, indicating the presence of a floating spirit. It was exhilarating and spooky!
No matter your adventure, Saint Augustine offers something for everyone to explore the past and intersect with the present at every turn.
For more information about the Casa Monica Resort & Spa located in Saint Augustine visit www.casamonica.com
By Katherine Ferrara