The Ultimate Staycay? A Homegrown Mediterranean Get-Away
One of my favorite things about traveling in Florida is knowing that just about any bridge over an inland waterway will drop you right at the beach. The bridge over Boca Ciega Bay did not disappoint. Through the gaps between hotels and beachfront homes, I caught glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico as we traveled just a few blocks north on Gulf Boulevard to my destination.
The Hotel Zamora, located in St. Pete Beach, transports you to a marvelous and luxurious Mediterranean getaway without the time commitment and expense of cross-Atlantic travel. Opened in 2014, the boutique hotel evokes a sense of rich history mixed with the open, modern feel of a newly built property. From the moment I was greeted by the friendly concierge and escorted through the beautifully designed ground-level entryway, I felt relaxed and excited all at once to experience all that the hotel and the local area had to offer.
As I entered the second-level lobby, I was immersed in richly textured fabrics and furnishings reminiscent of the Spanish province for which it's named. After a quick and easy check-in, I was on my way to my third floor suite. A hand-crafted, deep oak door welcomed me through a private entryway as I approached my room. As soon as I opened the door, I was swept away with a view of the Gulf just across the street. The junior suite has a separate living and bedroom space divided by a floor to ceiling glass wall. This creates a comfortable open space while allowing for drawn curtains and a closed door to create in-room privacy.
One of the unique features of the Hotel Zamora is the recently opened 360° Rooftop. Five stories above street level, the rooftop offers breathtaking views of the Gulf and inland waterway. Colorful and cozy seating areas are scattered throughout the rooftop offering numerous opportunities to sit and visit with a large or small group of people. Our group met in one of the private cabanas and enjoyed delicious appetizers and cocktails. Two bars staffed by the best bartenders in St. Pete, serve up cocktails from the usual to the exotic. As the evening began to fade, we sipped our cocktails and took in the beauty of a west Florida sunset.
Dinner that evening was in the hotel's Castille Restaurant. Carrying on the Mediterranean feel, the restaurant and lounge have expansive windows with views of the intracoastal waterway. Seating is available inside or out on the deck. The menu is full of dishes that reflect Spanish, Mexican, and Mediterranean flavors. Among a mix of appetizers served at the table, my favorite was the Lobster Fries, with the Smoked Crispy Chicharrons coming in a close second. The Black Grouper Cheeks served as my main dish and were delicious. Scrumptious desserts and coffee liquors were the finishing touches to the meal and the day.
Dali and Da Viinci Downtown
The next morning, we took a short 15 minute drive from the hotel to the Dali Museum. Opened in 2011, the museum features works that span Salvador Dali's career. Walking up to the building sets the stage for the wonders found within. The building is constructed of thick gray concrete, but as you turn the corner you see the “enigma”, a geodesic glass bubble that bulges out of the first floor. Inside, a spectacular helical staircase pays homage to Dali's fascination with the double helix of the DNA molecule.We enjoyed a self-guided audio tour of the special exhibit Dali & Da Vinci: Minds, Machines, and Masterpieces which featured works by both artists. We were also treated to a guided tour by one of the museum's docents through the works of Dali.
We left the museum and walked along the waterfront, and over just a few blocks to Locale Market located in the Sundial Plaza. Locale Market is a unique blend of local market and gourmet adventure. Whether you are looking for local produce, fresh Florida seafood, butcher shop quality meat, or rare speciality products from around the globe, you are likely to find it while wandering through the aisles and departments. Each department is manned by a chef so you can see how to prepare the food, ask questions, and sample the cuisine. Surrounding each department are products to inspire you to recreate the dishes in your own home.
Locale Market aims to blur the lines between shopping and dining, and this is accomplished through the grill, coffee bar, ice cream shop, and bakery. Although we could have spent the entire afternoon shopping, tasting, and dining just in the market alone, lunch was provided upstairs at Farmtable Kitchen. This unique dining experience serves up the culinary specialties of the market in a restaurant setting. We enjoyed Mona Lisa Smiles, a seasonal cocktail inspired by the current exhibit at the Dali museum and a St. Petersburger a Locale speciality from the grill.
Following lunch, we took a short drive to the downtown Edge District to Green Bench Brewing Co. Taking its name from the historic green benches that use to line the streets of St. Petersburg in the early 1900's, the brewery features a brewhouse, taproom, and beer garden. Sipping on one of their signature Saisons, or Farmhouse Ales, we toured the brewery inside the retrofitted 1920's era garage and then settled into the taproom for some more tasting and passing the time while the afternoon rains moved through.
After a day exploring the attractions of downtown St. Pete, we headed back to the Hotel Zamora for some relaxation. The swimming pool and sun terrace is a beautifully designed multi-function space. Half of the pool is under under cover and adjacent to the bar area while the other half is open to the Florida sunshine. You can sit undercover and enjoy a drink while reading, or move out to the deck area with a view of the private marina. Later in the evening we were treated to sangria and Chef Alex Rodriquez' paella as we enjoyed yet another beautiful sunset on the 360° Rooftop.
Paddleboards and Brunch
The next morning dawned a bit overcast and dreary, yet my view of the beach as I opened my curtains reminded me that I still had one more day at my mediterranean oasis. First up was paddleboarding provided by Island Action Sports. The boards were delivered right to the hotel's private marina. After a quick private lesson we were off to explore the intracoastal waterway and view Boca Ciega Bay from just above the waterline.
After beating the rain back to the hotel, we were back in Castille for brunch and the one-of-a-kind Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary. While the mix for the Marys was spectacular all alone, it was a blast to add in everything from stuffed olives and a grilled tomatillo to local gulf shrimp. Grilled grouper and locally made gelato rounded out yet another distinctive meal at this award-winning restaurant.
While we picture the perfect beach day as soaking up the sun on a hot summer day, a walk on the beach is a treat no matter the weather. By mid-afternoon, the rain had stopped and I headed just across the street to explore the beach. Although I was still full from lunch, I did have the option of bringing along a special beach picnic basket prepared by the hotel to keep me company on the beach. This is just one of the many ways the staff at the hotel work to ensure a memorable stay.
The weather held, and in the early evening we set out on a sunset cruise of Boca Ciega Bay aboard the sailing yacht Magic provided by Dolphin Landings. We sailed under the Pinellas Bayway then the crew unfurled the sails and we were off. Not long after, we spotted dolphin playing just off the bow. It was the perfect way to wind down and head into the evening.
Our final gastronomic adventure was a quick trip back to downtown St. Pete to have dinner at Brick & Mortar, on Central Avenue. Owners Jason Ruhe and Hope Montgomery, opened the restaurant after more than a decade of operating a successful catering company in Tampa. Our meal was served family style in a private dining room and although everything was delicious the Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin with Ravioli won the day.
Not Far Away
An early morning flight had me up at dawn but it wasn't easy. The bed in my room was ultra cozy and I hated to leave it. I took a last look out my window and prepared to say goodbye to the beach. I felt like I was heading the wrong direction over the bridge this time but was cheered by the thought of returning soon. After all, this Mediterranean getaway was a hometown staycay in disguise.
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