Archive for August, 2012

The Ancient Spanish Monastery: Miami's Passageway to Medieval Europe

Miami’s known for many things. But 12th-century monasteries are not one of them.

Yet amid the urban bustle of North Miami Beach sits a piece of medieval Europe: the Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery.

Walk inside the gate to these beautiful green grounds, filled with gardens, walkways and statues, and the monastery doesn’t seem out of place at all; it’s in splendid harmony with its surroundings. Here, the 21st century seems a million miles away.

Everything about the monastery says “medieval.” Lanterns on the garden paths. Statues and fountains. Stained glass. Carved ceilings, columns and arches. Sacramental stone tables. A bell tower. Colorful coats of arms adorning the cloisters. Heavy wood strongboxes. The air of spirituality seeps from every crack in the stone and from every little alcove.

So, how did this piece of medieval Spain get to Miami?

Construction on the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux began in Sacramenia, in the province of Segovia, in 1133. It took 11 years to build and was occupied by monks for the next 700 years. In the midst of social upheaval in the 1830s, the cloisters of the church — covered passageways of arched-stone — were sold and converted into a stable.

In 1925, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst visited the monastery. Hearst — as anyone who’s been to his “castle” in California knows — was a lover of European culture and history. He fell in love with the ornate cloisters and purchased them.

The 800-year-old structures were then dismantled stone by stone. Each was numbered, packed in hay and shipped to the United States in 11,000 boxes. At the time, however, there was a serious hoof-and-mouth outbreak in Spain. Fearing the hay carried the disease, the Department of Agriculture broke open the boxes and burned the hay upon the shipment’s arrival in New York.

It took 23 men and three months to open the boxes (which contained seven tons of nails) and remove the stones. After the hay was burned, they put the stones back in the boxes — but not the matching ones.

Then the Great Depression hit, and Hearst fell into financial trouble and was forced to sell his collection. The stones sat in a Brooklyn warehouse for 26 years until 1952, when Miami businessmen William Edgemon and Raymond Moss decided to buy them and turn them into a tourist attraction in North Miami Beach.

It took 19 months to ship and reassemble the Cloisters at a cost of $1.5 million. But things didn’t work out as Edgemon and Moss had planned.

Because Dixie Highway was at the time the only way to get from Miami to the Keys, Edgemon and Moss figured the road would make the Cloisters a major draw, says Gregory Mansfield, who ministers to the congregation at the attached St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church. But when U.S. 1 was built, “suddenly they were stuck with a tourist attraction on a road with no tourists.”

They lost their shirts on the deal and sold the Cloisters to the Episcopal Church for pennies on the dollar.

Now, the structures are studied by everyone from artists to historians to writers to architects. The latter, in particular, are fascinated to find two architectural styles.

Construction began in Romanesque style, but some monks who had traveled to France became enamored with the Gothic architecture in vogue there.

“When they returned, they asked the architects to use that style,“ Mansfield says. “But the architects weren’t familiar with Gothic, so the monks sent them to France to study it. And when they came back, they finished up the already Romanesque cloisters in a Gothic style!”

If the walls here could talk, they’d have nearly 900 years of stories. The tranquil property is popular with local artists and has become a sought-after wedding spot.

The congregation of St. Bernard de Clairvaux is reflective of Miami — one-third black, one-half white and one-third Hispanic. And the nationalities represented here include Polish, Iranian, French and Haitian.

“We feel that these grounds don’t belong only to us,” Mansfield says. “We have a responsibility to share this special place and to preserve it for future generations.”

If You Go

The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery, 16711 West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach, is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday  and 11 a.m – 4 p.m. Sunday. Regular admission is $8, $4 for seniors and military members, free for children under 4. The monastery sometimes closes for special events, so call ahead to confirm hours at 305-945-1461. Visit spanishmonastery.com for more information.

Steve Winston has written/contributed to 17 books. His articles have appeared in major media all over the world.

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Tranquil Tuesday: TradeWinds Island Grand, St. Pete Beach

My pick for this week's Tranquil Tuesday escape is the Body Works Salon & Spa at the TradeWinds Island Grand in St. Pete Beach. As the Tampa Bay area gears up for the Republican National Convention, don't forget to pencil in a little spa time. In fact, why not make a vacation out of it?

The spa offers such services as warm stone massages, chocolate wasabi facials, aromatherapy and body wraps. I recommend the "Just Let Go" full-day package, which includes:

  • Full body massage
  • Facial
  • Manicure
  • Pedicure
  • Lunch

You'll never want to leave the property because this seaside escape has it all: seven swimming pools, 25 acres of pristine beach access, a water park in the Gulf of Mexico, tons of activities for the whole family, 15 restaurants and lounges, and super-friendly staff.

Impressive fact: Did you know that recently the resort was named an autism-friendly business by the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities? The TradeWinds is one of just five hotels in the United States that have received the designation. 

Labor Day Weekend Special: On Sept. 2, celebrate the end of summer with a beach party, deejay, island buffet and fireworks show. Book your end of summer vacation now and receive a three-night package starting at $582, valid from Aug. 21 – Sept. 4, 2012. Guests wanting to extend their stay can add additional nights to the package for 50 percent off rack rates.

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A Romantic Evening for Two in Orlando

Rekindle your romance at Mark Romeo's Return to Romance show, Sept. 7-8, 2012, in Orlando. 

Romeo will serenade you with standards from Cole Porter, contemporary covers of Michael Buble and a special Frank Sinatra tribute section. Other guest performers include jazz vocalist Angela Deniro, saxophonist Ron Aprea and comedian Steve Mittleman. 

Tickets are $50 per person or $80 per couple. On both nights, appetizers will be served at 7 p.m. followed by the performance at 8 p.m. at the Abbey Theater. Proceeds will benefit the National Parkinson Foundation Central Florida Chapter and the Florida Hospital Parkinson’s Outreach Center

Where to stay: End the evening right and book a luxury hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. Starting at $259 per night, the "Special Occasion" package includes: rose petal turndown, champagne and display of fresh strawberries, signature breakfast buffet for two each morning at the Vineyard Grill, overnight valet parking, and guaranteed late checkout at 2 p.m.

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Enjoy a Romantic Evening for Two in Orlando

Rekindle your romance with that someone special at Mark Romeo's Return to Romance show in Orlando featuring the Rat Pack Orchestra on Sept. 7-8, 2012. 

Romeo will serenade you with the standards of Cole Porter, contemporary covers of Michael Buble and a special Frank Sinatra tribute section. Other guest performers include jazz vocalist Angela Deniro, saxophonist Ron Aprea and comedian Steve Mittleman. 

Tickets are $50 per person or $80 per couple. On both nights, appetizers will be served at 7 p.m. followed by the performance at 8 p.m. at The Abbey Theater. Proceeds will benefit The National Parkinson Foundation Central Florida Chapter and the Florida Hospital Parkinson’s Outreach Center

Where to stay: End the evening right and book a luxury hotel room at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. Starting at $259 per night, the "Special Occasion" package includes: rose petal turndown, champagne and display of fresh strawberries, signature breakfast buffet for two each morning at The Vineyard Grill, overnight valet parking, and guaranteed late check-out at 2 p.m.

Get travel tips about Florida entertainment and luxury by following me on Twitter and Facebook

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Timbaland Hosts Labor Day Weekend Blow Out at Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Timbaland, Grammy-award winning producer is hosting BleauLive Labor Day Weekend with LeSutra Sparkling Liqueur at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, 2012. 

With private performances by Timbaland, this star-studded weekend will keep you entertained at all hours of the day and night. Sit back poolside while the resort's mixologists tantalize your tastebuds with tropical cocktails. 

Want limited VIP access? Book one of the weekend’s limited luxury packages that provides access to the events and tastings including:

Bleau Fan Package (3-night stay from $250 per night):

  • Deluxe guestroom accommodations based on double occupancy only
  • Two general admission passes to performance by Timbaland & Friends featuring a two-hour LeSutra open bar
  • Access for two into the LeSutra private lounge throughout the weekend
  • Bleau Fan welcome amenity 

High Roller Package (3-night stay from $300 per night):

  • Deluxe guestroom accommodations based on double occupancy only
  • Two high roller viewing area passes to performance by Timbaland & Friends featuring a two-hour LeSutra open-bar
  • Access for two into the LeSutra private lounge throughout the weekend
  • High Roller welcome amenity 

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Tranquil Tuesday: SLS Hotel South Beach

Step into a dream world at the SLS Hotel South Beach, where luxury accommodations, world-class dining and famous Miami nightlife come together under one roof to create the ultimate guest experience. This elegant hotel is my pick for this week's edition of Tranquil Tuesday.

An sbe property on the site of the former Ritz Plaza Hotel, the SLS Hotel South Beach is located near the coveted intersection of Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road. Designed by Philippe Starck, the hotel imparts a "dream world" theme, blending Latin, Asian, contemporary and art deco influences throughout the property. With the push of a button on the iPad in each of the 140 guest rooms, you can order champagne for two. Yes, there is an app for that. 

Lenny Kravitz designed the look for the Tower Penthouse and Villa Penthouse. Both suites have sweeping views of Miami Beach and attract A-list celebrities. NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and his wife Larsa recently celebrated their anniversary at the hotel.  

SLS Hotel South Beach just announced its "Sunny Little Stay" special available through Oct. 11, 2012. The package includes 15 percent off the best available rate, complimentary room upgrade, drinks for two at Hyde Beach as well as complimentary valet. 

Check back soon for reviews of the property's fine dining and nightlife options, including the Bazaar by Jose Andrés, Hyde Beach, and the eighth location of sbe’s Katsuya by Starck in partnership with Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi. 

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Unveiling of South Florida Firefighters Calendar at Hard Rock

Calling all ladies! Get ready to stop, drop and roll on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, because the sirens will be sounding for the unveiling of the 20th-anniversary South Florida Firefighters Calendar

Thirty-five hunky heroes will be on site to greet fans, sign autographs, and pose for pictures starting at 6 p.m. at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

All calendar sales will benefit Here’s Help, A Safe Haven for Newborns and Friends Forever Rescue

One Beat CPR is a proud sponsor of the event and, if you're lucky, maybe one of the firefighters will teach you a thing or two about CPR. 

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South Florida Firefighters Calendar Unveiling at the Hard Rock

Calling all ladies! Are you going to be in South Florida on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012? Get ready to stop, drop and roll because the sirens will be sounding for the unveiling of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the South Florida Firefighters Calendar

Thirty-five hunky heroes will be on site to greet fans, sign autographs, and pose for pictures at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Make sure you get there early to buy your calendar and get one for each your friends too. This blazing hot event starts at 6:00 p.m. and all calendar sales will directly benefit Here’s Help, A Safe Haven for Newborns and Friends Forever Rescue

One Beat CPR is a proud sponsor of the event and who knows – maybe if you're lucky, one of the firefighters will teach you a thing or two about CPR. Fan the flames to your heart and support some great charities all in one fabulous evening at the Hard Rock. 

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Celebrity Sighting: Suri Cruise Stays in Cinderella’s Suite in Disney World

Tom Cruise booked the Cinderella Castle Suite to treat Suri to a little father/daughter time in Walt Disney World last week. The suite is the only hotel room inside of Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando

Originally designed to be a luxury suite for Walt Disney and his family, the 17th-century-style quarters can sleep six people and have two queen-sized beds. The designers included a mosaic of Cinderella's coach — more than 3,000 tiles of 24-carat gold.
 
The suite is accessible only by a secret special elevator and the room itself is smaller than you might think — 650 square feet. Above the fireplace is a portrait of Cinderella that magically transforms into a flat-screen television. 
 
So how do you make a reservation for Cinderella's suite? Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible and takes some serious star power. Disney occasionally gives away a night's stay as a prize, so maybe with a little magic pixie dust you could get your wish. 
 
While the suite is generally reserved for charities and events, anyone can eat inside Cinderella's Royal Table restaurant overlooking Fantasyland. 
 
What would you give to stay like royalty in Cinderella's Castle Suite? Let me know in the comments below.

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Be a VIP at DeLuna Fest in Pensacola Beach

The Gulf of Mexico provides the picture-perfect backdrop for the ultimate end-of-summer beach music festival. DeLuna Fest returns to Pensacola Beach Sept. 21-23, 2012, with four stages and a fabulous lineup, including Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band and one of my all-time favorites — The Wallflowers. 

If you want to travel in style, book the DeLuna Fest VIP Beach Club Getaway. You'll get to stay in a gorgeous waterfront home directly on Pensacola Sound.

The amazing home at 1715 Ensenada Uno features: a 130-foot private pier, a sparkling pool, and spectacular views of the sunset over the water from the upstairs balconies; five bedrooms and 5½ bathrooms. It sleeps up to 15 people.

This package comes with eight VIP Beach Club passes and eight DeLuna Fest Express Shuttle passes. For booking inquiries, contact VIP@DeLunaFest.com.

For more info on DeLuna Fest, check out the VISIT FLORIDA Beaches & Adventure Insider's post about the event. 

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