Winter has its charms, but they tend to fade after a blizzard or two, and those of us who have a low cold-weather tolerance yearn for the sun. Like moths to the flame, we head for our South. Florida. Because, as Sara Waxman says, resistance is futile.
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Aventura is a bespoke, tailor made vacation spot for the world’s vacationers. After a series of stunning renovations, this fixture in the local and international community became even more beautiful, more inviting. If there is a drawback for me personally, it is its vast size, but I soon learn the landmarks to my luxurious accommodation. Turn left at the hanging purple orchids, and follow the flower-lined corridors.
Mornings are magic here, and I head right for my favourite spot, a lounge at the Laguna Pool waterfall. I have the shuttle schedule in hand, and am ready to take in the wonders of the renowned Aventura Mall just minutes away. For the convenience of golfers, sun-worshippers and other sports enthusiasts who spend their days at their own pursuits, the Mall is open late.Evenings, I indulge in one of my favourite pastimes at the resort’s main restaurant, Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, which I know serves some of the finest food in America. At a table in the handsome dining room, friendly Florida manners shine through, with a complimentary trio of French fries: Paprika with signature barbecue sauce, onion dusted with crème fraîche and rosemary fries with sriracha ketchup. Pure enjoyment, tripled. The perfume of fresh basil heralds tomato salad and burrata cheese. A local family makes this cheese for Mina from the milk they bring from their farm in Italy. This further underscores the way that careful ingredient sourcing is valued. There is no music, no exterior noise to sully the enjoyment of good food, and the hum of conversation and laughter add to the ambience. Lighting is careful and subdued to add to relaxation.
This is America. Portions are huge. An 8-oz. Wagyu steak is the smallest on the menu and comes with a head of baked local garlic, and a huge black steak knife, specially made for the restaurant. Lush cauliflower with a grating of lemon and parsley is enough for a family dinner. It pains me to leave such loveliness behind. A spoonful of house-made coconut and lime ice cream is a dreamy ending to just another day in paradise.
Like a discreet southern belle, Sunny Isles Beach hides its many attributes from plain view. Collins Avenue becomes a canyon here, with skyscrapers to the left and to the right of us, each one more dazzling than the next.
It is not until I enter my glorious suite at the Trump International Beach Resort and pull open the drapery that I get the full impact of sand, sea and sun. There it is: The view that encapsulates the reason that more than three million Canadians make an annual sojourn to Florida. On my kitchen counter, there is a welcome gift of all the fixings for a classic Pina Colada, including a fresh coconut.
Late afternoon is the perfect time for a unique tour. Justin Broman, Rescue Operations Supervisor, City of Sunny Isles, is driving me right along the beach in his bright red Ocean Rescue truck. This is one of the only cities where the hotels are right on the beach, no need to cross busy streets. Each property is differentiated by its own brightly coloured umbrellas and towels, and this super clean beach is accessible to everyone. “It’s very family oriented,” he explains, “a melting pot with people from all over the world.” We pass by the row of old motels, which are still surviving. Big building has not taken over yet.A new fishing pier stands ready for those who wish to catch local mackerel, snapper, jack fish. “A tackle shop is in the works,” says Justin, “so when you catch a fish out there, you can take it to a restaurant and they’ll cook it for you.” At the end of Sunny Isles Beach, on the south side, we do a drive-by of Haulover Beach. Here, the lifeguard towers are pink and yellow trim to be easily recognizable. People come from all over the world to this nude beach. It’s a casual, let it all hang out environment, and in the late afternoon sun, it offers its habitués a quiet charm. Justin ends our tour with a special treat, a shot of eyelash curling real Cuban coffee from his favourite café.
Morning sunrise is a favourite time hereabouts. Breakfast on the terrace, watching the ocean, admiring the birds and enjoying the fresh air. Relaxing and reading, a morning nap. This is not a way of life for me, but it is the perfect vacation. Lunch of Greek salad and grilled shrimp at Gillies Restaurant, at a table under a blue umbrella, with the calming colours of blue sky and turquoise water as company. My cell phone rings, it’s a friend from Toronto calling to describe the continuing snow storm. It almost pains me to tell him where I am. A few days later, flying home refreshed and relaxed, I am of the belief that all good things must end, or how else could we appreciate them.
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.