Stroll and swing toward the 18th hole at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Stroll and swing toward the 18th hole at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club

Turkey With a Side of Sand

Innovative restaurants and upscale shops line Naples's Third Street South, a prime place to people-watch.
Innovative restaurants and upscale shops line Naples's Third Street South, a prime place to people-watch. (Naples, Marco Island And Everglades Convention And Visitors Bureau)
By Ceci Connolly
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 19, 2006

My mother's words echo in my head, tugging me back year after year.

"A turkey sandwich always tastes better with a little sand," she is saying. We are standing barefoot at a beat-up wooden picnic table, unloading the remnants of the previous night's Thanksgiving dinner. Homemade cranberry sauce, brie, Dad's special stuffing, key lime pie and, of course, the prime attraction: turkey sandwiches.

The plates are paper, the glasses are plastic, but the salt shaker is cut glass. We may be in itsy-bitsy bikinis, risking splinters in certain delicate areas, but we have our standards -- especially when it comes to holiday meals.

While friends up north shovel snow, replaying ancient family grudges and fighting hordes of Black Friday bargain hunters, we bask in the glories of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, an exquisite natural barrier-island beach along Florida's Gulf Coast.

"I hear Boston got more snow," chortles my youngest sister, Liz, who arrived from frozen New England a day earlier. Yes, we smugly agree, we're pretty darn smart.

When my mother first suggested Thanksgiving in Naples, Fla., it sounded like blasphemy. Aren't holidays meant to be endured in the family homestead, rife with memories of the times you were banished to your room for refusing to eat vegetables? Can you really call it Thanksgiving, we wondered, if the thermometer reads 78 and your biggest worry is which sunscreen to apply, the golden goddess SPF 8 or the I'm-so-very-responsible 30?

Still, my parents had been spending winters in Naples, and the trek back to Pennsylvania was becoming a burden. So several of us kids, skeptical as we were, agreed to try an alternative Thanksgiving, far from the traditions of our youth.

It didn't take long to realize that, once again, Mother knows best. That first trip, five years ago, we discovered the joys of cooking in shorts and slipping out for a quick nine holes of golf while the turkey roasted. To our surprise, gravy tastes just as good out of a flamingo coffee mug as out of any fancy china gravy boat.

Gradually, we became more civilized -- a serving platter showed up one year, linens and roasting pan the next. Finally, last fall, my electric carving knife relocated permanently to Naples.

A new tradition was born. And though the journey this year is much longer from my new home in Mexico, I cannot resist my mother's call.

A Calm Getaway

It takes courage to board an airplane during Thanksgiving week -- snow delays, overbooked flights, sneezing kids. But each November, as I step out of the airport and into the Florida sunshine, I shed my tensions quicker than my bulky winter sweater. Though recently expanded, Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, 36 miles away, remains quaint enough that rental cars are within walking distance of the terminal. By 1 p.m., I'm poolside eating a fresh grouper sandwich.

Naples, situated on the edge of the Everglades, was founded in 1887 by a group of wealthy Kentuckians. With its mild climate and ocean setting, the city does a credible job of evoking its namesake on the Italian peninsula. From its earliest days, it has been popular with high-society types, including movie stars Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper. Today, Naples is awash in designer boutiques, gated communities and two -- count 'em -- Ritz-Carlton resorts. It also has a reputation as a retirement haven. Translation: yawn.

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