The Americas travel blog

Ponce de Lyon Hotel

Up early and back over to Amelia Island for a cruise to Cumberland Island. We have plenty of time to have breakfast sitting on the verandah of one of those old wooden houses turned into a cafe. Even the coffee is good.

We board the river boat at 10am and pass by Fort Clinch built in 1847 during the Civil War and was again used as a fort during in WW2. We then head towards Cumberland Island which is now mostly owned by the National Parks. However, in the 1860's Andrew and Lucy Carnegie owned 90% of the island and built a 59 room mansion called Dungeness as a winter retreat. They had several swimming pools, a golf course and 40 smaller buildings to house their 200 servants. The last time the mansion was used was in 1929 for one of the their 9 children's wedding. After the Great depression Dungeness remained vacant and in 1959 it burnt down after being deliberately lit. Of the 9 children, 5 took a cash option from their widowed mother and the other 4 chose to have a house built on the island and we cruise past those houses. One is now called Greyfield and is a boutique Hotel. We also pass the ice house where cold goods were stored to supply Dungeness, the railway line to transport goods and the boat house where guests could wait in comfort before travelling up to the house. Large areas of Cumberland Island have been deeded to the National Parks by the Carnegie descendants and the final parcels of land will transfer to the National Parks in 2070.

The island is home to wild horses, raccoons armadillos, alligators and the waters around the islands are home to dolphins and manatees.

Back to Port and now we need to try to get to Saint Augustine, Americas oldest city, by 3pm as we are booked on a city tour. With a combination of google map directions saved on my mobile (we don't have internet on our phones) and our 'wonderful' GPS, which we have often thought we should throw out the window, we actually arrive at 2.30 and we only got lost once!

We get picked up in an elongated golf buggy, their preferred mode of transport here, as the old streets are narrow. St Augustine is on the coast and was founded by the Spanish and then occupied by the French, English and then back to the Spanish and we pass by the fort that protected the harbour and the city.

In 1883 Henry Flagler (co-owner with Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Company) decided to make St Augustine a winter resort for wealthy Americans. He bought 4 small railroads and amalgamated them to enable the wealthy to travel to St Augustine, built 2 ornate hotels, the Ponce de Leon and Hotel Alcazar and bought the Casa Monica Hotel. Whilst hese buildings are very opulent and magnificent, the rest of the town is full of beautiful homes, shops and it feels a museum.

After our tour we stay in the historic district. We haven't had time for lunch today so we stop at an outdoor bar in a quaint side street for a beer and wine and some crab dip. For dinner we go with a Lonely Planet recommendation, The Floridian, where we choose a healthy salad. Pork belly salad for me and a chicken salad for Phil, plus a beer. Not too badly priced at US$45.00.

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