Escape to South Walton, a Northwest Florida honeymoon haven where sugary white sand is so unique it sparkles like diamonds and "sings" underfoot. The beach music — compliments of the ebb and flow of the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico — banishes pre-wedding stress. While there are many gems in the area, the essence of romance is found in The Pearl — a World-class luxury hotel tucked inside the famed coastal town of Rosemary Beach. You can relax now… you have made it to the "memory maker."
Our journey began in the lobby where an employee with a silver tray and glass of bubbly said, "Champagne?" As we hurried to our room, I asked my husband, "Was she talking to us?" Yes, it seems all guests are treated like royalty in this 55-room boutique resort. Rooms offer balconies with water views, the pool, or the town. Ask about the Cabana Rooms and, for the ultimate in accommodations, reserve the spacious Pearl Room.
The sophisticated room décor breeds intimacy while offering high-tech accommodations. The resort is the first in the United States to offer in-room Apple TV's, allowing guests to stream wirelessly from the complimentary high-speed internet. Rooms have iPads for interactive guest services as well. Our favorite amenity was waking up to the low light of morning and flinging open the doors to the balcony — a stage for Gulf peaking. There is a full-service spa and you will want to reserve a Cabana overlooking the pool for an intimate lunch or dinner. At night, the pool showcases the colors of the rainbow with dancing water. Another hotel bonus… complimentary refreshments are served here twice daily.
For couples who want be married and honeymoon at The Pearl, the event planner can arrange everything from the nuptials to the food. Speaking of food, the Havana Beach Club, the hotel's signature restaurant, offers some of the most scrumptious dishes in the region. Here you will find Gulf coast Americana cuisine with Creole, Cajun and Cuban influences. Ask for a banquette in the rear of the restaurant and expect personalized service from the moment you arrive. This white tablecloth restaurant served up Pan Seared Gulf Snapper to my husband while I enjoyed a Delmonico steak cooked to perfection. The Beachside S'mores dessert comes complete with campfire-scented smoke in a jar… don’t ask me how they do it. Of course you can never go wrong with chocolate. The Chocolate Dessert Flight is a sampling of in-house specialties. The Havana influenced artwork and décor makes the atmosphere unforgettable. Outdoor seating is available on the veranda where brunch and dinner are served daily complete with Gulf views.
Start your second day with an exhilarating run along the beach and rent a bike at Bamboo Bicycle Company to pedal through the town of Rosemary Beach. You can whiz by mansions and carriage houses where sports figures and celebrities own homes. It is not unusual to see Hollywood elite who have traded the Pacific Ocean to vacation at Rosemary Beach. It is also a favorite spot for the music stars of Nashville. In fact, Kellie Pickler became engaged on the sandy shores here. The 107-acre town was established on the principles of New Urbanism and Traditional Neighborhood Development to provide a sense of community and convenience. The good news is the area was built upon a "No-driving-necessary attitude," which is sanctioned by the network of footpaths, boardwalks and secret pathways — ending at the water's edge. Many of the homes are rented to vacationers. We loved the intimate "pocket parks" sprinkled throughout the property, and we visited the Butterfly Garden where several species of butterflies encircled us like animated stars in a Disney movie.
After splashing at The Pearl pool (for ages 21 and older), you can enjoy four additional pools located throughout Rosemary Beach by asking for a pass at the desk. The uniquely hidden Coquina pool was our favorite. Since The Pearl is managed by St. Joe Clubs and Resorts, guests have access to a bounty of amenities at The Beach Club at nearby WaterSound. More perks include access to the popular WaterColor Inn & Resort Adults pool, complimentary kayaks/canoes as well as discounted YOLO Board rentals at the BoatHouse at WaterColor. Ask the concierge for a complete listing of sister resort amenities.
Along cobblestone streets, we stopped in for a hardy breakfast at Summer Kitchen Cafe and roamed retail shops like Rosemary Beach Trading Company, Tracery, and my favorite, Pish Posh Patchouli's, a fine apothecary boutique. Here, the sales person worked her magic to create my personalized products at the custom scent bar. After much deliberation… "White Tea" was the one for me. After shopping, we stopped in La Crema Tapas & Chocolate where the Hot Chocolate Molten Cake is addictive. For dinner, we enjoyed the live entertainment in the courtyard at Edward's while freshly baked bread and Low Country Red Rice was cooking in the kitchen. After a walk along the beach under a blanket of illuminating stars, we trekked back to our hotel room because tomorrow would bring adventure, art and romance in South Walton along the famous 30-A Corridor.
Known for world-class resorts, exceptional dining and artistic treasures, South Walton also boasts outdoor activities and interesting diversions. 30-A highway leads to exciting art and shopping destinations including Grayton Beach, Seaside, WaterColor and Alys Beach. If you are honeymooning in June, attend the Digital Graffiti Festival, the world's first projection art festival at Alys Beach. Active couples will appreciate the 17 rare coastal dune lakes, the highest concentration in the world, making this area appealing for kayaking, hiking and biking. Point Washington State Forest is a great place to test your endurance and then unwind at the Nature Trail at Alys Beach. After exploring, try George's restaurant and dine on the patio. We found the famous "Grouper Sandwich" lived up to its reputation.
For an evening of fine dining, make reservations for WaterColor Inn & Resort's award-winning restaurant, Fish Out of Water. The highly acclaimed AAA-Four Diamond restaurant overlooks the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico where prime time is always at sunset. I recommend the Gulf Front Deck where the oceanfront views are remarkable. We indulged our palates in Gulf delights such as Grouper with Corn Pudding & Blistered Tomatoes. I can promise the chocolate soufflé is the best I have ever eaten. The next morning, we were ready for another day of activities. After a "Waffle Wonderful" at the Hibiscus Café in Grayton Beach, we satisfied our art craving at nearby Mary Hong Studio. Mary Hong was the "South Walton 2014 Artist of the Year" and sells her master pieces as well as offers classes (with reservations) for beginners like us. Couples can fashion hearts, beach scenes and other art from over 4000 pounds of blown glass and other glass trinkets. Hong related brides especially like to spell out their new name with glass on canvas.
For a picnic lunch, stop by Seaside's Modica Market and purchase pasta salads, gourmet sandwiches, strawberry sodas and of course… cookies. The perfect spot is Eden State Gardens in Point Washington. Wesley Mansion is the centerpiece of Eden where live oaks draped in Spanish moss exudes peace and contentment. Surrounded by remote paths with manicured gardens and a reflecting pool, this space maintains an unhurried charm. The best part, we found the secret garden. Located nearby is the East of Eden Spa and Retreat. Here, you can request a Couples Massage amidst nature's showcase. The new spa complex offers a place to rejuvenate with impressive treatments for health and wellness.
On our last day at Rosemary Beach, while my husband was collecting digital images, I decided to relax one last time at the beach. As always, Quinn, an extremely polite Pearl employee, set up the black and white striped umbrella and he even brought me cold water with a smile. Here I had a front row seat along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world — no passport needed. For a fleeting moment, a feeling of je ne sais quoi washed over me. Then I closed my eyes for a mental snapshot of the sights and sound of the Gulf including cawing seagulls dipping for food, and the repetitive action of waves crashing on shore. Once home, I simply dabbled on my specially mixed perfume — "White Tea," and like magic, I am instantly transported back to this special place and time.
The Pearl: 850-588-2881, www.thepearlrb.com
For tourist information contact Visit South Walton at 1-800-822-6877, or www.visitsouthwalton.com