When I read that Naples Florida has the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in America, I have to admit that it made packing for my visit a wee bit difficult. After rummaging through “all” my designer labels (took about 5 seconds) I gave up and opted for a casual, sporty look, which turned out to be just right.

Moneyed though the folks might be, Naples is delightfully laid-back, understated,  and simply a whole lot of fun! (Bring a pair of jeans, a swimsuit, comfy exercise clothes for biking, beachcombing, exploring, and a nicer outfit for dinner and you’re set.)

Bellesera Hotel NaplesThe same casual-elegance theme continues when you check into the Bellasera Hotel, a four-diamond hotel gem, tucked away in the heart of Old Naples. This hidden oasis features a lush, palm-fringed courtyard, bubbling fountains, an outdoor pool with cabanas and a spa tub and old-world Italian architecture, making it easy to pretend that you’re staying at that “other” Naples, particularly if you borrow one of the hotel bikes to pedal your way around town- so very European. If you prefer, you can take advantage of the complimentary hotel shuttle, which will drop you off anywhere in a three-mile radius.

The exceedingly spacious one-bedroom suites (they offer 100 luxurious studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom condo-suites with either private balconies or screened lanais) are so comfortable that you almost feel like you’re kicking back at your own home, albeit an immaculate, very stylish one. They literally have thought of everything here to make your stay as user-friendly as possible, including a large granite-topped kitchen complete with a full refrigerator/freezer, electric oven, microwave, dishwasher, coffee maker, dishes, and every conceivable utensil for cooking up a feast,or just a quick and easy brekkie. There’s even a washer/dryer, with little boxes of detergents!  Daily maid service was excellent. At the beginning of your stay you can fill out a card detailing your needs (extra towels, what time you want the room cleaned, etc)

Tip: After a day exploring it was lovely to come “home” in time to take advantage of the “Revive with $5″ Happy Hour from 4:00pm – 6:30pm.  I appreciated the pool bar’s $4 wines, ½ priced martinis and $5 appetizers, particularly the Mediterranean flatbread topped with melted cheese, roasted peppers and artichoke.

If you can tear yourself away from the welcoming pool, downtown Naples Florida is a paradise for shoppers, offers a variety of delish restaurants (hello stone crabs!) miles of gorgeous beaches, and a variety of outdoor activities all within walking distance.

Here are a few ideas to make the most out of your getaway:

Join the Naples Historic Society for an informative walking tour:

Step back to the 19th century when you join one of the fascinating walking tours of the Naples Historic District. Stroll through Old Naples nabes and gorgeous gardens, or explore the simple elegance of the 1895 Palm Cottage house museum, listed in the National Register for Historic Places. The history of Naples early settlers comes alive as knowledgeable docents recount stories gathered from their oral history project.

For some world-class shopping:

Stroll pedestrian-friendly Fifth Avenue South where historic buildings house exclusive shops and  sophisticated restaurants. Live music fills the air most Thursday evenings. Didn’t find what you were looking for? Cross over to Third Street South, another palm-tree laden charmer, lined with over 100 designer and local artisan boutiques, eateries and art galleries. There’s even a live Street Concierge offering helpful advice, such as which spa should you go to for a little pampering?

I'll take one of each of José Aragón’s rings, please Bellesera Hotel Naples

I’ll take one of each of José Aragón’s rings, please

 

I loved José Aragón’s extraordinary jewelry store (opened 1968) with many distinctive, splurge-worthy pieces.

Superb contemporary American cuisine at Mereday’s Fine Dining:

For a truly exceptional meal, make a reservation at Mereday’s Fine Dining, currently ranked #1 of 763 restaurants in Naples on Tripadvisor. This elegant, waterfront restaurant is where Chef Charles Mereday spins his culinary magic utilizing the freshest, seasonal and finest available ingredients on earth combined with his 20+ years experience as a chef at notable restaurants in Europe and the Caribbean.

Almost too pretty to eat Bellesera Hotel Naples

Mereday’s food is almost too pretty to eat

Keep in mind that the portions are exceedingly generous when choosing a 3, 4 or 5-course dinner (dessert is a must!) from the daily changing menu. Optional wine pairings are available and you do want to opt for this since the sommelier is top-notch.

Tip: Truffle aficionados take note of a special 5-course Italian truffle tasting for $200, with wine pairing $300. If you blew all your money buying X-mas presents, you can still experience Mereday’s Fine Dining at their $25 three-course lunch.

For help in planning your trip visit the Paradise Coast website.