Monday, June 6, 2016

What Makes St. Augustine Sooooo Fabulous?

Guardian on the Left
Guardian on the Right
Three hours south of my home in Bluffton, South Carolina, lies the historic town of St. Augustine. 

What makes a town of only 12.7 square miles and 14,000 people so popular? The combination of history, great restaurants, tourist attractions, beaches, a winery, a distillery, a unique college, an eclectic museum, and southern charm all add up to a great little place on the Northeast coast of Florida.

First a bit of history. Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain arrived with 10 ships and 1500 men in 1565 with the orders to rid Florida of the French, who occupied much of the area. He successfully accomplished the task - although in a somewhat gruesome manner of hangings and beheadings! With the French thus eliminated, he established the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Twenty-one years later, in 1586, Britain's Sir Francis Drake attacked the city and burned the wooden fort to the ground, however, the British did not come to rule the city and the rest of Florida until The Treaty of Paris in 1763. British rule only lasted twenty years. The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 returned Florida to the Spanish and it remained so until 1819 when Spain ceded Florida to the United States. St. Augustine has been under the control of France, Spain, Britain and the US which only adds to its rich heritage.

Casa Monica Hotel
There is so much to say about St. Augustine, it will take me a couple of blogs to cover it all. This blog will just hit the highlights, starting with our hotel: The Casa Monica. Centrally located and originally opened in 1888, it is a member of the Historic Hotels of America National Trust. Victorian in the interior with spacious rooms - ours overlooked a park and fountain - excellent amenities and very friendly service, especially at the bar where we had frequent happy hour cocktails!

One of many seafood meals
Next comes the food scene. This one will take me a full blog to detail, but let's leave it to say that you have more than ample choices, especially if you like seafood. We had meals ranging from the simple to the elaborate, all tasting wonderful with especially great Southern service. We sampled O.C. Whites for seafood, lunch at the Ice Plant Bar, Catch 27 for more seafood, lunch in The Colonial Quarters, Cellar 6 (need I say more seafood), lunch at Meehan's Irish Pub (told you there was something for everyone!), Columbia for seafood with a Spanish flare, lunch at Cafe Alcazar and our last (of course, seafood) dinner overlooking the Inland Waterway at A1A Ale works. More on these in a later post!

San Sebastian Winery
Bourbon aging in Barrels
For the production of local alcoholic consumables, we have no complaints about  St. Augustine. It has not only a winery as we are finding with many medium sized cities these days, but it has a full fledged distillery as well! The San Sebastian Winery produces a number of award-winning red, white, and fortified wines. They tend towards the sweeter styles, but do have a couple of good dry reds. Their tasting offered about 6 choices and ran the gamut from dry reds to
chardonnay to a sparkling Blanc de Fleur to a rich port. The St. Augustine Distillery, built in a late 19th-century ice house, is only two years old. It is producing some very nice vodka, gin, and rum. It is awaiting its first batch of barrel-aged bourbon.

St. Augustine Trolly
Being a tourist, we did decide to do some touring. My wife Dianne and I have discovered that the best way to orient yourself in a new place is to try the local hop-on, hop off bus or trolly. St. Augustine does have such an offering - and it was a bargain! We paid $25 each for a three-day ticket which allowed us to see most of the city and its attractions at a fairly leisurely pace. 

Cannon Protecting the Harbor
We spent a good half day at the city's historic centerpiece, the Castillo de San Marcos, now part of the National Park Service. Taking 23 years to complete, its construction started in 1672. Although often attacked in the last 300+ years, its walls have never been breached.

Glass Exhibit
Flagler College
A couple of other interesting places we visited included the Lightner Museum and Flagler College.  Both of these are significant in St. Augustine's development over the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But more on that in a later post when I'll be able to go into their importance and relation to one of the co-founders of Standard Oil, Henry Morrison Flagler.

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