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Travelogue – Coral Gables, Florida

I rather like Coral Gables, just minutes from Miami Airport in one direction, minutes from South Beach in the other. It’s a fusion of grandoise Spanish hacienda’s, short skirted Latino’s and whacky Miamian’s where roads and pavements are designed and not layed. 

Coral Gables was developed in the 1920’s when George Merrick planned an American Venice complete with canals and lakes. What Coral Gables got was one of America’s first ever fully-planned residential communities and certainly the work that Merrick did has stood the test of time. Coral Gables is also home to the University of Miami’s 15,000 students which keeps the downtown coffee shops busy.

Downtown entices with some nice shops, although mostly don’t require you to actually go inside unless you are after an expensive pair of earrings or a body wax. There are planty of restaurants and cafe’s plus many galleries to nose in. The Actor’s Playhouse Theatre take centre spot of Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile, the town’s main thoroughfare and if the local Mediterranean architecture needs some explaining then there is also the Coral Gables Museum to explain all.

Further afield is the pretty cool public Venetian Pool. Created from an original coral rock quarry the public swimming pool contains over 800,000 gallons of spring water. Slices of lemon are not provided. There are plenty of green open spaces such as the Fairchild Tropical Botantic Garden and the John C. Gifford Arboretum.

Unusually for America, Coral Gables contains lots of roundabouts or traffic circles as they call them. One contains the DeSoto Fountain, which must cause a fair few accidents as many people get out of their cars to take photographs of it, me included.

We stayed at the historic landmark Biltmore Hotel (top right) which has a spectacular history of filmstars, politics, royalty, gangsters, ghosts and Tarzan! The Biltmore was also in George Merrick’s Coral Gables’ grand plan and it was finished in 1926. In the 30’s when the rest of the country was in an economic lull, thousands would come each week to watch aquatic displays in the huge swimming pool, one time the largest in the world (below).

Pre-Tarzan fame Johnny Weissmuller was a Biltmore swimming instructor, and later after finding fame in the jungle he broke a few world records in the hotel pool. During the war the 400 room hotel was turned into an Air Forces hospital.

Then it wasn’t until 1987 that the Biltmore was renovated back into a hotel but it closed again in 1990. Under new ownership the hotel had further restoration in the early 90’s but what remains is 1920’s grandeur and stateliness. Throughout the hotel are majestic architectural ornaments, hand-painted ceilings, fountains, imposing balconies with balustrades and sparkling and cold to the touch terrazzo and tile floors.

The Biltmore stands like a castle at the top of Anatasia Avenue with it’s 93-foot copper-clad tower, modelled after the Giralda Tower in Seville. Yes it was a bit gaudy and a little 80’s but I couldn’t ignore any opening of a door because I felt sure someone famous or glamorous would walk through it and despite a few shortcomings we would stay there again.

There are a lot of decent restaurants in Coral Gables, but we had one meal out and that was at Hillstone (it was previously called Houstons) which didn’t disappoint. It is a chain, but the menu’s great and the clientele was a nice mixture of families, first daters and groups of friends.

Most Bermudians have a home from home, normally in Florida, New Hampshire or Vermont. If it was me I’d have a nice little homestead in Coral Gables.

More information: Coral Gables blogger.

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