Quick trips: Central Florida

Exploring Winter Park’s rich history

 

Going to Winter Park

Getting there: Winter Park is about a 240-mile drive northwest of downtown Miami. American Airlines offers nonstop flights between Miami International and Orlando International; Spirit, United and Silver Airways fly direct from Fort Lauderdale. Winter Park is 15 miles north of the Orlando airport. Or take the train; the Silver Star and Silver Meteor (www.amtrak.com) stops right downtown.

Information: www.city ofwinter park.org, click on Visitors.

WHERE TO STAY

 The first new hotel in decades, the Alfond Inn opened in mid-August, two blocks off Park Avenue. Built largely with a $12.5-million grant from, and named after, major benefactors of Rollins College, the Alfond offers 112 rooms ranging up to 1,000 square feet. Smallish fitness room, pleasing outdoor pool; outstanding display of contemporary art from the on-campus Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Rates begin at $99 through Sept. 30; then they will start at $139. Guest rooms include free Wi-Fi and iPod/iPhone docking stations. 300 E. New England Ave.; 407-998-8090; www.TheAlfondInn.com.

The only other hotel in the older, trendy part of Winter Park is the Park Plaza Hotel, built in 1925 and last renovated a few decades ago. The Park Plaza has 28 rooms in six layouts, 18 with small balconies. The rooms are also cozy, the bathrooms too cozy. Rates start at $165 on weekdays, $175 on weekends, which includes valet parking, free Wi-Fi and continental breakfast in your room; there is no hotel restaurant. 307 S. Park Ave.; 407-647-1072; www.ParkPlazaHotel.com.

The third hotel within city limits is the Best Western Mount Vernon Inn, one mile from Park Avenue. It offers 143 rooms in a two-story motel that has AAA two-diamond, Mobil two-star ratings. Free Wi-Fi, outdoor pool. 110 S. Orlando Ave.; 407-647-1166; www.bestwestern.com/mtvernoninn. Rates start at $129.

WHERE TO EAT

Luma on Park, 290 S. Park Ave.; 407-599-4111; www.lumaonpark.com. Entrees $21 to $39.

Prato, 124 N. Park Ave.; 407-262-0050; www.prato-wp.com. Entrees $15 to $28.

The Ravenous Pig, 1234 N. Orange Ave.; 407-628-2333; www.theravenouspig.com. Entrees $13 to $29.

Toasted, a grilled-cheese or burgers place stuffed into a strip mall. Cheese sandwiches include those made with havarti and truffle oil, confit, portobellos, tomato chutney and garlic spinach, or one with fontina, braised brisket, BBQ sauce and sweet-tea caramelized onions. 1945 Aloma Ave.; 407-960-3922; www.igettoasted.com. Entrees $5 to $8.

Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine offers nearly 50 items, including all the Turkish foods you’ve heard of (order the lavash, a huge loaf of hollow bread) and a few you probably haven’t (cracked wheat patties, which are lamb, onions and walnuts wrapped in bulgar wheat and fried). 108 S. Park Ave.; 407-644-8609; www.bosphorousrestaurant.com. Entrees $17 to $35.

Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, a family-run trattoria heralded as the best Italian food around. Chef/owner Rocco Potami is usually in the kitchen. Try his Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale (noodles tossed in a wild boar sauce). Or maybe you just want the lasagna … 400 S. Orlando Ave.; 407-644-7770; http://www.roccositaliangrille.com. Entrees $14 to $29.

WHAT TO DO

Morse Museum: Admission, $5 adults, $4 seniors, $1 students; children 11 and younger, free. Closed Mondays. 445 N. Park Ave.; 407-645-5311; www.morsemuseum.org.

Scenic Boat Tours operate daily, leaving on the hour, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fare is $12, adults, $6 for children ages 2-11. Pontoon boat does not have a top, so wear a hat and bring sunscreen. At the end of East Morse Boulevard, east of Interlachen Avenue; 407-644-4056; www.scenicboattours.com.

The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens display more than 200 works of noted Czech émigré. His home is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the exhibition space indoors, with other sculptures on the grounds of his lakeside house. Closed Mondays. Admission, $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students. 633 Osceola Ave.; 407-647-6294; www.polasek.org.

Kraft Azalea Gardens is a lovely, tree-shaded city park on the shores of Lake Maitland. Spanish moss drips from oaks, pines, cypress, cedar and even magnolia trees. Azaleas bloom January-March. Popular with locals who come to watch the sunset over the water. Driving here means passing some of those mini-mansions. Alabama Drive north of Palmer Avenue. Go to www.cityofwinterpark.org and on top menu bar, click on Visitors, then City Parks.


Special to the Miami Herald

Winter Park was incorporated more than 125 years ago, but when you amble along its prime shopping street, drive its brick-paved residential streets beneath canopies of moss-draped oaks and stroll the grounds of its college, you’re going to think: Village

A village with money, to be sure, working to keep its genteel, upscale image. In mid-August, for instance, some of the movers and shakers were so horrified that a Firehouse Subs and a burger joint would soon open on tony Park Avenue that the Planning and Zoning Board passed an ordinance forbidding any more.

What would the original residents — citrus farmers and lumberjacks — have thought? Their ideas probably wouldn’t have concerned the handful of wealthy northerners who decided around 1880 to buy lakeside land and change the community name to something inviting as a vacation destination. Thus, in 1881 Osceola became Winter Park.

Those speculators got rich(er). City history notes land was selling for just $1.85 an acre before the first train tracks reached what would become the heart of the community, in November 1880. But then, plats along the rail line suddenly were selling for $300 an acre.

By 1891, the now-incorporated Winter Park boasted a train depot, post office, telegraph office, two public schools and the state’s first four-year college, Rollins College. And those financiers and industrialists who were now wintering here had enough clout to lure three U.S. presidents to vacation here.

The town is only 8.7 square miles, but it encompasses six spring-fed lakes, which became prime locations even before the 20th century hotels and private estates were created.

A grand way to see how the other half still lives is to take the hourlong Scenic Boat Tour. The pontoon boat putts along a 12-mile route through three of the city’s lakes, including the ones dubbed “Old Money” and “New Money.”

The driver points out impressive homes owned at one time by Henry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil (nine bedrooms, eight bathrooms, two kitchens), Mr. Rogers of PBS fame (while Fred was still a music student at Rollins, his parents bought him a brick mansion), and a relatively new estate said to measure 16,000 square feet.

You can’t see their place from the water, but newer part-time residents are Sir Paul and Lady Nancy McCartney. They purchased part of a condo building to stay in when visiting her son from her first marriage. That lad is one of the 1,901 students enrolled this year at the private Rollins College, where a year’s tuition, room, board and books are about $52,000.

Rollins, founded in 1885, is on a tree-shaded, 65-acre, lakeside — of course — campus. It’s a pleasing stroll, and by golly, you enter the campus at one end of Park Avenue.

At the other end of the avenue is the city’s other landmark, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Morse was one of the 19th century industrialists who first vacationed in, then retired to, Winter Park. His granddaughter’s husband, Hugh F. McKean, would be president of Rollins College for 18 years, and it was there that the McKeans first displayed their remarkable collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works.

The Morse Museum opened in 1995. It displays what is arguably the world’s foremost collection of one of the design geniuses of America at the turn of the 20th century. In 10 galleries and 6 rooms representing Tiffany’s own estate on Long Island are displayed hundreds of works from his New York City studios including delicate necklaces, floor-to-ceiling window panels, glass bowls and religious-themed stained-glass windows.

While the technique and artistry are undeniably lovely, viewing so many pieces may call to mind the aphorism “less is more.”

Far less delicate is the High Street mercantilism just outside the museum, on Park Avenue. Wedged along eight short blocks are 29 apparel shops, 23 restaurants and cafes, 11 jewelers, seven décor shops, three wine bars (The Wine Room sells 156 wines by the glass, but stocks more than 2,000 bottles), a couple of chocolatiers, a cheese shop and such specialists as The Ancient Olive.

Here are bottles of “ultra-premium olive oil that was pressed within three hours of harvest,’’ according to chef/lecturer/salesman Scott Richardson, as well as balsamic vinegars that have been in bottles for 12 to 18 years. Prices for either oil or vinegar begin at $12.

Among the more unusual jewelry and crafts shop is Timothy’s, open on Park for 23 years. It displays only handmade items by about 150 American craftsmen. Media displayed include painted wood, glass, fabrics and purses. The long, deep, shop is a riot of color.

If all that sounds too upscale, step into the Doggie Door and consider a range of pet-pampering/celebrating items. Why not, um, scoop the Beagle-opoly board game for $28?

And if the shopping makes you hungry, two of THE prime Winter Park eateries are on Park, the chi-chi Luma on Park, and slightly less pretentious Prato, with its trendy/noisy bar. Menus at each change daily, with both featuring locally sourced foods. Luma entrees might include rigatoni Bolognese, with an eight-hour ragu, or flounder served with corn, wax beans, fennel nage and eggplant. At Prato, the rigatoni includes a Calabrese pork ragu, swiss chard and barolo; the Duro pork porterhouse is served with bing cherry, endive and cannellini bean.

The city’s primo restaurant is not on Park, however. The marvelously named Ravenous Pig is also a farm-to-table specialist and is the town’s best gastropub. Here, the cobia is poached in olive oil and served with heirloom potatoes, romesco and oven-melted tomatoes. Organic chicken comes with a summer squash and butter bean succotash, sweet corn pudding and ancho pepper sauce.

Maybe you could stop there for lunch or dinner on your way out of town toward. A delicious way to bid the village goodbye.

Robert N. Jenkins is former travel editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the author of “End Bag,” an e-book anthology of travel articles available on the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Smashwords websites.

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