Again, it begins: snow, sleet, and black ice. Like a migrating bird, I answer the call of the south: white sand, blue sea and stone crab, snorkeling, scuba diving, sipping tropical drinks in ocean front cabanas, teeing off at sunrise, exploring eco-tour sites by hiking, cycling and camping from the Everglades to the Atlantic Ocean.
On arrival, I notice all the tanned Torontonians reluctantly boarding their flights home. Where have they come from? Singer Island, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, the City of Golf, Fisher Island and West Palm Beach, which isn’t really west at all. There are more than 16,000 guestrooms here, at more than 200 hotels– from affordable inns and bed and breakfasts to accommodations luxurious beyond our imagination. The largest contingent of tourists come from Canada, and it’s up 15% in the last three months, to well over three million. At every turn, I run into people from Toronto.
Set on a residential street, The Brazilian Court in Palm Beach looks like a gorgeous private plantation with lush foliage and low slung yellow pastel buildings. Hello. The annual meeting of an international arts foundation is in progress here—many of the members are from Toronto.
The bellman leads me to my room through the heart of the property, a beautifully landscaped, fountained courtyard garden, past the terrace of the exciting Café Boulud, by award-winning New York chef, Daniel Boulud. Right there on the lunch menu is the DB burger that started all the fuss across the land: sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles with pommes frites. When it’s 80 degrees I prefer the chilled lobster salad. Over a glass of Boulud’s private label champagne, I chat with the Maitre d’ (ex-Toronto) about our local dining-out scene. He could have the same conversation with people at three separate tables —Torontonians all.
Multi-millions have been spent renovating this hotel, and it now includes a branch of the renowned Frederic Fekai Salon and Spa that overlooks the pool. Rooms and suites have been done with much thoughtfulness, color and southern comfort.
A Toronto friend invites me to a birthday luncheon on the terrace at Mar a Lago. Wherever the eye falls, luxury prevails. Still, the hot spot for dinner is Bice, and they can’t wait to tell me about the prominent Canadians who are regular guests. Palm Beach, people say, is all about money, status, and the weekly scandal, but this is only one segment of society.
It’s just a short drive over the bridge to Singer Island. Here, the dress code is t-shirts, flip-flops and cut-offs, and the pelicans are so friendly they walk along the boardwalk and perch on the boats in the Sailfish Marina and Resort. They tell me the folks from Toronto are wild about this sport fishing paradise. Up to six passengers can rent a boat and go offshore trolling for sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, marlin, kingfish, tuna, barracuda and shark. At the hotel’s Buccaneer Steakhouse, sushi grade tuna and salmon are fresh from the Atlantic.
Driving through the security-gated grounds of the palatial Boca Raton Resort & Club takes me into a breathtaking fantasy of historic Moorish, Gothic architecture. In the vast stone lobby, filled with antiques, a pleasant staff guides me swiftly to my suite of huge high-ceiling rooms and wonderful amenities, decorated without sacrificing easy-going luxury. One hundred million has been spent in the past two years to improve the amenities without compromising the historic charm. At Lucca, one of thirteen restaurants, dinner is a delectable Tuscan dining experience. The restaurant manager, who lived and worked in Toronto in the 80s, tells me that on a Saturday night, this room is filled with half Toronto and half Quebec diners. Tonight, there is a wedding with a Toronto connection, as well as a birthday party hosted by someone who lives in my condo in Toronto. The function rooms are magnificent.
We could stay here for a month, strolling along walkways and admiring the Venetian style Yacht Club with it’s phalanx of billionaires yachts; taking a break in the serious Spa Palazzo; tennis, golf and even a croquet court. A short ferry hop across the Intracoastal Waterway takes us to the Boca Beach Club, a private half mile stretch of white sand. We choose our lounges and turn to acknowledge the group next to us. Fancy meeting you here! They were once our neighbours in Rosedale.
Palm Beach County may belong to the U.S, but it’s our South too, and no one can tell me different.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.