Perfectly manicured lawns, sprawling golf courses, a vibrant downtown, quirky stores, plenty of sun, sand and sea are some of the first things you notice when you visit the eclectic city of Naples in Southwest Florida. Voted as the healthiest and happiest city in the US twice in a row according to the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being 2016 Community Rankings, Naples is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, just about 125 miles from the happening city of Miami.
A popular winter home for many in the country due to its amazing sunshine throughout the year, Naples is a perfect blend of the contemporary and old world charm.
While it is synonymous with ultra modern and impeccably maintained housing communities and a booming real estate market, a large chunk of the city is part of Florida’s heritage and historic district lending it a distinctive, vintage flavour.
Glimpses of the past
The best place to start exploring the city is to visit to the Naples Depot museum. Completed in 1927, the Depot is one of the oldest structures in the city which welcomed the first passenger train into it. This opened the city and the Southwestern part of the state to tourism and the rest of the world. Though the train services stopped in 1971, the heritage Depot building was retained and converted into a museum in 2005. The museum is a treasure house of information on the legendary Atlantic coast line train and has extensive information on the history and development of Naples including the evolution of its culture, residents and industries as it stands today.
To experience a slice of the city’s old fashioned past, make a quick stop at Naples dock and Crayton cove. The area dates back to 1915; it was Naples first sheltered mooring and the hub of all activity. Even today it is home to a large fishing fleet. The white sandy beach of Naples is yet another popular place to unwind while watching pelicans and other birds fly past.
Another symbol of Naples history is the iconic Naples pier that was built in 1888 as a freight and passenger dock. A popular sight for fishing and spotting manatees and dolphins, the pier is the perfect spot to end your day while watching the sun go down; few sights are more compelling than this. One of the best ways to explore Old Naples and Downtown is by taking the city’s hop on-hop off Trolley tours.
The city has several distinctive offerings for travellers of all kinds. For nature enthusiasts, there is the Audubon’s Corkscrew swamp sanctuary that is home to the ancient bald cypress trees. It is a unique ecosystem that has native plant and animal life. Naples botanical gardens and zoo is a favourite with adults and children alike.
If you are a lover of history, trace the 10,000-year-old past of Southwest Florida at the main Collier County museum. The Revs Institute is a must-visit for automobile aficionados. A one-of-its kind museum, it is a haven for connoisseurs of automobiles and people who are passionate about its history and subsequent development.
Unique shopping experiences
Naples is home to several unique stores selling unusual artefacts and antiques. Tin city is a notably different shopping quarter that comprises multiple stores selling exclusive clothing, jewellery and memorabilia. You can pick up some trinkets made from shells, indulge in tasting of tropical Florida wines and gorge on speciality homemade chocolates here.
Apart from Tin City, Third Street South in Downtown Naples has been the hub of shopping since the 1930s and is home to several boutiques, gift stores and art galleries. The most happening part of Downtown is the Naples’ Main Street or Fifth Avenue. Lit up and decorated at dusk, there are scores of businesses here including sidewalk cafés, gourmet restaurants, antique showrooms, designer boutiques, and elite residences making it the most sophisticated address here.
This article was originally published in The Hindu.
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