Casa Ybel Resort was featured this past weekend in Grandeur Magazine!
Grand Getaway: Romantic Casa Ybel
Victorian Splendor on Sanibel Island
by Joanna Hogan
Boats have run aground on the sandbars hemming Sanibel’s southernmost shore forever.
By providence or an act of fate, Southwest Florida tourism took root here at what is today’s beachfront Casa Ybel Resort.
The 23-acre, centrally located resort is large enough for you to spread your wings but not too big to be easily accessible. Each of the 114 beachfront suites has a screened porch, full kitchen, convertible furnishings and jack-n-jill bathrooms.
The resort has been a choice getaway — in one incarnation or another — for more than a century. It owes its enviable location to faith healer George O. Barnes (1827-1908).
After quitting his vocation as a Presbyterian minister, the reverend landed here in the late 1880s in what he called “the full tide of life” and stayed. With his credentials, you have to believe him when he looked around and said “It’s paradise!”
By 1895, people were wintering at The Sisters Inn, Casa Ybel’s predecessor, run by Barnes’ daughters Marie and Georgia (today’s Thistle Lodge is modeled after her Victorian home). Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were reported to be guests, and the ladies served up dishes accented with rare imported spices they obtained from seafaring visitors.
The resort’s reputation has only grown: Travel + Leisure magazine listed it as one of the Top 500 Places To Stay in the World in 2006, and it’s been similarly recognized by Conde Nast Traveler.
Much of Sanibel Island’s attraction is in its environment, and the resort takes advantage of that. Veteran sea shellers say the multi-star resort lies on Sanibel’s sweetest spot, and Casa Ybel offers unique shelling stations all around.
Sanibel Island is two-thirds nature preserve, and no one should leave the island without a trip to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, You can tour the refuge by car, but it’s ideal when seen by bike. Rent a resort bicycle or bring your own.
All of the island is accessible this way, with a 30-mile network of bicycle trails that wind past popular shops and such unique spots as the island’s historic cemetery.
History buffs will also want a side trip to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, next to BIG Arts cultural center. The village is made up of pioneer homes and businesses that have been restored and filled with period pieces.
Weekends are wedding central, with the resort being a popular destination wedding locale. Weddings are celebrated on the wide beachfront lawn (large enough for a 200-person gathering) or in more intimate venues such as the lakeside gazebo or the secluded beach. It’s one of the best spots in the country for a combination wedding/honeymoon.
The resort is also a popular multi-generational family destination. If you bring children on your Casa Ybel getaway, check out the resort’s kids and family offerings in advance. For 4-to-11 year olds, the indoor and outdoor Casa Kid’s Club features three-hour craft activities and games. The resort has activities for all ages, including shark-tooth-hunting and sand-dollar painting.
Commit at least one afternoon to grabbing a snorkel and mask for a float in the Gulf. If you’re less ambitious, snag a nap from a beach raft anchored with a sand-filled plastic water jug.
Swimmers swoon over the Olympic size of the pool; parents of small swimmers find nirvana in the adjacent kiddie pool.
On the resort’s six tennis courts, director Kerry Kendrick (sister of ranked ATP player Robert Kendrick) runs a high-caliber program that provides group and private instruction for adults and teens.
Serious players visit Casa Ybel for multiple-day junior and senior tennis tournaments. The resort hosts high-profile charity exhibitions and competitions, accompanied by gala dinners and the chance to rub elbows with tennis stars and island celebrities.
Other sporty diversions include basketball, sand volleyball, shuffleboard, bocce ball and horseshoes.
If all of that activity works up an appetite, you have numerous choices. If you want to prepare your own catch in your suite’s spacious kitchen, fresh shrimp are perfect on Akavit-soaked wooden skewers cooked on one of the massive outdoor grills, one stationed at each building.
Indulge in a lunch-time soft-shell-crab po’ boy served at the Coconut Pool Café, where the popular Danny Morgan Band attracts a crowd on Sunday afternoons.
At Thistle Lodge, executive chef John Wolff’s spectacular menu includes banana leaf-steamed whole yellowtail snapper; bruleed gorgonzola sirloin and lobster tail; and lobster and lump crab scallops.
Lighter appetites can go for for a bowl of the menu and go for Wolff’s signature creamy lobster bisque, followed by a couple of appetizers. We’ve done that.
We also keep a copy of Wolff’s Thistle Lodge menu in the top desk drawer. We have only to read the words, “key lime cheesecake” to evoke a heaping dose of Casa Ybel déjà vu that vows to guide us back at the next opportunity.
CASA YBEL RESORT
2225 West Gulf Drive,
Sanibel Island, Fla.