Naples, especially old Naples, is one of my favorite places. Seven years ago, it wasn’t even on my radar, then my parents bought a condo there. Not long after that, we were relocated to the east coast of Florida, to a town called Weston, which was a one hour straight shot across Alligator Alley to Naples, and that’s when Naples stole my heart. It was a base for our initial house hunting, it was a weekend respite from the east coast. It was where we went to relax for a glorious weekend, sonogram in hand, after we confirmed that I was pregnant with second son. It was my refuge after Hurricane Wilma knocked out the power and water in my town when I was eight months pregnant. It was a place to rendezvous with my mom and dad and sometimes, sister. We even celebrated first son’s second birthday there. We’ve been back twice since we moved from Florida. It still hasn’t lost it’s charm. I have a deep love for the ocean (and the gulf) and the smell of salt water in the air. I love the sun on my skin and the way the salt feels as it dries on my body after I take a swim. I feel at peace when I hear seagulls and waves. I feel at home.
Not all beaches are created equal, though, and I’ve been on plenty of shores where I was reluctant to take a swim and wasn’t so enamored with the rocky sand. Naples, is not one of those places. Though the beaches might be small, I’ve never felt crowded. And though there have been times, in the warm, salty water, when I’ve wondered if a shark or stingray was going to make an appearance, it’s never been enough to deter me from the water. The coast is serene, with the majority of beaches lined by million dollar homes and palm trees. The town is well manicured with a mixture of houses, condos and mansions. I especially love the smaller houses that clue you into the sleepy little beach town Naples used to be before big money moved in, and I am nothing if not nostalgic about sleepy little beach towns. But there is nothing about Naples that screams ostentatious. Fifth avenue lined with stores and restaurants is clean and vibrant, yet elegant. The vibe, laid back, the people polite. You’re just as likely to see a couple riding bikes in bathing suits as you are a Rolls Royce. The park is well kept and often bustling with art shows, families and concerts. There a parking garages that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but free and located near town. It is simply a town that is well cared for.
It is very much different than the part of Florida where I lived. The beaches of Fort Lauderdale (the beach closest to where we lived) are lined by streets and hotels. There is nothing peaceful about it. The whole scene screams tourism and sell out. The beaches and water, besides one state park we eventually found, were often dirty. I felt like I was in a concrete jungle by the sea. Fort Lauderdale was gritty. I wasn’t a fan, but Naples, I’ll return there any day.