NAPLES, Fla. — "See Naples and die of envy" could well be the catch phrase of this immaculate city on Florida's west coast.
It has long had the reputation of sheltering more millionaires per square mile than anywhere else in the nation--and possibly any other country, one of its residents told me matter-of-factly.
They are not only different from you and me, as Fitzgerald observed, but they are also rather different from their similarly well-heeled contemporaries in places such as Palm Beach, in that they cherish their anonymity above all. For them the cloistered life, not the hoopla that propels one onto the social pages.
Winter Watering Spot
Naples was founded in 1885 by a couple of wealthy Kentuckians looking for a quiet, sun-drenched winter watering spot that would attract the equally rich.
Here is a world of million-dollar homes on palm-lined Gulf Shore Boulevard, many of them occupied only during the winter, and the Port Royal section, with streets named Treasure Trove and Galleon Drive; gleaming condominiums, Mercedes-Benzes and Lincolns; a place where dog owners pay people to walk their pets, where retired doctors donate their services to the hospitals.
Residents do much of their shopping (what they don't pick up in New York, Paris or Rome) at the 3rd Street South Shopping Area, a four-block tastefully landscaped region in Old Naples.
In buildings whose styles range from Mediterranean to Old Florida, they can browse through the latest collections of Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Blass, Cassini and Ralph Lauren. And they might, as do the tourists, lunch in the neat restaurants and shop in the smart boutiques in the smaller Old Marine Market, which sits on U.S. 41 at the entrance to Naples.
Rules and Regulations
Naturally, to retain a sense of gentility in such surroundings (one notices that even the architecture of the shopping centers conforms to a code of refinement) certain rules must be observed by the city's denizens.
There are places in Naples where you may not leave your garage doors open for longer than 20 minutes, where you will hear from the property owners' association if you let the grass in your front yard grow a half-inch longer than has been predetermined, where you must keep your boat in your garage because its presence in your driveway constitutes an eyesore.
Boating and golf (Collier County has more than 30 courses) seem to be the main recreational pursuits of Naples' 18,500 permanent inhabitants (the number triples during the winter).
Naples has long been a popular weekend getaway spot from the rather more frenetic pace on the East Coast. It's two hours from Fort Lauderdale or Miami via Alligator Alley or the Tamiami Trail. Obviously a simple drive, too, for vacationers who have flown into those destinations.
Those millionaires may be different from you and me, their estates so vast that the homes are barely discernible from Gulf Shore Boulevard, but those stately mansions back onto miles and miles of beautiful public beach, making them almost touchable to the common herd.
The Fishing Pier
The focal point of the beach is the municipal fishing pier at the end of 12th Avenue South. It is usually packed on weekends with hopeful anglers, for snook and redfish are often landed at the end of the 1,000-foot boardwalk.
The pier was built in 1888 for freight and passengers. In the early 1900s narrow-gauge train rails spanned the pier. It once even had a post office on it. In 1922 it was razed by fire, then badly damaged by the 1926 hurricane. It was rebuilt in the '60s after another hurricane and is now in extremely presentable shape, especially for sunset-watching.
Where to stay? If you would care to throw caution to the wind and partake briefly of the regal life, check in at the 463-room Ritz-Carlton at the end of Vanderbilt Beach Road ($160-$250 single or double). It's a hotel that, for courtly elegance, may even outclass those two grande dames of Florida society, The Breakers in Palm Beach and the Boca Raton Hotel and Club.
Its walls are adorned with $7 million worth of 18th- and 19th-Century British and American paintings. Its cuisine is superb, and how's this for the ultimate in fastidious tippling--an after-dinner shot of Remy-Martin Louise XIII cognac for $65?
Indeed, Naples abounds in above-average restaurants and hotels and motels, plus a slew of condominiums and apartments for rent. For information contact the Naples Chamber of Commerce, 1700 N. Tamiami Trail, Naples, Fla. 33940, phone (813) 262-6141.