USA Today’s 10Best Reader’s Choice poll recently voted Naples, Florida the nation’s top “Best Destination for Luxury Travelers,” leaving high-roller contenders such as Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Maui, and Aspen in the dust. Good call, since what’s not to love about this charming resort town with its vibrant cultural scene, huge selection of eclectic restaurants (many with outdoor patios) and historic designer shopping streets, surrounded by a gorgeous tropical backdrop. If you’re planning on taking a trip to the Eastern city next year, here are some quick recommendations for accommodations, dining and shopping:
Photo Credit: Naples Grande Beach Resort
Where to Stay
Naples Grande Beach Resort is one of the more glam properties in Florida, particularly after its $18 million renovation by new owners Northwood Hospitality. They managed to keep the grand dame’s presence from its Waldorf Astoria days, but tastefully converted it to a more casual-luxury property. It still offers the same amenities such as a spa; 8,000-square-foot fitness center; 18-hole, Rees Jones-designed golf course; 15 tournament-grade tennis courts; and three swimming pools. Plus it’s all wrapped up in a more come-as-you-are environment, whether you’re wearing flip-flops or Jimmy Choos. Don’t miss the property’s “V2+U Happy Hour” featuring Champagne (including $5 flutes of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label) and small bites.
Photo Credit: The Continental
Where to Dine
I popped into Sea Salt for a lunch, but as soon as the server brought me a basket of hot crusty bread served with a side of olive oil and an amuse-bouche of delicately-seasoned cauliflower soup, I knew I was in for something extraordinary. I later learned that Chef Fabrizio Aielli has won numerous awards for his innovative cuisine based on impeccably-sourced products that he embellishes from his stock of over 100 different varieties of plain and infused flavored salts. For an unforgettable epicurean splurge, reserve the kitchen Chef’s Table, where you can watch as their team of master chefs whip up a multi-course culinary extravaganza.
The Continental provides the ideal pairing of steak—featuring American Black Angus, Certified Italian Piedmontese or Wagyu steaks from Australia and Japan—and innovative craft cocktails in an artsy indoor/outdoor setting. Killer apps include Caviar Parfait, Seared Foie Gras and (no surprise here) a fabulous Steak Tartare. For an entrée, don’t miss the Continental Burger made from Kobe beef trimmings. During the week, nab a spot at the lively bar for their happy hour which features half-off cocktails and live entertainment seven days a week.
Photo Credit: Janice Nieder
Pinchers Crab Shack
This highly successful seafood chain lives up to its tagline of “You Can’t Fake Fresh.” If you’re jonesing for crab, Pinchers Crab Shack has you covered, offering fresh Snow, King crab, soft shell, blue and Maryland-style blue crabs. It’s also worth the trip to visit during their famed stone crab claws season running from October 15 through May 15. The restaurant is the largest purveyor of stone crab claws in the region.
Downtown Naples’ Osteria Tulia, which resembles an exquisitely-restored old world Italian farmhouse, offers the perfect setting for innovative peasant-style dishes created by local fan-fave Chef Vincenzo Betulia. This year the restaurant was voted “Best Restaurant” and “Best New Chef” in the Naples Illustrated Dining Awards. Capitalizing on his success Betuilia opened Bar Tulia, Southwest Florida’s first Italian gastropub right next door. Show up early before your dinner, so you’ll have time to join the lively scene at Bar Tulia. Try some hidden gems culled from small wineries and craft breweries to pair with their addictive crispy chili & fennel salty pig ears.
Photo Credit: Janice Nieder
Attractions & Shopping
The Baker Museum
Before you head to the shops, stop in at The Baker Museum, to see their fab new exhibit Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s. This impeccably-curated show, organized by The Museum at FIT, presents a fascinating comparison of two of the best-known fashion designers in recent history. The show runs until March 6, 2016. Before you leave, ask one of the guards to point out Dale Chihuly’s Persian Ceiling, a kaleidoscope of glimmering glass sea shapes.
Third Street South
It’s virtually impossible to walk down historic Fifth Avenue or Third Street South, without acquiring a few well stuffed bags filled with exclusive designer fashions from the many boutiques and galleries that line these impeccable manicured, pedestrian-friendly shopping areas. Both offer free music and entertainment on select Thursday evenings throughout the year. The Third Street Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday morning, overflows with fresh produce, tasty prepared foods (shout out for the scrumptious Fire and Rice Paella), flowers and handmade crafts. Check out SeaThings’ amazing starfish and sea urchin lamps.
Since it’s said that Naples has the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country, it’s not surprising that there is no shortage of upscale consignment stores as well. A few blocks from luxurious Fifth Avenue brings you to the Treasure Trail, a second-hand heaven consisting of over 20 resale shops continually restocked by wealthy residents cleaning out their closets.
Photo Credit: Marissa Collections
I had the sincere pleasure of meeting Marissa while she was running around the store (barefoot) looking for just the right outfit to wear to a gala that evening. She was delightfully down-to-earth for someone hailed as the “Queen of Chic” by Naples’s most discerning shoppers
Marissa and her husband Burt Hartington began Marissa Collections in 1975, with an unwavering commitment to “helping clients develop their individual style through personalized service (by refreshingly non-stuffy stylists) and an extraordinary selection.” She uses her taste to hone in on the season’s must-haves which run the gamut from a trendy Alexander McQueen double-headed skull bracelet to a Marchesa gold embroidered tulle gown, all imaginatively displayed in their pretty-in-pink, 10,000-square-foot location.
Marilyn’s Distinctive European Fashion
It’s easy to lose track of time playing dress-up at Marilyn’s Distinctive European Fashion and plundering through dresser drawers filled with handcrafted jewelry made from metals, stones, crystals, Venetian glass and resins. The shop also includes exclusive, impeccably-tailored Italian and French blouses, that Marilyn discovered on one of her many European buying trips. If you’ve never worn a hat before, let Marilyn patiently guide you through her extensive hat collection including several by designer Philip Treacy who created some of Lady Gaga’s masterpieces.
Marilyn is another second-generation style maven, having picked up invaluable skills from working as a young girl at her mother’s clothing store. For more fashion advice or personalized service check out Hellman’s website which offers many complimentary seminars including Picking the Right Hat or the popular Reviewing your wardrobe for the New Year.