Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 15, 2013

St. Augustine: Quincentennial approaches

Full moon is the time I’m going back to St. Augustine, though any time seems right for this romantic Florida city.

Take your lover or your children. Or both. Go with your in-laws or girlfriends as a getaway.

St. Augustine excellence is diverse, abundant, embracing.

Here’s one reason why. Chocolate. Ask Alice Sutherland for a walkabout, stopping often for chocolate, sometimes paired with port, sometimes red wine.

Glorious way to explore city restaurants and lively streets, sublime way to indulge yourself.

Chocolate sea salt brownie with homemade caramel for me at The Tasting Room where 70 wines are Spanish, from 15 different regions, and the wine cellar houses 350 labels.

White chocolate smothered my enormous blackberry at the Gourmet Hut and a South African Malbec balanced my tender chocolate caramel bar.

Find Sutherland at St. Augustine City Walks and budget $42 for this five, maybe seven, stops Tour de Chocolate. 2 p.m. Thursday – Sunday.

I lingered over espresso chocolate wine on the verandah of the Casablanca Inn, gazing at Matanzas Bay, the intracoastal waterway winding from Miami to Maine.

Returned to Casablanca in a few nights. Independent air chambers in the bed pillow mattress, controller to adjust each side.

Hypoallergenic feather bed duvet, 400 thread count sheets, isotonic pillows and mattress cover are all standard, say owner-innkeepers Nancy Cloud and Michael Miles.

They have another inn at the northern end of this intracoastal waterway called Balance Rock in Bar Harbor, Maine. Four Diamond rating there for the past 14 years.

Three ways to stay in the Casablanca Inn: elegant 1914 Main House with 10 suites and two rooms, separate Coach House with eight rooms, facing brick-paved Charlotte Street.

Or cross Charlotte within the lush Secret Garden in one of three suites with kitchenettes.

Need another “Here’s why St. Augustine” fact? March 2012 Forbes Magazine declared the city one of the “Top 10 Prettiest Cities” based on natural beauty and a unique identity.

The reason I want a full-moon return is to see that natural beauty from the top of the lighthouse.

Full moon is when it stays open after sunset.

The next three years anniversary celebrations abound.

This is the quincentennial of Florida’s April 1513 discovery by Juan Ponce de Leon. That’s 500 years.

“Our 500th anniversary is about the discovery by Europeans of what was to become the United States,” says Richard Goldman, executive director of the Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Goldman sees the city as “authentic, very European too, with the plaza, cathedral and government house including an upper balcony.”

Spring this year is the target for the opening of the Colonial Quarter: living history that’s interactive and immersive.

Anticipate 16th, 17th and 18th century experiences in at least 50 exhibits and stations including a tavern and a pub.

2015 festivities will celebrate 450 years, recognizing the Sept. 8, 1565 founding of the city as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the nation.

Claim some Irish history and choose a meal at Meehan’s Irish Pub & Seafood House.

Fifty Irish whiskies served here and John Meehan seems knowledgeable about every one. Guinness too, served “fresh, extra cold and poured precisely,” Meehan says.

“Irish pubs are all about hospitality,” he says.

Smoked salmon scallops assured me this Pub is also a seafood house and Meehan says, “Our mahi-mahi is caught offshore, flounder in the local bays and as you can see, shrimp boats are right out front.”

Should brisket be your order, know it was braised 14 hours in Guinness. Oh, and your caramelized Bailey’s bread pudding includes Jameson’s whiskey aged in charcoal barrels.

I was happy to be staying next door the night I dined at Meehan’s, a neighbor to the Casablanca Inn.

Walk the other direction on Avenida Menendez to experience flavors created by Chef Jean Stephane Poinard, fifth generation in a family of French chefs.

Bistro de Leon transported me to France, ambience of a neighborhood bistro in Chef’s native Lyon:

-- Cozy tables where diners become neighbors, often sharing conversation.

-- Carefully chosen wines served in carafes left on the table.

-- Chef visiting your table, and your neighbor’s, caring how you find the food and sharing his delight in fresh farmer’s market discoveries.

For me his creations included flounder stuffed with shrimp and spinach, topped with lobster bisque and a brioche covered with an egg poached in red wine.

My fresh salmon carpaccio was marinated in hazelnut oil, Key limes and anise seeds.

Walking distance easily for all this, and more of St. Augustine.

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Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the Tifton (Ga.) Gazette and TravelingMom.com. Follow her also at www.TibbettsTravel.com

 

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When you go:

www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com

800-418-7529

www.CasablancaInn.com

800-826-2626

www.BistrodeLeon.com

904-810-2100

www.MeehansIrishPub.com

904-810-1923

www.colonialquarter.com

 

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