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Swept away in Key Biscayne

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If you like it mellow, throw back a couple of Marron's world-famous pina coladas and you'll want to drown your laptop in the sea, shed your tie and coat forever, and strap your surfboard to your Woody in search of an America that minutes ago seemed lost and gone forever.

Nestled on the tropical island of Key Biscayne, Fla., where the population is just 8,000, the average resident is 37 and the average price tag of a home a cool $2 million, it's the kind of place where it seems that even money has money. Two of its beaches are rated in the top 10 in the world, and you can bike and hike around the island or golf until you drop.

Park rangers take ecotourism and conservation to a new level. During hatching season in late September to early October, rangers block access to nesting endangered turtles with yellow crime-scene-like tape so that hatchlings can crawl their first tentative steps to the sea undisturbed. For $5, you can literally lend a hand, hand carrying a hatchling to the ocean. Call (305) 361-6767, extension 112, for reservations.

When the temperature at home plunges to single digits, you can use the Sonesta as paradise base (it's just across the bridge from Miami). Work it on the nine tennis courts, Olympic pool and fitness center, then forget about it all amid world-class pampering in its 10,000-square-foot spa. Be a player at room rates from $319, view included.


If you can peel yourself off the beach, South Beach's Art Deco District (between Lincoln and Sixth Street, Ocean Drive and Alton Road) is an absolute must. Only a square mile in size, here you'll discover more 1920s and 1930s architecture than anyplace else in the world. Debuted at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Industriels et Modernes in Paris, the art deco style became synonymous with "streamlined modernism" and was particularly significant in rebuilding American cities in the aftermath of the Depression and two world wars.

Miami Beach, of course, had a triple whammy to contend with - the 1926 hurricane that destroyed many of its hotels, restaurants and housing. With its emphasis on new materials like neon, glass block, chrome and terrazzo, and quick and inexpensive building products like poured concrete and aluminum, art deco's new streamlined curves, jutting towers and window "eyebrows" were stylish, cheaper and faster to construct. Make time for a 90-minute walking tour guided by historians and architects or with a self-guided audio tour, both available from the Art Deco Welcome Center.

Like many urban centers, the entrance of artists into a neighborhood eventually triggered a cultural and commercial renaissance. In the nine years since the edgy Museum of Contemporary Art was installed in North Miami, its presence has been the catalyst for scene change marked by the opening of a growing number of galleries like the five-year-old Ambrosino Gallery, design studios and funky little eateries like the Luna Star Cafe.

Art becomes an intimate experience at the Sonesta hotels themselves. Thirty-five years ago, Sonesta pioneered the concept of hanging its own private collection in its properties' public spaces and guest rooms. Curated by gallery owner Joan Sonnabend, wife of the company's chairman of the board, the collection today features over 7,000 works of museum-quality contemporary work. Featured at the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort, for example, is the last canvas Roy Licehenstein painted before his death in 1997. Sonnabend, who once owned a gallery in her native Boston, buys work directly from artists, many of whom were virtually unknowns until she discovered them.

"Many hotels spend as much on reproductions that aren't very attractive and have no intrinsic value," says Sonnabend. "But our collection of artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenburg and Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as many young and mid-career artists, is a really good investment not only because of appreciation in value but also of the way it adds to the guest experience. We have lots of collectors who choose our hotels because of the tapestries, sculptures and paintings on our walls along with our commitment to the art world."

A self-guided tour brochure is available on site at each hotel.


Whether it's Cuban, Floribean, Caribbean, European or American, Key Biscayne and environs are noted for dishes that will have you licking your plate clean.

Versailles Restaurant (305) 444-0240

At first glance this sprawling Little Havana restaurant looks like a pit stop for group tour buses. But since its opening more than 30 years ago, it's been a local hangout, a favorite of movers and shakers in the Cuban community where, according to one wag, "The future of Anglo-Cuban relations will be settled." The menu is huge and waiters are eager to explain the nuances of Cuban food to novices. The Cuban sampler is a good place to start, and the bakery in the rear a perfect finale.

Timo Restaurant (305) 936-1008 (

Italian cuisine with a Mediterranean accent, this romantic fine-dining establishment is just down the street from the Trump International. Since it opened in April 2003, it skyrocketed in popularity, and on some nights the stress shows. But the Sicilian pasta pie (macaroni, eggplant, ricotta and fresh tomatoes) and rock bass with rock shrimp scampi sauce and parslied potatoes make you eager to not sweat the small stuff.

Purple Dolphin Restaurant (305) 361-2021 (

With plate as palette, Executive Chef Elizabeth Barlow combines color, texture and contrast to paint a gourmet sensation that tastes as good as it looks. Food as art is her philosophy and this concept is apparent dish by dish from appetizers to dessert. Menu is predominately Florida seafood.


Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, (305) 361-2021,

Art Deco Welcome Center,

Museum of Contemporary Art, (305) 893-6211,

Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are freelance travel writers and photographers.

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