St. Augustine: A Cultural Tapestry

St. Augustine is a treasure trove of arts, culture and heritage woven together in a fine and colorful tapestry. Traveling just thirty minutes from Jacksonville, you are transported in both time and place, far from the hustle and stress of digital life. Leave your car, and step back to the era of Henry Flagler and the opulence of the early 1900s, to the playground of the rich, wintering in Florida. Imagine staying at the Alcazar or Ponce de Leon hotels, and marvel at the spires and turrets framing the city. Inside the Alcazar, now the Lightner Museum, imagine enjoying the state-of-the-art spas, both Russian and Turkish, bowling, or swimming in the indoor pool. As you stroll through the Lightner today, art from this golden age of romanticism springs to life. Just as you enter, notice the Girl with Conch Shell. Vichi’s Carrara marble sculpture ripples with the ocean waves, their frothy curls serving as fig leaves for the delicate girl intently listening in the conch for the words of her lover. Wander into the hall of American Brilliant Cut Glass, sparkling like a thousand diamonds. Notice the intricately cut heart on the large vase and enjoy the rainbows bursting forth in love’s first bloom.    

Returning to the here and now, you might wander down Aviles or King Street, slipping into the galleries for unexpected treasures – a series of Dalí prints, a pastel of the marsh changing with the light, a magical room of fantastical book illustrations – masters and locals, all delighting and surprising.    

Stroll down St. George Street toward the old city gates, and you may see locals sauntering in traditional 16th century court dress, eager to share a photo and a bit of Spanish colonial history with you. You may be able to catch some of their demonstrations in the Colonial Quarter – the art of fencing and broadsword fighting or painting with 16th century materials.     

Continuing through the gates and past the fort, north on San Marco Avenue, will lead you to Carrera Wine Cellar, for a wine experience like no other. Join Joe for a class or drop in on Friday or Saturday evening for a tasting and live music. Joe is certain to make your experience fun and down to earth – stripping away any hint of the pretentiousness that can accompany some wine tastings. 

But by now you must be famished, and St. Augustine will not disappoint here. Focusing on fresh, locally sourced meats and produce, restaurants abound with top notch chefs, all within walking distance. You might try Preserved, Llama Restaurant, Michael’s Restaurant, or Cellar 6 with their inspired and ever-changing menus. Perhaps a “farm to table” dinner interests you, hosted at a local farm such as Chandler Oaks Barn or Blue Sky Farms. Check their websites for these special events.          

Roam the cobblestone streets for an after dinner chocolate or gelato, listening to music wafting from cafes and music venues – stepping inside if the music strikes you. Imagine life in Spanish colonial times, as you wander down the empty moonlit streets, flanked by historic dwellings, until you reach your own, The Collector Luxury Inn and Gardens on Cordova Street. Here a block of historic dwellings have been meticulously converted into luxury rooms surrounded by beautiful gardens and historic markers of its own – the site of the first hospital, and 16th century bridge footing, and the site of the1863 Emancipation Proclamation reading. Prop up your feet by the fire and enjoy a late night cocktail expertly prepared on site at The Well, while savoring the magic St. Augustine has woven for you.      

Resources  

www.historiccoastculture.com

www.lightnermuseum.org

www.artgalleriesofstaugustine.com 

www.carrerawinecellar.com 

www.thecollectorinn.com

By Betsy Schifanella • Photos by Tom Schifanella

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