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Puttin' on the ritz in Amelia Island.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, sits in splendor on the Atlantic side of the Florida-Georgia border, where the sand dunes are so tall you'd swear you where anywhere but Florida. The beach is wide and expansive, with the surf depositing rare angel wing shells and starfish on the early-morning shoreline. Shrimp boats bob right offshore. All in all, a perfect place to get away.

The Ritz: When Cesar Ritz opened his first hotel in Paris more than 100 years ago, he started a tradition of luxury and service that continues in this hotel of 449 rooms and suites, every one with an ocean view. Beautiful, Hawaiian-type floral arrangements are scattered throughout, adding a tropical accent to the antique furnishings, crystal chandeliers, brocade draperies and 18th and 19th-century oil paintings.

R&R: It's a great place to do nothing. Those towering condos that mar so much of Florida's Atlantic coast have, mercifully, been prohibited here, and the beach is pristine. Boardwalks led us over undisturbed dunes onto sand hard enough for long walks or solitary jogging. For more company, lounge around the utterly gorgeous pool, where bartenders mix up rummy concoctions and light fare. Just a putt from the front door is the Summer Beach Golf Club's 18-hole golf course for club members and hotel guests. Beautifully sculpted and lush with tropical foliage, it's swept by ocean breezes that add to the challenge of the links. There's also an 11-court tennis complex and a fitness center and spa, with indoor pool, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms and masseuses at the ready.

Dining: It's superb, with a menu that should impress even the most jaded gourmet. We particularly enjoyed The Grill, where a romantic full moon reflecting off the Atlantic accompanied our crab cakes, as did a piano serenade. The Cafe is more casual and includes fitness cuisine, with indoor or terraced seating. Afternoon tea is served in the lobby lounge, with fireplaces aglow on cool days. In the evenings, a jazz trio plays here.

Privacy plus: Serious drop-outs may want to opt for the supreme privacy of the Ritz-Carlton Club, where rooms are accessible only by special elevator key. The club lounge offers complimentary dining throughout the day, along with chilled lemonade, wine and liquors. The fare changes five times daily, from Continental breakfast to finger sandwiches of smoked salmon to bedtime treats of fine chocolates and liqueurs.

The island: Amelia Island offers a rare glimpse of Old Florida, with a 400-year history that includes rule under eight different flags. It's a quaint, sleepy little place that inspires artists and photographers. Fernandina Beach, the island's main town, was a Victorian seaport. It reminded us of Georgetown, Colorado, especially the 50-block historical district. The Palace Saloon, with old wooden, push-through doors, is the oldest bar in Florida. Mosey up to the hand-carved bar for a cold beer and some spicy-hot shrimp. The Amelia Island Historical Tour we took aboard a trolley was well worth the $9 ticket. Walking tours are also available.

The U.S. shrimping industry started here, and trawler nets are still hand-crafted at the Net House. We watched weavers deftly wielding their needles, turning out huge nets to be dyed bright blue and green. They gave us a piece of old netting, which now decorates our deck.

Side trips: Hop aboard the Emerald Princess and head out to international waters for an evening of dining and gambling. Or take a short drive to St. Marys, Georgia, to ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, where wild horses roam free and sand dunes tower 40 feet high.

The bottom line: Ritz room rates start at $230 per room per night, with the Ritz-Carlton Club at $410 per night, through February. Weekend packages available. 1-800-241-3333.

Getting there: For the 5 1/2-hour drive, take I-75 to I-4, heading east to I-95 North. Exit AIA and follow to the island.
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Title Annotation:Perfect Weekend; Ritz-Carlton resort
Author:Frawley, Janis R.
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Profile: realtor.
Next Article:Dateline: Schroeder-Manatee.

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