Keys to Heaven – Wanderlust :: Article from SRQ Magazine by Wes Roberts
Chocolate cake at Viento Kitchen + Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.
ZOTA BEACH RESORT ON LONGBOAT KEYIt’s the vacation equivalent of slipping into a brand new sports car and firing up that purring engine for the first time. Everything is perfectly set to give you an unforgettable experience, and it all starts with a perfect first impression.
Floor to ceiling windows reveal the pool and the enticing view of the ocean and beach (that’s why you came after all, isn’t it?). A massive circular sofa is a great place to gather your troops.
The architects and artists who brought together the Zota experience were inspired when they developed the sculpture and fountain that adorn the lobby and the outdoor space at the entrance. It’s a subtle, yet wonderful effect that the fountain and ornamental basin outside the windows seem to flow under the walls and into the lobby. These touches don’t make or destroy the vacation, but they let you know that no detail has escaped consideration.
A comprehensive renovation, including a new building and a completely redesigned lobby and common areas, transformed the majestic former Longboat Key Hilton into a resort ahead of its time. When you step into the amazing foyer, it seems safe to assume that this is the new model for a welcoming entryway space. The renovations have brought the whole hotel to a very current level, but I encourage readers to call ahead and see if you can reserve a room in the new building. The rooms are diagonally to the building’s center line, and the result is that each room feels like it has a private beachfront view over the ocean and a balcony of your own.
The designers easily adapted the room to the needs of a more modern traveler. It’s nice to be in a space that’s been designed with the flat screen TV, USB chargers, and other details as part of the design, rather than the obvious additions you see in hotels who try to stay up to date with an older layout. I also loved the nautical touches in our room – the colors were calming blues and greens, and a few pretty porthole mirrors gave the illusion of even more space. But of course a traveler doesn’t come to Longboat Key to stay in their room! The beach is perfect. The silky white sand that’s soft on your toes and the gentle Gulf waters will draw you to the beach. The resort has a squadron of comfortable lounge chairs. We sat in it the first evening to watch the sun get ready to set. Seagulls circled, gentle waves kissed the sand, and from an inconspicuous distance we enjoyed a beach wedding happening at the resort while we were there.
The Zota is not a sprawling campus like some properties. It is centered on the long pool deck and the ocean view. The gyms, breakfast areas and the pool bar all offer different views of this beautiful central space. The atmosphere is one of understated luxury. I noticed in the lobby that people arrived at the resort dressed up rather than crumpled up, and when you visited the patio there were real honest paper books to read everywhere instead of iPads. Maybe something in the chic space has encouraged people to come back to the comfortable reality of a “real” book.
Even the conversation I found myself in with a lovely Canadian family in the enormous oversized oceanfront hot tub quickly wandered into unusually intellectual realms, particularly on issues of free speech and educational policy; hot topics in Canada right now. Although, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the hotel reserves a valuable position in the front and center for an oversized chessboard with huge pieces.
When I travel I find that connecting with people makes everything richer – and the guests at Zota were always interesting. A talkative character on the beach turned out to be a TV producer, with an impressive string of hit shows I knew the names of. And a late-night gathering of laughing and happy guests turned out to be a semi-secret conclave of published authors of a particular genre. They had known each other from writers’ conventions and had come to Zota to enjoy each other’s company without the constant interruption from their various fans. I was honored to be the only intruder as they sat around the long fireplace outside, singing songs and comparing “publisher stories”.
The Cascades Pool Bar is a friendly place to soak up, day to night. Next to the swimming pool, on the ground floor of the newer building is a series of bungalows which they call the Zen lounges. These spaces are special and deserve their brand image.
Many of the hotel’s poolside bungalows are little more than a few wicker walls. Not the Zen lounges. Better equipped than some apartments, the lounges have real furniture, refrigerators, large screen televisions and just about all the comforts one could want. It’s the best thing to make your room open to the pool and the beach, and it’s even better, perhaps, because your room is upstairs, comfortable and private. Space is limited so reserve your bungalow when you book your room.
Longboat Key and Sarasota are both known for their excellent dining options, and two of Florida’s best west coast can be found just up the island; Beach Bistro and Maison Blanche win awards year after year. But the excellent food can be found even closer to the Zota. The Viento Kitchen + Bar shows that it can keep pace with the best of them, thanks to Executive Chef Jason Pellett.
The culinary style calls itself “Floribbean” – combining flavors of Florida, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. We loved the shrimp and polenta and tamale cake from the tapas menu and then fell in love with the charcuterie board from the appetizer menu. It was a pleasure to combine the meats and cheeses, willy-nilly, with the grass-fed carpaccio, which we also ordered. By the time the main course arrived we were already stuffed – and just because those seared scallops over ratatouille and grilled fillet were both perfect, we were able to stick with it and eat it all. And as for the dessert, the VKB Creme Brulee (it comes in an adorable glass jar) and the espresso ice cream were amazing. I have never had anything like “Zota Nog” in the dessert cocktail menu. It includes Cinnamon Fireball Whiskey, Rumchata, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Godiva White Chocolate and Amaretto, but now I wonder where this delight has been all my life!
The Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key is a restorative respite from the hardships of everyday life. Whether you need a vacation now or not (you probably do), the Zota calls and purrs, inviting you to find yourself in its generous comfort.