An private island paradise off of Key West
Key West has a reputation as a quirky sun-soaked paradise where it would be difficult to laze the day away inside a hotel room without feeling guilty. Sunset Key Cottages embraces this notion. Make no mistake: The resort, which lies just 500 yards off the Florida coast on the palm-studded shores of Sunset Key, is all about relaxing — doing nothing here is really doing something when you’re surrounded by the island’s natural beauty and the resort’s luxury amenities.
Of course, Sunset Key can name-check celebrities such as the Kardashians and Oprah Winfrey, but you don’t need paparazzi to be treated like a VIP. Upon arrival, an Island Ambassador will greet you at the resort's mainland porte-cochère and whisk you via golf cart to the ferry (the only access to the island). The 27-acre oasis is a 10-minute ride through shifting patches of cerulean and turquoise waters. With 40 quaint cottages, an intimate spa and an upscale Caribbean restaurant, Sunset Key has barefoot chic down pat.
With a nod to conch architecture, the two-, three- and four-bedroom cottages sport pastel wood finishes, tin roofs and verandas. With charming names like Sanctuary and Sunhaven, they’re linked by white picket fences covered in a riot of purple bougainvillea. Adirondack chairs encourage you to sit for a spell, soaking up the ocean, pool or garden views.
The spacious cottages follow a sun and sea color palette with warm yellows, a range of blues and pops of white, complemented by dark woods. Whimsical starfish area rugs and bright aquatic-themed photos by local artists evoke a nautical motif. Comfy furniture in natural fabrics make it feel like a stylish beach house.
That sense of home is echoed by the gourmet kitchens with granite counter tops, living rooms and dining areas. Modern amenities include flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and Wi-Fi. Most of the units have outdoor showers, and the four-bedroom cottages have plunge pools. Whispering palms and waves lapping the shore compose the soundtrack for a night’s sleep in a cocoon of soft sheets and double pillow-top mattress.
The Spa at Sunset Key is a luxe little spot with a full range treatments, including some indulgent local-inspired, customizable services like the Detoxifying Algae Mud Wrap and Aloe Vera Hydrating Wrap. The suites include a secluded garden patio where you can Zen-out afterwards. Couples would be hard-pressed to find a better spa experience than the Sunset Romance Package, which includes 80-minute massages in an oceanside cabana where the salt-scented air caresses skin and calms the senses. A private champagne dinner follows on the beach.
There’s nothing like waking up with the sea in your backyard and a breakfast basket waiting on your porch — you can watch the sunrise light fire to the sky above Key West while you nosh on fresh croissants and muffins. (Look for the pods of dolphins that frolic offshore and the resident heron, Henry, who’s been a fixture at the resort for 17 years.) For touching base with the real world, use the PressReader app on your own mobile device for complimentary access to top newspapers and magazines.
For something more substantial, stroll over to the much-lauded Latitudes restaurant for chai tea French toast or smoked salmon Benedict. Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner, the eatery offers upscale toes-in-the-sand dining and panoramic Gulf vistas. Over half the seating is outdoors, and the open floor plan ensures that every table inside has a view. For lunch, you can’t go wrong with the grilled grouper sandwich smothered in caramelized onions and Key lime tartar sauce on a sweet luau roll. Pair it with the Last Cocktail — the resort’s signature drink crafted with Bombay Sapphire Gin, rosemary-infused agave, pear puree, lemon juice and topped with prosecco.
Evening is when Latitudes shines. Feast on seasonal haute cuisine from chef Brendan Orr. His menu focuses on island fare with a Caribbean flair served by unobtrusive yet attentive staff. Dishes are artfully plated, like butter-poached Florida lobster presented on a swath of sunchokes, dots of pea mint puree and a decadent beurre blanc sauce.
Everything stops at sunset when diners abandon their linen-covered tables and turn their cameras towards the horizon. Palm fronds provide the frame while silhouettes of stately schooners and seagulls add interest to the landscape and as the powder-blue sky gives way to steel, the searing white gold ball flares amber and dusty orange.
Settle deeper in your chair for a final course of dessert as tiki torches blaze and candles flicker. The beignets are a must. The light puffs of doughy goodness will leave you aching for a coffee, but an espresso martini will pair nicely. (If you want to experience Key West nightlife, know the ferry runs 24 hours a day.)
Immaculate landscaping blooms with exotic plants from lethal red crown of thorns to delicate white plumeria. Want an insider look? Sunset Key’s horticulturist gives a tropical garden tour twice a week. At the center of the island, find a zero-degree entry saltwater pool and two Jacuzzis. Flanked by Flippers Bar, the curving lagoon allows for privacy amid the verdant greenery and splashing waterfall. More active guests will enjoy the two lighted tennis courts, half basketball court and fitness center.
When you’re ready to hit the sizable beach, you’ll face a tough decision. Rest in the hammock with a Hemingway novel? Swim out to the floating dock? Lounge under a palm-thatched tiki with a magazine? Either way, you’ll enjoy watching the bustling Key West Harbor. Jet skis and watersport cruises head out to sea while candy-colored parasails float across the sky. As adventurers are busy checking those items off their travel itinerary, signal the waiter for another Key Lime Colada and dig your feet a littler further in the sand.