A hurricane coming: it was never like this for Bogart

My Rough Guide

Best Discovery

In a state synonymous with Disney World and Miami it's refreshing to get off the beaten track. The easy-going Barry "Chop" Lege runs boat trips (Swampland Tours) into a vast wildlife sanctuary on Lake Okeechobee. A ranger at one with his environment, he spots all manner of creatures invisible to the untrained eye and enthusiastically explains their habits and habitats. If you want to know the intimate details of alligators, a multitude of birds and the moccasin snake, he's your man. (He also cooks a mean gumbo.)

BEST HOTEL

We can't ignore the state's most magnificent hotels, many of which began life as swanky resorts of the 1920s. Potent symbols of an era of unbridled wealth, they still attract the mega-rich and are worth a look (some give guided tours). For sheer extravagance you can't beat the elaborate pink castle of the Don Cesar Hotel at St Petersburg Beach. Other contenders are the Gatsbyesque Belleview Mido Resort Hotel in Clearwater; and the epitome of graceful living, The Breakers, at the millionaires' haven of Palm Beach. In a different vein is the B&B at the Heritage Country Inn, set in rolling ranch country near Silver Springs. You're lavished with loving care and attention in this turn-of-the-century farmhouse with its six individually styled bedrooms, bearing names like the Plantation Room and the English Thoroughbred Room. We still miss the home-baked cinnamon bread.

FAVOURITE RESTAURANT

Florida's cultural mix produces an exciting range of cuisine. Sarasota has Yoder's, a small award-winning Amish restaurant, where attentive waitresses in traditional dress bring heaped plates of simple homemade food prepared to old-fashioned recipes. By contrast, the hot-blooded Columbia, a cavernous Cuban restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa, goes all out to entertain with spirited Flamenco dancing as diners gorge on refined Cuban and Spanish fare.

BIGGEST LET-DOWN

Disney World is an unearthly place where you're told to expect all-day fun but have to put up with all-day queuing, rides that break down, horribly expensive and unappetising food, and incessant advertising. Added to this cultural mugging are historical revisions that would shame Clinton, and poor schmucks in cartoon-character costumes who dog your every step.

STRANGEST NIGHT

Early evening Fort Lauderdale greeted us with banging hammers and whirring electric screwdrivers as storm shutters were fixed over doors and windows. Hurricane Erin was threatening, and there was no way the media was going to do a Michael Fish. Constant warnings filled the airwaves but we decided to get a meal before decamping to the mainland emergency centre. At the deserted Ricks Cafe we got the best table overlooking the ocean but the beautiful sunset disappeared behind a shutter, erected with a power tool that drowned out the pianist playing Andrew Lloyd Webber "classics". It was never like this for Bogart. The emergency centre was a run-down high school in a dubious neighbourhood and already full of street dwellers, people from housing projects, and nervous tourists. The grubby classroom made us long for the king-sized bed in the hotel as locals popped their heads round the door stating wistfully: "Here's where we did math." We endured about eight hours - the highlight being the colourful company in the soup line - while Hurricane Erin blew past Fort Lauderdale without rustling a leaf. Never trust a weatherman.

FAVOURITE MUSEUM

Runners-up are the impressive Salvador Dal Art Gallery in St Petersburg and the enlightening Civil War Soldiers' Museum in Pensacola. First prize goes to Sarasota's Ringling Museum Complex. The passionate project of a 1920s circus multi-millionaire, it boasts a stunning Venetian Gothic mansion - the ultimate combination of American exuberance and European elegance. Next door an ornate gallery is home to an inspired collection of European Baroque paintings, one of the finest of its kind in the US.

ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE

Get to the Disney World theme parks just before they open and you'll avoid most of the queues and get on to the best rides, assuming they're working. The state's road signs are poor; even Floridians regularly get lost - if you're driving, get a map from the local tourist office or chamber of commerce and work out your route beforehand.

8 Laura Harper and Tony Mudd researched and updated the Rough Guide to Florida (pounds 10.99). Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter Rough News, published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

FACT FILE

Accommodation

Heritage Country Inn (tel: 001 904 489 0023), 14343 W Hwy-40, off I-75, near Silver Springs. Double rooms start at $79, including breakfast. Don Cesar Resort and Spa (tel: 001 813 360 1881) at St Petersburg Beach. Doubles from US$175. The Breakers (tel: 001 407 6556611), 1 Sth County Rd, Palm Beach. Yoder's (tel: 001 941 955 7771), 3434 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota. Columbia (tel: 001 813 248 4961), 2117 E 7th Ave, Ybor City, Tampa.

Places to visit

The Ringling Museum Complex, 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota (daily 10am- 5.30pm; $8.50, free admission to the art gallery on Sat).

Salvador Dal Art Gallery, 1000 S 3rd St, St Petersburg (Mon-Sat 9.30am- 5.30pm, Sun noon-5.30pm; $8). The Civil War Soldiers Museum, 108 S Palafox Place, Pensacola (Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm; $6).

Tours

Swampland Tours (tel: 001 941 467 4411) based near Okeechobee at 10375 Hwy-78, by the Kissimmee Bridge.

More information

Florida Tourist Board (tel: 0891 600 555 and also 0171 6306281).

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003