Something leaps off the wall onto my shoulder and we both jump in terror – the lizard lands lightly and speeds off into the undergrowth, I go back to clearing the steamy jungle that is my garden in summer.
Florida’s Gulf Coast conjures images of a tropical paradise, of beckoning palm trees and white sand beaches caressed by the Gulf of Mexico, of endless lazy days filled with sunshine - and the breathtaking sunsets that follow. No doubt, you’ll find all that and more in Sarasota, where daytime temperatures average in the seventies - in winter!
But if you live here year-round, you have to take the good with the bad, and, in my book, the “bad” is a Southwest Florida summer: unrelenting heat and cloying humidity that demand correspondingly icy air-conditioning, hurricane scares that sometimes materialize, lightning storms, kamikaze mosquitoes, and lizards that can leap.
Visit us between December and April to experience what must be the best winter climate in the country...
Begin a sunny day on Siesta Key with breakfast at Sun Garden Café with its “local organic” menu featuring delectable Sweet Potato Pancakes. Then stroll over to Siesta Beach and sink your toes into the pure quartz sand to see for yourself why it was voted “Best Beach Sand in the World”. Wade out into the shallows - you could be rewarded with a dolphin encounter. Hire a boat and fishing tackle and cast off in the deep blue gulf, or take a kayak tour through the mangroves and spot the manatees along the way. Stroll through charmingly funky Siesta Village and stop at Beach Bazaar to browse a weird and wonderful selection of souvenirs.
If you're hungry, lunch downtown at Marina Jack for typical Florida fare and the best view in town across the marina to the bay. Walk it off at the adjacent Island Park, complete with shade trees and fountains.
Make an afternoon of a visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, set on Sarasota's bayfront amidst magnificent Banyan trees – marvel at the unexpected collection of Old Masters, take in the Circus Museum, and tour the gorgeously restored Gatsby-era Ca D’Zan Mansion, the erstwhile circus magnate’s winter residence. For something completely different, cross the road to the quirky Sarasota Classic Car Museum and see The Beatles’ “Psychedelic” Bentley.
Dine in downtown Sarasota’s hip Rosemary District at Derek’s Culinary Casual Restaurant where you’ll find one of the best chefs in America, Derek Barnes, short-listed for the 2009 James Beard “Best Chef” Awards. Order his Poached Pear for dessert – Anjou pear poached with lavender and honey, topped with creamy goat cheese ice cream and drizzled with black pepper caramel - a slice of heaven. After dinner, explore Palm Avenue’s boutiques and galleries. Stop off for a nightcap and dance to live music at the open-air Mattison’s City Grille. Or, plan to dine early, and end your day with a performance at the beautiful Asolo Repertory Theatre...
Winter is the time to be here, I think, as I swat another bug from my sweaty brow. Just then a familiar-looking little lizard darts onto the path in front of me to grab a large cockroach and drag it out of my way! I pause to look around - the bananas are almost ready for picking, even the avocado looks promising. With a rush of air and a flash of green, a flock of wild parrots lands on an oak canopy, squawking loudly. A squirrel jumps onto a low-hanging branch, chattering urgently, looking me straight in the eye.
Okay - Sarasota in the summertime is beautiful, too.