and other romantic secrets in the heart of the state
Central Florida’s lakeshores are lovingly dotted with romantic retreats, and the drive alone sets the tone for amour. Find yourselves on two-lane, tree-canopied roads, with forests and farms as far you can see. Cattle and horses graze quietly in verdant pastures, and the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms wafts from Florida’s famous groves.
It may feel like the middle of nowhere, but listen… do you want to know a secret? It’s here, in the heart of the state, where love is always in bloom.
Relax, recharge, and reconnect, – the three “R’s”, that was their vision. The owners of Three Oaks Bed and Breakfast in Lake Wales retired from their high-octane careers in Connecticut to make their dream come true. They hit the mark with us. We were only there for one night, but came home totally refreshed.
Bed and Breakfast aficionados, Jessica and Harold Bray incorporated all the fineries they found during their own travels into their now five-year-old business. They purchased Lake Wales’ second-oldest house and converted it into a luxurious B&B. Built in 1914 as a year-round home, it has all the creature comforts and then some.
The house faces tranquil Lake Wailes – no, that’s not a typo. It was the original name of the town before marketers decided to remove the “i”, believing that “wailes” sounded too sad to draw new residents. No matter how you spell it, Lake Wales is anything but. Rustic though it may seem, it has an active arts and music community, three National Historic Districts and a proud connection to its past.
There is a 2 1/2 -mile paved pet-friendly walkway that hugs the lake, perfect for moonlit strolls, bicycling, and jogging. A small fishing pier juts out over the water, with a pretty little gazebo perched at its far end.
The B&B offers regular and tandem bikes, screened swimming pool and numerous spaces for play and reflection, including the game room, music room and picturesque front porch. Tennis buffs can avail themselves of the lighted tennis courts just steps from the property.
The house is replete with interesting antiques, each with a story of its own. There are four unique bedrooms, all with en-suite marble bathrooms and soaking tubs. We were fortunate to reserve the high-end Romance Suite, a spacious enclave with jetted tub, dreamy king-size bed and parlor area.
Harold delivered Jessica’s hand-rolled chocolate truffles along with port wine at night, and in the morning, we devoured her home-baked muffins, melon soup, eggs Benedict, and banana brulée. Over breakfast we chatted with another couple staying there; we are from Sarasota, they were from Englewood. Nice folks. The guest book in our suite revealed that couples come from every corner of the state.
Nearby Bok Tower is a huge draw, with its lush gardens, hauntingly melodious carillon bells, celebrity chef outdoor kitchen, and children’s natural play area. With Legoland next door, Lake Wales is on the year-round family destination map.
Whenever you visit, leave your city duds at home. This area is as laid-back as it is warm and welcoming.
On the Town
Dripping with hearts, flowers and lace, Town Manor on the Lake is the favored wedding and reception venue of blushing brides worldwide. A winner from its inception, this real-life fairytale is as fanciful as it gets. No wonder it has gained tremendous momentum over the years as an award-winning, turn-key marriage and honeymoon destination.
Town Manor is nestled along Lake Julianna in Auburndale. Built in 1933 by Lakeland businessman, Roy Straw, many of the original fixtures remain: ornate hardwood floors, one-of-a-kind chandeliers, sconces and exquisite art deco tile. All the rooms feature luxurious linens, comforters, LCD TVs and high speed Wi Fi.
Town Manor has been awarded the “Best of” and is a “Hall of Fame” winner from the Knot and Wedding Wire; this award is given to only two percent of wedding venues in the US.
Over the years, the gardens have expanded and Town Manor boasts four acres of well-manicured flowers and formal gardens. A gorgeous lakeside terrace has been added with a fire pit along and comfortable furniture to view the western exposure of Lake Juliana – a 1,100-acre aqueous gift of nature.
The innkeepers, Don and Nandy Town know a thing or two about hospitality. In addition to Town Manor Florida, they are the owners and innkeepers of an historical lighthouse, Braddock Point in New York.
Birds of a Feather
Swans. Those graceful creatures that become beautiful princesses by night. Oh wait. That was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, my favorite childhood ballet. I couldn’t help but feel it had come to life when I visited Lakeland.
It was in 1950’s that the queen of England bestowed upon the city a pair of swans. Today, these feathered beauties not only flourish, but have become the symbol of the city.
The Shaw House Bed and Breakfast overlooks these lovelies, one reason that brides choose this Lakeland staple as their wedding night haven. Owned and restored by former City Commissioner Tom Shaw, the four-bedroom century-old home also faces the spectacular Hollis Gardens and presents a breezy, shady back deck. Inside, the walls are graced with original artwork that may look familiar. The Van Gogh style is unmistakable, but the artist may come as a surprise.
If you go:
Three Oaks Bed and Breakfast: 33 N Lakeshore Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853
Town Manor on the Lake: 585 State Rd 559, Auburndale, FL 33823
The Shaw House Bed and Breakfast: 605 E Orange St, Lakeland, FL 33801
Written by Lisa Codianne Fowler for the 2017 Summer Florida Section of The Tampa Bay Times