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Travel: Key West continues to be a destination to escape to get away from it all

© Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News BurKey West, Florida.
Key West, Florida.

We flew in to Key West on a glorious day and were welcomed by a deeply-tanned arrivals official in shorts. “Kick off your shoes, folks,” he said. “It’s time to relax.”

Key West has long been a destination for those who want to get away from it all. The two by four-mile island is connected by the spectacular Overseas Highway to a string of picture-perfect keys (islands) which run south from the Florida mainland. It’s America’s most southerly point and lies just 90 miles north of Cuba.

Prosperity put Key West on the map with its proximity to both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico encouraging industries such as salvaging. By the mid-1800s it was one of the richest places in the United States.

Year-round sunshine brought writers and influencers – including Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and former president Harry S Truman – to Key West. Many of their houses, studios, bars and hangouts remain virtually unchanged. Visit the homes of Hemingway and Truman and you step back into the past – their typewriters still sitting on their desks.

In Old Town, locals watch the world go by from shady verandas in the way they have always done. The pace of life is slow and it’s all the better for it.

There is a plethora of hotels in Key West but we opted for Margaritaville Beach House, opposite the powdery white sand of Smathers Beach – a 10-minute shuttle bus ride away from the town centre.

© Shutterstock / Irina Wilhauk
The historic and popular centre and Duval Street in downtown Key West. (Shutterstock)

Large, airy rooms include a fridge to chill drinks, with ice and fruit available all day. Tin Cup Chalice Bar And Chill served great breakfasts, with its super fluffy French toast with maple syrup, berries and whipped butter among the best we’ve had.

Soaking up the sun around the hotel pool, we saw huge iguanas basking in the rays. Swinging gently from a hammock under a palm tree with a book and an iced-tea, we wondered if life could get much better.

An easy way to discover Key West is on an Old Town Trolley Tour. Trundling through town, we learnt how shipwreck recovery brought riches, how Hemingway’s penchant for a cold beer led to the creation of the now renowned Sloppy Joe’s bar and why Cuban cock-fighting of the past had left so many (now protected) roosters living on the island.

In calm, blue waters sheltered by coral reef, we set off with Barefoot Billy’s to enjoy a chilled-out cruise on a catamaran with sushi, wine and beers provided.

As the sun set, we watched people dancing at Mallory Square – a nightly hotspot for street performers – before slowly cruising back to shore.

By day, we joined Honest Eco for an intimate cruise on a solar-powered boat.

Snorkelling in the clear waters of Key West.

Here, the focus was on conservation, guided by biologist Kelcie,who snorkelled with us, pointing out colourful fish, lobsters and giant sponges.

Back in the harbour, we feasted on conch-fritters, coconut shrimp and fried oysters from Half Shell Raw Bar. Key Lime Pie is a must-do, with Kermit’s regarded as one of the best places for the zesty treat.

Another big draw in Old Town is its live music, you’ll hear it from midday onwards – from country and western to silky-smooth soul and everything in between. And whether you want a beer in a humble tin-roof bar by the water or a sit-down meal right in the heart of Duval Street, there’s music everywhere. We particularly enjoyed evenings at Willie T’s – a lively bar with a great atmosphere.

They say in Key West you won’t leave without sand in your shoes. And they’re right. You’ll also leave feeling you’ve done a little bit of everything, but in the most relaxing way.

The same official who’d met us in arrivals at Key West was on dispatch when we left. “You’ll be back” he said.

And we certainly will.


P.S. 

Give back to the Key West community at the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Flagler Avenue and pick up pre-loved beach wear and accessories for a snip. The sizeable shop had surf boards, designer sunglasses and beach bags galore plus loads for kids.

Factfile: 

Purely Travel offers seven nights in Key West from £1,799 per person, departing in November. Includes a one-night stopover at Sheraton Miami Airport on the outward journey and six nights in a king suite at Margaritaville Beach House, Key West.

Flights from Glasgow to Key West via Heathrow and Miami included. Based on two adults travelling and sharing accommodation. Visit purelytravel.co.uk

www.fla-keys.co.uk