Escape To Purple Isle

By Kelly Villasuso

cottage-at-moorings A look at the quintessential piece of paradise in Islamorada that four friends from the Windy City discovered in their quest for a weekend winter refuge.

Once upon a time there was a purple isle with a beach road of smoky gravel leading to pristine white sands lining an ocean of a myriad of blues and dotted with clapboard houses reminiscent of simpler days…

Living in Chicago in the dead of winter, such a place seems straight out of a fairy tale. However, when four best friends want to escape the tundra of the Midwest for a “ladies who lounge” vacation, we found anything is possible if you only dream it.

With our collective wish lists defined — travel within the United States, average temperatures 70 degrees or higher in January, a place that offers us a chance to decompress but also offers a beautiful backdrop for outdoor activities and educational opportunities — we found our prince among islands. We found Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

Beachfront-Massage-Hut-2Heritage of Islamorada
With a history dating back to the sea charts of Spaniard sailors in the 1500s, Islamorada has drawn sailors and settlers and vacationers alike. Islamorada — or the Purple Isle — is just over seven square miles and, lucky for us, is just two hours south of Ft. Lauderdale where our bird of steel delivered us from the clutches of Mr. Snow Miser, allowing us to quickly guide our chariot — and ourselves — into tropical bliss.

We planned out the perfect blend of  historical sites to keep us grounded in reality and more lighthearted activities
to tickle our fancy. We visited the memorial for the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 at mile marker 82, where 423 known deaths occurred (most of whom were veterans of the United States Armed Forces) and toured the Indian Key state historic site to better understand the area’s rich role in our country’s history. We used Robbie’s of Islamorada to visit Indian Key since it is only accessible by private boat or charter.

Plantation-bedAhhhh, to relax, sip, shop and dine
Because a “ladies who lounge” vacation would not be true to its name if it did not offer the proper balance of luxurious R&R activities, we set out on daily escapades. From gallery hopping and arts-and-crafts shopping at The Rain Barrel Artisan Village to dining at many of the local gems, we traversed the Purple Isle from side to side and end to end — whenever possible, with a glass of bubbly in hand.

We knew our story of winter escape would not be complete without an enchanting castle to call home. We were happy to find that there are a whole host of luxurious lodgings on the isle, including the renowned Cheeca Lodge & Spa. But for this adventure, we chose The Moorings Village & Spa at 123 Beach Road to truly bring our once upon a time to life…

The Moorings Village & Spa resides on what once was an 18-acre coconut plantation on the Atlantic coast of Islamorada.  The grounds are a botanical showcase of coconut palms, banyan trees, and other vibrant flowering and fruit-bearing plants … all softly rustling and swaying in the tropical breeze, creating an immediate sense of peace and tranquility.

We spent time meandering through the lush grounds, including kicking up sand on one of the largest natural beaches in the Keys, or simply taking in the heavenly surroundings from one of the many strategically placed hammocks. This author’s favorite: the hammock on the dock, where the vista is uninterrupted for as far as the eye can see. You’re sure to find your own favorite spot at The Moorings, which has graced the cover of many a magazine and is also the site for scenes in the popular “Bloodline” series on NetFlix.

We found a tennis court and a 25-meter heated swimming pool nestled discretely amongst the mere 18 villas on the property. We also found bicycles at-the-ready near the 100-year-old banyan tree and kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and windsurfing equipment at your disposal on the beach – made all the more enticing when someone kindly carried your equipment-du-jour right into the Atlantic for you and picked it up on your return.

Each day we returned to the Waca villa and to the comforts of home, including the plantation-style porch and Adirondack-style chairs outside, and the hand-painted tiles, a soaking tub, freshly ironed bedding, stainless steel appliances, and a fully appointed kitchen on the inside.

Since our story did not include any of us cooking, the kitchen appliances and utensils were merely nice-to-haves for us. Instead, The Moorings staff was happy to make us reservations at the many nearby restaurants, including Lora Lei’s, Chef Michael’s, Green Turtle Inn, and their very own Morada Bay and, most notably, Pierre’s. The two-story, West African-style mansion is so picturesque, its verandas and overstuffed chairs so inviting, and its sandy front lawn so pristine, we wanted to move in … until we experienced the cuisine of Executive Chef Ishmael Toro, and then we begged them to let us move in. Be sure to try Pierre’s vibrant seafood curry, easily the most beautiful and flavorful dish on the menu with a mélange of lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, and sea scallops in a Thai coconut curry sauce and artfully served in a coconut shell with forbidden black rice.

And we all lived happily ever after, fully sated by our adventure on the Purple Isle … until it snows again in Chicago.

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Escape To Purple Isle