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Winter Park, The Other Orlando

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By The Gremotraveler

Poolside shennanigans at the Lagnford Hotel circa 1956.

While Orlando's hotel cuisine is exceptional, the city also has some impressive neighbourhoods to explore outside of the hotel strip. Just northeast of Downtown Orlando is Winter Park, a suburb originally founded as a resort destination by wealthy New England Industrialists before the turn of the 20th century. Long before Disney, Winter Park was a playground for the wealthy. The Langford Hotel, opened in 1955 and closed in 1999, was the first enclosed, air conditioned luxury resort hotel in 20th century Central Florida. With its famous themed rooms, backlit-in-red grotto bar, Empire Room dining hall, heated original pool, and Chinese pagoda spa served as a gateway to the 'Old Florida' attractions, and as a social hub for decades.

Famous guests at The Langford included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Larry King, Hugh Hefner, and John Denver. In the winter, the hotel was the full-time residence of Lady Bird Johnson. Former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan also celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary there. As the times changed, so did the need for the Langford. It eventually closed in 1999 and demolished. However, the spirit of the good life still lives on.

Park Avenue is the city's central shopping and dining boulevard. Here, the small and intimate replaces the mass-produced Disneyfied restaurants of most of Orlando metro area. If you must choose one spot to enjoy a glass of vino in the shade, check out the Wine Room. This place has to be wine lovers' heaven. It is a bar, a tasting lounge, a retail wine shop, a private collection storage facility and home to a "rare room" featuring over 600 of the greatest vintages on earth. The collection, built by owner Bruce Simberg, includes multiple vintages of such Bordeaux firsts as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, Chateau Haute-Brion and Chateau Latour. The temperature controlled glass vault also includes older vintages of Chateau d'Yquem and top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from 1997, 1994, 1991, and 1987.

If you have a sweet tooth, why not try Peterbrooke Chocalatier, a Jacksonville-based purveyor of sweet treats. Founded in 1983 in Jacksonville's quaint San Marco district, today the have a handful of shops across Florida and Georgia. Its visionary, Phyllis Geiger, named her business after her children Peter and Brooke. Phyllis has translated her European training of making fine chocolates into a truly American home town experience. All of her shops are located in established neighbourhoods where people live and know each other's names. Her customers are locals who not only share in the delicious handcrafted chocolate delights, but share the experience with neighbours and friends. The creations are truly amazing. Grab a chocolate pizza to go topped with pecans, cashews, almonds, papaya, pineapple, golden raisins, black raisins, cranberries, blueberries, mango and white chocolate. Or perhaps something simpler like a chocolate covered rice-crispy treat, simple and filling, just like mom used to make.

By this point, the sugar and carb high is probably making you hungry (and maybe craving some more vino). Have no fear, the Eola Wine Company offers a great tasting menu, a selection of great cheeses, as well as a shop for grabbing that special bottle for the trip home. Why not try the Kaiken Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve? With notes of ripe plums, along with subtle spicy hints and black olives, this Argentinean wine is a great choice. Kaiken produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec wines from a selection of vineyards in Argentina's First Zone (Maipe, Cruz de Piedra, Ugarteche, Agrelo) as well as from Valle de Uco.

Full of chocolate and wine, you may decide to stroll along Park Avenue some more or grab a little culture before leaving to head back to the hotel strip. Lovers of the decorative arts should visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, home of the largest collection of Tiffany glass on Earth. Jeannette Genius McKean (1909-1989) founded the Museum in 1942 and named it for her industrialist grandfather. Its collections were built over a half-century by Mrs. McKean and her husband, Hugh F. McKean (1908-1995), the Museum's director until his death. Today, it houses the world's most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) including Tiffany jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and the chapel interior he designed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.



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