Reformed Florida-basher (and now resident) Blonde and lifelong Florida-booster, Brunette, knew Naples would be featured in one of our “Places We’ve Loved” posts the moment we began to slobber into our bowls of smooth, creamy gelato from Barbatella’s.
Naples is the Kate Middleton of Florida: well-bred but not pretentious, pretty, smart and fun. Marco Island is Pippa but with a slightly bigger bum and The Everglades is that brother of theirs who took a photo of a hairdryer in his underpants, all kinds of surprises in there. Something for everyone!
On a February day when it was too cool to swim on Marco Island we headed to Naples so Blonde’s credit card companies wouldn’t have to lower their earnings forecasts. The damage started on 5th Avenue in the old downtime area of Naples. (Where by the way you can park for free all over the place!) We found some attractive clothes at not crazy prices at Vogue Petite Shoppe and had fun trying and buying lightweight clothes at Oh My Gauze for an upcoming trip to Dubai. After doing a fairly thorough stroll both ways on 5th Avenue we walked for about 10 or 15 minutes over to the newer and pricier Third Street South shopping area.
Third Street has some chains, Tommy Bahama and Eileen Fisher for example, but also some unusual little boutiques such as Valentina Shoes where Blonde dropped more money on a pair of shoes than she spent on her first car. Their Clorinda Antinori shoes are all handmade in Italy, attractive, comfortable, overpriced and sold by two charming women. Blonde recently saw a cartoon in the New Yorker where one woman was saying to another “My philosophy is, if the shoe exists, buy it”. Blonde agrees!
We had a little time to kill before our next meal – seemingly never more than two hours apart in Florida – so decided to spend it somewhere “safe” where we wouldn’t be tempted to spend money – Spruce’s. Brunette had been spending way too much time in home goods stores furnishing her new condo on Marco Island and had no interest in purchasing another thing. Blonde didn’t need home goods in general – much less in Florida where at the time she didn’t have a home. No risk browsing only. Perfect.
Then we met the very friendly (she gave us wine!!) woman working there that evening and Brunette bought a top (how were we supposed to know they sold clothing too?) and, never one to be outdone, Blonde bought a dress.
As the wine pusher was ringing up the clothes Blonde heard her talking to someone about how many things were going on sale the following day. Blonde inquired if a rattan footstool she liked would be marked down.
Yes, it would be! Great news!
Blonde purchased it because Brunette (rudely) hadn’t purchased a footstool for Blonde and she had to have one. And you can’t put your feet on rattan and be comfortable so she was forced to buy a lovely rabbit hair throw to cushion her tootsies.
Stomachs finally over-ruled further shopping so, on the advice of Sarah from Spruce, we had dinner next door at the Ridgway Bar & Grill. They have a lovely porch that is over a quiet street and we enjoyed being able to sit outside and savor the knowledge that our friends and family up North were suffering from the extreme cold they were experiencing.
Naples has lots of restaurants and many of them offer the famous Florida “Early Bird Specials”. But as much as we like to snicker at the idea we sure liked those prices and it wasn’t as if anyone we knew could see us eating at unglamorous times. Brunette is quite fond of the deal at the local Bice. They have some real bargains with their Early Bird and Late Bird specials. Brunette likes their outdoor seating, live entertainment and authentic attitudinal Sicilian waiter!
On a recent return to Naples Blonde and a friend dined at Bha! Bha! a Persian Bistro. This place is not to be missed! The decor is lovely (although they won’t let you eat it) but the most important things – the food and service are excellent. Blonde had the grilled lamb medallions and Friend had the mango garlic shrimp. We sat in their lovely outdoor seating area and had a terrific waiter who made spot-on wine recommendations (they have a very nice wine list) and steered Blonde to the lamb choice most suitable for her delicate and refined palate (which really just means she has a tendency to order expensive things.) Our meals were a party in our mouths and this is going to be a place Blonde plans to bring any out-of-town visitors she can lure into her new residence.
And even more recently Blonde and another new friend went to dinner at a place that is not in the stylish downtown area but is superb and well worth going to the less appealing location. It’s called Inca’s Kitchen and is on Collier Boulevard in a little strip mall. But when you get inside and the Peruvian waiters explain the cuisine of Peru, recommend good wines from Peru and then amaze your taste buds with their seriously flavorful food you’ll think you’re in Peru, not Southwest Florida!
Another non-downtown place we like if called The Local. They have locally procured, flavorful food, good service and a god wine list. We recently had their Tuscan beans with kale soup and a vegetarian plater which was very good and the prices are reasonable.
Beyond the basics of food and shopping Naples also has a historic (over 100 years old) public pier you can walk out on. It’s a very short walk from the Third Street South shopping area. We saw fishermen packing up to leave and tourists coming out to see the sunset.
There’s also no dearth of culture in Naples. What was previously called The Naples Museum is now the The Baker Museum. It has a gorgeous building and free public guided tours are offered Tuesday—Saturday at 11am and 2pm, and Sunday at 1pm. Tickets to the museum are a reasonable $10 for adults, $5 for students and anyone under 17 gets in free. The parking is also free so this is a great experience and a real bargain, especially if there’s a rainy day when the beach isn’t beckoning to you.
Naples also has a lovely Botanical Garden that has lifelong learning programs for adults and temporary learning programs for children with 15 second attention spans! This year on December 18-23, 26-30 and January 2-5th they’re having a “Night Lights” program. It’s beautiful, includes live musical performances and family activities. We loved it but you better get there be very fast!
Also this weekend (Jan. 4-5, 2014) there is a very high caliber art festival on 5th Avenue in Naples. After spending several hours and more than $2,000 there today I think we can safely say that we loved it – too much! There are amazingly creative artists doing all sorts of clever things you probably haven’t even seen elsewhere. It rained today when we were there but that didn’t even dampen (so to speak) our fun.
We also had a terrific little treat of three crepes with wild berries at the creatively named “The Cafe” at 821 5th Avenue. They have all kinds of homemade goodies and very good cappuccino.
We also were horrified to spend $14 on two small cups of gelato from Sweet Ginger Gelato. It’s a food truck and even though we thought the prices should have included a couple bricks of gold and some hard drugs it was absolutely amazingly good. We each had the mango and ginger flavor and it was worth the money (but don’t tell them).
Naples is about as cool as you can get in Florida (we consider Miami to be a sovereign nation). Naples has event after event year-round. Naples is not the Florida of Mom jeans, fanny pants, Mickey Mouse and sneakers. It has a casual, stylish crowd in fancy cars (and admittedly many of the women seem to have had the same facelift).
If you get a chance to visit Naples try to give yourself more than one day as it can’t all be properly”done in one”. To see what the current slate of activities is check out this link.
However, if your time is really limited – at least get some gelato before you breeze through!