Take a look at this place. What region comes to mind? Atlanta? Louisiana? East Hampton? No, kind reader, it’s not inÂ Provincetown, St. Augustine, or Napa.Â I’d have guessed the same, if it wasn’t in a lesser-known country enclave 90 minutes from Tampa.
Florida doesn’t have a Westchester County, or a Sonoma Valley, which are popular thanks to boutique crops (wine) and natural inland beauty. IfÂ you leave the Sunshine State’s urban buzz, you get rolling, dusty hills and sleepy, depressed towns, populated by Dollar General outlets and orange groves. Conservatism dominates the landscape (so many Romney signs…sigh), so creative-class professionals of Tampa and Orlando tend to head to the coast or hop on a plane, before they escape to the surrounding countryside for a long weekend. In other words, resort-style sophistication does not run deep through the center of the Sunshine State.
But, I spent a night at some friends’ historic, restored home in Ocala last weekend, and easily could have been in any of the best quaint small towns of America.
Just for an evening was perfect.Â Ocala is not a happening place, even feels LGBT-hostile at times, but generally is pleasant and approachable. My hosts and I dined at Stella’s Modern Pantry (once monthly tapas night), and then rented a Redbox and settled in for a cozy evening. Emma the dachshund entertained us too.
Despite their humble environs, Ben and Jason have created a Virginia-Highland-quality home with touches that blend its age with modernity and keen design. I was enchanted by every surface, every lamp. I actually touched many of the wall coverings to confirm they were fabric texture not wallpaper. My bed was enormous (as was my bedroom – there are four upstairs), with a view of the beautifully sloped and lushly green backyard. And, no television in every room. So prehistoric!
At the completion of its renovation (last summer), the house lost some excitement for my friends. There are no more Â windows to fix, pipes to replace, or gardens to trim back and replant. And, the neighborhood gets a little stale for high-taste big-city folk. No theater, or concerts, or areas to shop. Or network of friends. So it’s for sale, looking for the buyer with three quarters of a million in a horse and cow town.
Secretly, I don’t want them to sell. From Tampa, Ocala is a great escape to clear minds and recharge batteries. But, there isn’t anything going on there, for better or worse. If they changed their tourism tune and opened up to diversity, maybe it would become known as Florida’s inland weekend escape, replete with B&Bs in old brick houses :).