Wylde World: Isalomora, Florida Keys


by Aly Hazlewood

Discovered by Spanish explorers, Islamorada (purple island in Spanish) is thought to have been named thus thanks to the astonishing purple-hued sunsets that grace the skies. One of the most enjoyable location shoots I’ve had the good fortune to experience was a week at The Moorings, Islamorada, shooting a swimwear collection. I’ve always loved the Florida Keys; it's the epitome of a laid-back, luxury lifestyle, and so far removed from my own rather stressed city life! Unlike many paradise spots that attract wealthy tourists and residents alike, you rarely see people dressed in anything more upmarket than flip-flops and a Bermuda shirt here, so my advice is to leave your finest togs at home and prepare to live at a m..u..ch slower pace than usual.

This 18 acre property just 90 minutes south of Miami in Islamorada, boasts 18 one-to-three bedroom island-style cottages along one of the largest and most beautiful, palm-tree lined private beaches in the Florida Keys. It’s no wonder that it’s such a famous shoot location. It even has its own fully equipped studio and make up room to cater for shoot crews – such a bonus for make up artists like me as there’s little worse than having to do hair and make up in a cramped, sweaty location van at 5am.

As if over 1000 ft of natural white sand beach and turquoise ocean isn’t beguiling enough, there is also a 25 metre heated lap pool set in a beautifully landscaped garden with chromatic bougainvillea and headily scented trailing orchids, and for the die-hard fitness fans, a pristine tennis court and yoga sessions. Kayaks and bikes are also available for guests to use, however if you’re more of the do-nothing type when on holiday, there is a comprehensive list of spa services that can be offered in a billowy, open air shelter on the beach, or in the privacy of your villa.

The plantation style beach cottages, set amongst lush tropical vegetation, are elegantly designed with pure relaxation and serenity in mind. Set a fair distance apart, presumably to promote a sense of privacy and exclusivity, this aim has certainly been achieved. With spacious verandas edging the cottages, one of my favourite past times was enjoying a leisurely al fresco breakfast while watching the sun rise. Bliss.

The Village has two restaurants, Pierre’s, which combines fine dining with an “elegant but easy” ambiance, offering a menu of French Fusion cuisine with World influences. Pierre’s also presents nightly specials featuring the finest in fresh-caught local seafood. The restaurant is a two story plantation style house accessed by a dramatic, hand-carved curved staircase which leads to the dining room. It features dark planked wood floors, an eighteenth-century Indian arcade, natural textured walls, and smooth teak tables on kilim rugs, surrounded by Moroccan, Indian, and African artefacts.

The second is the Morada Bay Beach Cafe, an outdoor Mediterranean bistro café situated amidst a glorious palm-lined beach and overlooking the Florida Bay, The Café offers inside and outside bars and dining areas, live unique entertainment and spectacular sunsets. I particularly enjoyed the watermelon and feta salad, and the Calamares con Verduras, crispy fried calamari, zucchini (courgettes to us Brits) and shishito peppers in a warm romesco sauce.

The immaculate private beach is casually strewn with teak lounge beds with cushions and Adirondack chairs, no plastic loungers for this resort, and with touches like these, you really do get a sense of the important role that understated style played in the overall design of The Moorings.

Of course, understated doesn’t mean under-equipped. The cottages have everything you might possibly want or need, coffee machines, wifi, flat screen TV & DVD player, a fully equipped kitchen and super soft bed linen, and in fact have more of a homely feel than most holiday accommodation I’ve experienced. I left there feeling that it would be an absolutely incredible place to spend one’s honeymoon, with that combination of privacy, luxury and outdoor activity that a stay on the Keys affords.

Surrounded by the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Gulfstream, and Florida Bay, it goes without saying that this is seventh heaven for those who love to fish, and both deep sea and mangrove fishing excursions are available. Sailing and scuba adventures are also not to be missed. A visit to Hattie Cay, a secluded paradise just 75 nautical miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas can be arranged from The Moorings for those with plenty of cash to splash.

I personally would recommend an overnight stay on Key Largo (where I once ate one of the best fish tacos of my life), and which holds the dubious honour of having the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Home to a national park, a national marine sanctuary, and two state parks, a great way to see this quaint, picture postcard outpost is by bike. Key Largo Bike & Adventure Tours run a two-hour history tour and it’s worth every cent.

(Phone: 305-395-1551)