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Driving along hip Highway 30A, nestled in Florida’s northwestern Panhandle, visitors will instantly realize they are being transported from one town to another as two imposing, bleached-white "butteries" (soaring steepled pillars) stand proud and tall welcoming guests to Alys Beach.

The iconic butteries and skyscraping palm-lined streets introduce travelers to a resort town like no other. Zen-like luxury is inspired by Bermudian architecture, with a nod to Moorish and Moroccan details, while courtyards and lush green spaces transport resort guests to Antigua Guatemalan. It’s no wonder Alys Beach won the No. 3 spot on Architectural Digest’s list of top small towns in the United States.

The beach

The joie de vivre of Alys Beach is the sublime coastal waters of the Panhandle, which sparked a fashion trend. Deep emerald greens blend seamlessly with vivid turquoise greens and deep blues to give the water a trend-on ombre effect, which nestles up to white sandy beaches.

Guest of Alys Beach will relish a 1,500-foot stretch of beachfront with a rare 30-foot bluff allowing expansive views of the Gulf. Beachgoers can spend hours kayaking and paddleboarding, frolicking with the family or floating the day away on these calm waters.

Getting hungry? No worries, pop on over to Piper’s Kitchen, located beachside next door to The Bike Shop. Guests can grab a quick bite, order a beverage of choice and choose to lunch family style at the outdoor picnic area.

If you need to rent boards, kayaks or bicycles, The Bike Shop is the place as it’s the recreational and rental hub of the resort. It’s also a great place to pick up a few sundry items.

Families looking for additional activities can participate in tennis classes, summer camps and nature tours or take pleasure in the simplicity of beach life by building sandcastles. Families with budding architects can try to recreate the welcoming butteries, or one of the property's notable sculptures.

Architecturally speaking

Speaking of architects, Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, of Khoury Vogt Architects, the lead architect group at Alys Beach, shared that it took a village, including the town planners Duany Plater-Zybert & Co. (now DPZ Partners), to create this luxurious place.

Creativity oozes from every corner of this 100 percent sustainable, Florida certified green-awarded place. The attention to detail is mind-blowing — from the pink shells embedded in the sidewalks to the edible landscapes that define areas such as Mojito Lane, where mint and Meyer lemon trees grow freely, or Daiquiri Lane, where banana trees and strawberries coalesce, to plentiful blueberry bushes lining the lakes. It’s fun to watch as children pick these delicious organic fruit treats fresh off the plant.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the landscape architect doesn’t believe in pesticides, making the town’s edible landscaping oh-so-snackable?

The architecture is, in itself, progressive art. This would appear to be an overwhelming proposition, but as you get into the groove of Alys Beach, it seems innate. The community caters to the moderate Gulf Coast temperatures and is designed with the idea of an east-to-west configuration allowing breezes to flow. Purposefully imagined, walkable sight corridors lead guests to the shore, while the sun also plays a part. You’ll see the east-to-west idea in play as the white stucco walls turn pastel pink at sunrise and then take on pastel orange hues in the late afternoon, a precious gift from the setting sun.

Artistic entryways are everywhere, delighting guests with hidden surprises; indoor-outdoor peaceful courtyards, that welcome the day or a romantic evening in.

Green spaces

The architecture gets cozy with a variety of designated green spaces, water features and walking paths, which again align east-to-west, mapping out the perfect route to the beach, the fitness center, the clay tennis courts and sitting areas — or Alys Beach’s take on New York City’s Central Park. The resort’s Central Park opens up to a 20-acre nature preserve and a nature trail. The nature trail is forested with slash pine and cypress trees, scrub and palmetto palms amongst other natural flora and fauna while flowing marsh waters support native herbs and plants. The trail offers guests a finished deck-styled pathway which makes it the perfect place to ride a bike or take a leisurely walk. It’s also the ideal place to escape the summer heat as a blanket of canopy slash pine acts as a natural sunbrella.

Also, if you’re wondering why one of the lakes is named Marilyn, it’s because the celebrated-star Marilyn Monroe plays a role. It’s said that an aerial view of Lake Marilyn takes on the star’s curvaceous lines.

The planners couldn’t help themselves and just had to add another layer of art to make guests ooh and ahh. As you wander the grounds, you’ll see magnificent works of art acting as sophisticated signposts. One of the most Instagramable of them all is Tanzërin, created by Christian Peschke, a German sculptor. Tanzërin depicts a Rubenesque woman who appears to be in the midst of a joyful dance. 

John Aspley, CEO of Antiquities and Interiors, a showroom in High Point, North Carolina, worked with artisans in Indonesia to craft the gorgeous teak horse sculpture which signals the starting point for the nature path. As you progress on your nature walk or bike ride, you’ll be greeted by an imposing metal dragon, sculpted by a local artist and metal fabricator Charles Lawson. Another resort sculpture not to miss is Leda, a graceful Buddha-inspired head, sculpted by local artist Steve Wagner. This unassuming statue is placed along one of the walking corridors and is a beautiful place to relax.

The pools

For those seeking a pool experience, Caliza Pool area is stunning, offering guests a 100-foot infinity-edge saltwater pool, a family pool area with dancing water spouts, a 75- foot lap pool and an intimate spa and whirlpool. The perimeter of the pool boasts charming cabanas which overlook the nature preserve, and in signature Alys Beach style, the entrance to Caliza Pool area will stop you in your tracks. (Note: A new indoor/outdoor pool was under construction during my visit.)

Wine and dine

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are typically a short walk from your vacation rental. Doughnut lovers will want to head on over to Charlie’s Donuts, across the way from the fountain-feed amphitheater. Get there early as these homemade treats sell out quickly. Fonville Press, the resort’s lunch and breakfast restaurant, is the perfect way to start the morning. Enjoy freshly brewed coffee, fruit or a pastry and head on out to the outdoor patio and let the kids run, jump and play at Fonville Park.

Georges’ Restaurant, a recycled coastal cottage which was known by many as Sandor’s Restaurant, a popular hangout in Seagrove Beach, is the new hotspot on 30A. The cottage remains intact with a few updates including a screened patio and deck area. Today this quaint abode still delights as guests dine on fresh-caught coastal cuisine in a casual environment.

The resort's al fresco restaurant, Caliza’s, is open for lunch and dinner and offers a buzzy happy hour overlooking a tranquil pool scene. The menu is a blend of contemporary American and coastal, sustainable cuisine, offering healthy, and indulgent, shareable plates. The selection of curated wines will please the most discretionary wine aficionados, while artisan cocktails and craft brews are also a good choice.

NEAT is an intimate tasting room and tapas stop. While in town, I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Alvarado, a local singer/songwriter who blends original songs with soothing melodies. I learned Alvarado crafts one-of-a-kind, handmade guitars with hand-tooled inlays that capture the interest of the likes of Johnny Cash, and Fleetwood Mac band members and more. It takes Alvarado six months to create one of these beauties. If you’re interested, the wait list is a year.

If you feel the need to venture off property, there are dozens of places to choose from along 30A. Some of the most notable are: Great Southern Café, The Red Bar, Bud & Alleys and the Cow Girl Kitchen, to name a few.

Staying

My guess is those who want to call Alys Beach home during the spring, summer and fall months will want to book early because the resort only offers 25 rentals. Condos and residences sleep anywhere from two to 12 guests. Each is individually appointed, in a quiet style that exudes luxury.

Visit www.alysbeach.com to learn more.

Zapala is a travel and lifestyle writer, based in the South.

 

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