Romance. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. It’s a state of being. Sometimes we’re enveloped in it. Sometimes there’s not a shred of it in our existence. Not to be confused with love—which sometimes evolves from it—romance is a kind of gossamer veil sprinkled with fairy dust that makes us feel all lightheaded and fluttery.
Like one of those “Could-this-person-be-THE-ONE?” moments, romance can randomly sneak up on you and rock your world. But most of the time—like the dreamy first dance after the wedding ceremony—there’s at least a little planning involved.
Whether it will span the length of an evening, a lifetime or somewhere in between, here’s some inspiration to increase the flutter quotient in your life.
Pheromones seem to waft on the night air along a quarter-mile stretch of Vanderbilt Beach between The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and LaPlaya Beach Resort.
Think starlight. Think fairy lights woven into the palms. Think moonbeams dancing on the Gulf of Mexico. These three restaurants are drenched in ambiance, each with its own roman- tic flavor. All three consistently wow top food and wine critics. You can thank us later.
The Turtle Club at Vanderbilt Beach Resort
This voluptuous little treasure has it all: five-star cuisine, superb wine pairings and exquisitely set tables al fresco just above the tide line. Nothing inspires romance envy like the gentle clinking of glasses and candlelit silhouettes beneath tropical umbrellas and feathery palms as viewed from the shore. theturtleclubrestaurant.com, 592-6557
Baleen at LaPlaya Resort
Forgo the beautifully appointed inside dining room and pass through the gracious French doors to a terrace table at this coastal-chic restaurant on the Gulf. To kick the romance quotient up another notch, start with cocktails at the beach fire pit, and then dine barefoot among the tiki torches at a table on the sand. laplayaresort.com, 598-5707
Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
The flutter factor starts with a romantic board- walk stroll through the mangroves and sea grapes to a meandering beachfront deck where every table has a front-row seat to the sunset. All the tropical features are here: a Seminole-style chickee bar, gorgeous island-inspired decor, lush vegetation, excellent bar food as well as a full dining menu, exotic tropical drinks and, of course, lamplight to swoon by. ritz-carlton.com, 598-3300
ROMANCE ON A PLATTER
What a sweetheart—he’s letting you pick the restaurant for your first date. But wait. Like a goopy chick flick on the first date, a too-lovey-dovey place is sure to traumatize a potential love interest of the male persuasion. This doesn’t necessarily require a man-sized steak in a wood-paneled dining room (although that’s a pretty safe gamble). Leave it to an authentic Italian chef to serve up romance on a platter. You’ll get the atmosphere and he’ll get hearty-enough fare, delivered with excellent wine and a sensuous Italian accent.
Angelina’s, Bonita Springs
With entrees like the $28 lobster ravioli to the $49 costarella di agnello (marinated herb-crusted lamb), this one’s on the pricey side, but critics agree it’s oh so worth it. The budget-minded won’t suffer, with the delicious four-course menu fisso (prix fixe) menu at $35.50. For a guy impressed with the finest vintage wines, Angelina’s 4,000 bottles in a 30-foot wine tower may do the trick. On weekends, you can linger over in the piano lounge before dinner. angelinasofbonitasprings.com, 390-3187
Ristorante Ciao, Old Naples
Owner/Chef/Sommelier Gianfranco Loreti started cooking in his parents’ kitchen, and he’s been inspiring romance among Neapolitans with tastes of his homeland for nearly 30 years. Don’t let the plain storefront deceive. The subdued interior feels like a pedigreed Old Italian home. ristorante-ciao.com, 263-3889
Dolce & Salato, Old Naples
In contrast with the big-city glamour of Angelina’s and the Old Italy vernacular of Ciao, this light and youthful little boutique restaurant is just right for a first lunch. No secluded booths to suggest more than it is, but the delicious authentic nouveau Italian cuisine, interesting wines and artful pastries create a pleasant mood for conversation leading to who knows what. dolcesalatonaples.com, 300-0444
DANCING UNDER THE STARS
Pulsating Latin salsa … high-energy swing … a sexy bolero. No matter what gets your heart pumping, you can’t beat the combination of balmy air, body contact, and a live band or DJ to fan the flame. Our temperate winter nights, couple with an ever-increasing lust for new dance venues here on the Gulfshore, keep expanding the options.
Sunday nights at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
It all started here, where the casual, high-energy Sunday night dance tradition has been going strong for more than three decades. Catch the fantastic Robert Williamson Band or CTO High Voltage poolside from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Afterward, soak in that romantic moonlight at the Gulf- front Beach Bar & Grill, open till midnight. naplesbeachhotel.com, 261-2222
First Wednesdays at Mercato
Put on your dancing shoes the first Wednesday of each month, now through May. Show up at 6 p.m. for a professional group dance lesson by Arthur Murray Dance Center of Naples and stay for the dancing to a live band until 9. Enjoy a specially priced meal before or after the dancing at one of Mercato’s charming restaurants. Lesson and dancing $10 per person; dinner for two at selected Mercato restaurants plus dance cards is $100. The proceeds go to charity. dancingunderthestarsnaples.com, 227-4405
Nightly at Handsome Harry’s
The twinkly lighted patio at Handsome Harry’s Third Street Bistro is a sweet spot for more than just see-and-be-seen dining. If you like to show off your rumba moves, or just feel the love on the intimate dance floor, there’s plenty of crooning and doo-wop and rhythm and blues to satisfy. Handsome Harry’s vast menu, including nicely priced “small bites,” is tasty and beautifully presented. handsomeharrys.com, 434-6400
Thursdays at the Fountain
The Village on Venetian Bay is the place to be on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m., when DJ Michael Levaul plays a great mix of swing and ballroom dance music. Nothing sets the mood for romance like a sexy Argentine tango. Bring your dancing shoes and a date—or come solo, because, as their website says, you never know whom you’ll meet. Start with cocktails overlooking Venetian Bay, and stay for dinner at one of The Village’s lovely restaurants. venetianvillage.com, 261-6100
The tidal lagoon that separates Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach Park from Sand Dollar Spit (the state-managed Big Marco Pass Critical Wild- life Area) is one of North America’s most import- ant habitats for wintering and nesting shorebirds. It’s also among the best places on this coast to ooh and aah over its most dramatic residents, bright pink roseate spoonbills. Wade hand in hand across to the barrier island (knee-deep at lowest tides; chest-deep at highest tides) and enjoy one of Southwest Florida’s most secluded beaches on the other side. If you’re carrying a romantic picnic, you can rent a kayak at the Seminole chickee hut. A Collier County beach sticker or parking fee is required. tigertailbeach.net, 642-8414
CHAMPAGNE SUNSET BY KAYAK
Share a romantic kayak paddle into the sunset with the object of your affection, to watch hundreds of birds fly in formation overhead toward their roosts in the 10,000 Islands. Float in your tandem kayak very near their mangrove rookery. The only sounds will be the cries of snowy egrets, ibis, pelicans, cormorants and other shore birds as they jostle for space in the trees—and, of course, your sighs of wonder at the vast beauty of nature. Everglades Area Tours, headquartered on Chokoloskee Island, provides the kayaks, the Champagne and an appropriately discreet naturalist guide. evergladesareatours.com, 695-3633
DO THE VERANDA THING
Think Scarlett and Rhett as you gaze out at the river, the yacht harbor or a trellised garden from your table on a romantic Southern-style veranda.
Rod & Gun Club, Everglades City
This early 1900s Victorian hunting and fishing lodge overlooking the Barron River has my vote for the most romantic veranda this side of Tara. One bite of their homemade, just-tart-enough Key lime pie may be all you need to ignite the flame. evergladesrodandgun.com, 695-2101
The Veranda Restaurant, Fort Myers
All whitewashed wrought iron and white linen tablecloths, this isn’t a rocking chair veranda, but its romantic brick patio is embraced by a century-old botanical garden shared by two antebellum homes. The Southern ambiance lives up to its name. Dress romantically. This favorite of the locals has been cementing relationships for 35 years. verandarestaurant.com, 332-2065
Charley’s Cabana Bar, Sanibel Harbour Resort
This cabana-shaped veranda with a tin roof, dormers, a widow’s walk and balustraded railings at the foot of the Sanibel Causeway is more resort is- land-chic than Old South, but, oh, the dreams you can dream of someday sailing one of those glamorous yachts into a perfect sunset. Share a platter of tapas or flatbreads, along with Charley’s signature martinis, or linger over dinner and desserts late into the night. sanibel-resort.com, 466-4000
OPENING OF THE LOTUS BLOSSOMS
Slip away together to the Naples Botanical Garden on a Tuesday morning when the doors open one hour early, at 8 a.m. Follow the path to the Water Garden to witness the lotus blossoms and water lilies unfolding their exquisite petals to greet the day. These flowers bask in the light of day, and begin to close as the sun goes down. Regular hours except Tuesdays are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can’t bring your picnic into the garden, but there’s a food cart for light refreshment. naplesgarden.org, 643-7275
THE PIER AT SUNRISE
You know you were waiting for the Naples Pier to show up on this list. There’s no denying the romance factor of the Naples Pier at sunset, but have you ever showed up to watch the breaking dawn transform sand, sea and sky into a pink-tinged impressionist painting? Imagine the two of you sharing the moment with just the regulars—a great blue heron or two standing sentry on the beach, a flock of ibis chasing minnows at the tide line, and a few pelicans splash-diving for the bounty lured in by early-morning fishermen. Extra bonus points: Bring along a sunrise picnic of pastries and your favorite gourmet coffee.
SAY “I DO!” ALL OVER AGAIN
There’s no spot more romantic to renew your vows than Captiva Island’s historic Chapel by the Sea, circa 1903. This tiny, whitewashed chapel is right out of the romance novels, set on the sand among palm, seagrape and gumbo limbo trees, kissed by the island breezes and set aglow by legendary Captiva sunsets. You must find yourself a connection with a church member to have a ceremony there.
After the kiss, head over to Captiva’s most adorable street, Andy Rosse Lane. It’s just a block long (two if you count beautiful McCarthy’s Marina on the bay side), beginning at the Old Island Store (circa 1920) and ending at a wide sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Retire to your charming second-honeymoon suite in an authentic Old Florida beach cottage or beach house, all gingerbread detailing and sherbet colors. If you’re looking for a polished resort, this isn’t the place. But if hammocks strung between the palms, bougainvillea-draped picket fences and ’50s-style beach ambiance pulls at your heart- strings, welcome to paradise! Watch the sun set to the sound of island music on the beach at the famous Mucky Duck island-style pub at one end of the lane, and the next morning, stroll down to the other end to be serenaded by saxophone or guitar over an extravagant gourmet breakfast at the Key Lime Bistro. captivachapel.com, 472- 1646; captivaislandinn.com, 395-4000
SAIL AWAY TO PARADISE
Sail into the sunset and don’t sail home until morning. Board the romantic 40-foot Pearson sailboat New Moon at ’Tween Waters Marina on Captiva Island. Enjoy a picnic lunch as your charter captain, Mick Gurley, navigates your private vessel through Redfish Pass and into the Intracoastal Waterway. You’ll skirt the beautiful islands once controlled by dastardly pirates; now the domain of sea birds and a resident pod of friendly dolphins.
A five-hour sail, with a stop or two for shelling, photo ops and a Champagne toast at sunset, gets you to Useppa Island at Mile Marker 63, where you’ll stay overnight in one of the seven themed suites at the elite Collier Inn. I recommend the dreamy Centennial Suite, with its Victorian four-poster bed, two-person Jacuzzi and a balcony overlooking the bay. You can dress for dinner in Old Island luxury in the formal Barron Collier Dining Room, or dine casually in the Courtyard Dining Room over- looking Pine Island Sound.
After a leisurely breakfast, and perhaps a game of chess on the life-size outdoor board, Captain Mick will whisk you away home, perhaps stopping for a “cheeseburger in paradise” at world-famous Cabbage Key. Design it all a la carte, suited to your whims. useppa.com, 239-283-1061; newmoonsailing.com, 395-1782