St. Augustine – The Oldest and Most Haunted Town in the USA
Drenched in history, hauntings, beauty and charm, Florida’s magical city of St. Augustine is known as the oldest town in America and the fist permanent European settlement. Originally founded by the Spanish, the quaint town has preserved its heritage with beautifully restored colonial architecture, brick paved streets, haunted houses and original structures. Having been under Spanish, English and then American rule, this historic city has many a tale to tell.
In the late 19th century, Henry Flagler put St. Augustine on the map after extending his railroad to the Florida coast. It wasn’t long after that St. Augustine became a winter haven for the wealthy as the town grew in its grandeur with mansions, grand hotels and elaborate hideaways. To this day, the city has been beautifully preserved and journeyPod had the unique opportunity to explore this historic wonderland.
Our fist stop in the culturally rich, historic downtown district was the AAA Four-Diamond Casa Monica Hotel. Built in 1888 and beautifully restored, the boutique hotel is pure luxury, with lavish decor and exemplary hospitality. Located in the center of town this historic landmark is within walking distance of the bay, the town center, the shopping district, galleries and some great restaurants and bars. However, we were in for a very special treat when we dined at Casa Monica’s very own award-winning restaurant – 95 Cordova. Elegant, romantic and ‘oh so’ delicious, we were in food heaven. The wine selection was extensive, the sommelier very knowledgeable and the meal was to die for!
After being treated like royalty with a great night’s sleep, we headed out to explore the town and see the oldest ‘everything’ the town had to offer, including the oldest inn, the oldest bar, the oldest masonry fort… I’m sure you get the picture. A walk down St George St. took us to some extraordinary one-of-a-kind stores and galleries and of course the oldest wooden schoolhouse. From there we headed over to Flagler College, a magnificent architectural masterpiece and formally the Ponce De Leon Hotel. It was originally built by Henry Flagler and was one of the original Spanish Renaissance grand hotels. With all its history and infamous guests, rumor has it that the building is haunted leaving many a college student with a ghostly story. We then took a complimentary tour of the San Sebastian Winery located in one of the old East Coast Railway buildings, where we were introduced to Florida’s home grown wines made from hybrid and muscadine grapes.
As well as being the oldest town in the States, and probably because of it, local legend puts St. Augustine as the US’s most haunted town. Due to its long and turbulent history, ghost from the past still linger, occasionally going bump in the night as a reminder of their untimely demise. Ghostly experiences are a big tourist attraction, with daily tours conducted either by foot, trolley or aboard pirate ships. However, there is a lot more to the town than being haunted. Explore the many museums, especially the Lighthouse Museum with its 219 steps to the top where you have the most spectacular view of St. Augustine and the Beaches. Connected to the mainland via the Bridge of Lions, the active lighthouse overlooks the oldest port and has played witness to many a shipwreck off shore.
As the sun was setting, we ventured off on a sunset cruise aboard the Schooner Freedom, a 72-ft replica of a 19th century schooner. As we sailed out of the bay and into open waters, the view of the town shimmering in the distance was magnificent. Surrounded by dolphins and other sea life, we enjoyed a romantic cruise before heading back to shore for a delightful dinner at the Raintree Restaurant. Located in a historic building overlooking the bay, the family owned restaurant served up an exquisite meal. In addition to their great hospitality and delicious food, they also run a shuttle service which will escort you back to your hotel after dinner. Be sure to try their fresh seafood and Chef’s specials.
As hard as it was to tear ourselves away from the downtown area, we headed up the coast to Ponte Vedra Beach where we checked in at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. In contrast to the bustle of downtown St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is a quiet, relaxing, beachfront retreat with over 300 acres of land situated right on the beach. After checking in to our luxurious villa we walked out the door and onto the sand to enjoy our own private piece of beach. A truly splendid resort and a Florida landmark, they offer everything from a full service spa, tennis courts, 36-hole golf course, fitness center, conference facilities, 4 restaurants, swimming pools and more. This is the perfect place to escape for a quite retreat or a family vacation.
Rich in culture, beauty, activities and attractions, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches make for a glorious vacation destination.