A Hotel Review
In 2011, National Geographic named St. Augustine, Florida one of the top ten places in the world to see Christmas lights. That’s a high honor indeed for my current hometown. The 144-square-block historic district truly sparkles with excitement from over three million tiny white bulbs (each white, per city ordinance) strewn along the ancient streets and historic buildings.
The “Nights of Lights” traces its origins to the Spanish tradition of displaying a lighted white candle during the Christmas holidays.
Should you happen to arrive in town along the bayfront, and pass the 17th-century fort called Castillo de San Carlos, you will undoubtedly notice the Casablanca Inn. The Bed and Breakfast outshines all the other buildings; it radiantly glows with warm hospitality, hundreds and hundreds of white lights and tiki torches. The Inn is surrounded by a two-level elegant verandah, which is typically graced with visitors and locals chatting over drinks. You see the Casablanca Inn is also the home of the Tini Martini Bar; a watering hole so popular folks overflow on the porch and patio.
When I moved to St. Augustine a year ago, the bar attracted me like a powerful magnet. I stopped in and was greeted by friendly bartenders who mix a mean martini. And…one that is anything but teeny. Choose from the menu that features “Classy Tinis,” specialty Tini’s like “Espress-oh-Tinis” and a big selection of “Fruitinis.” Or just ask the bartender to shake, not stir, one to your specifications. By the way, overnight guests receive a $15 bar credit each day.
The Tini Martini Bar also serves 32 vintages by the glass, and several fine single malt Scotch choices. Beer aficionados won’t be disappointed either, with 28 distinctive brews to choose from. Live jazz or blues adds to the convivial atmosphere on Thursday through Saturday evenings.
I recently had the opportunity to spend two nights as a guest at the Casablanca. What fun to be a tourist in my own city. I learned the 1914 building is a Mediterranean revival historic home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I also found the ambiance very romantic, except I was unfortunately staying alone!
My room would seduce any couple with its multi-pillow adorned queen bed, antique furnishings and a Jacuzzi tub. Sleeping in luxury was more than heavenly, I felt like I was starring in the Princess and the Pea fable. Owner Michael Miles explained: “We only want the best for our guests. (So) We have insured a superbly beautiful and comfortable night’s sleep with our Select Comfort Sleep Number Pillow Top Bed. They are topped with an Isotonic pillow-top mattress cover. The next layer is a feather bed cover (hypoallergenic)…then nearly at the top are 400-count cotton sateen sheets & pillow cases (silky and smooth). The pinnacle is designer duvet covers and isotonic pillows.”
The room sat on the second floor, one of 23 suites and rooms available, and included a balcony overlooking cobblestone Charlotte Street, the road behind the Inn. How lovely to escape to this hideaway with morning coffee or an afternoon drink and enjoy the city’s charm–even by myself!
Breakfast begins at 8:15 and guests are served much more than a continental style buffet. They sit down in the dining room and order from the menu or choose the gourmet special of the day. I splurged with a fresh fruit cup, banana bread and Eggs Benedict.
Since St. Augustine is a walking town, once you park your car (the Inn has a lot for guests) you won’t need it again. The Casablanca rests on the main thoroughfare and within a stones throw of many foodie-worthy restaurants. Consider jovial Meehan’s Irish Pub –practically next-door, tapas at the Tasting Room around the corner, or authentic French fare at Bistro de Leon a block away. If you desperately need early morning coffee- try Crucial Coffee on Charlotte Street and later wander into the adjoining courtyard restaurant, The Gourmet Hut, for lunch.
Although Christmas is now over, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights continue through the end of January. Should that not fit into your calendar, visit later. Come stroll around the fort; visit historic homes and cemeteries, the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Lighthouse or just walk over the famed Bridge of Lions. From that vantage point you have the ultimate view of the Casablanca Inn shining as a welcoming star in a city.
And don’t just take my word for it. This year Forbes named the nation’s oldest city one of the prettiest towns in America and National Geographic Traveler Magazine declared St. Augustine one of the 20 Must-See Places for 2013. How lucky am I to live there.