2017-05-24 / Outdoors

Pedal your way through historic northeast Florida


Those who live in smaller towns in rural northeast Florida appreciate the slower pace, the sunny coastline and the refreshing sea breeze. But even if you don’t live there, you can get in on the area’s good vibe various ways, including walking tours, horse-drawn carriage rides, paddling through picturesque salt marshes, exploring old fortresses or having a picnic under majestic oak trees.

A good way to explore the region — and to trace the route of the iconic Intracoastal Waterway and experience Southern hospitality — is by taking a bicycle tour. VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations offers one for those who don’t mind harnessing pedal power to get a close up view of the area by traveling through communities showcasing with both African-American and Gilded Age heritage and hospitality.

Participants spend five nights in top B&Bs and small hotels.

Organizers say cyclists discover a rich architectural heritage, reflecting Spanish, French and English influences, by walking and biking through historic St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, kayaking through a Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve and sharing a picnic lunch made of fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Fort Clinch State Park is on Amelia Island. Fort Clinch State Park is on Amelia Island. Tours include a visit to the Kingsley Plantation, Anastasia State Park, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and a sunset sail on the schooner Freedom in St. Augustine.

The tour begins on Amelia Island at the Hoyt House or the Williams House, Victorian B&Bs that serve guests complimentary gourmet breakfasts. On the first afternoon, cyclists take a warm-up ride, looping through Fernandina Beach’s historic district.

The second day, bike riders circumnavigate the island, just two miles wide and 13 miles long. They’ll pass the state’s oldest lighthouse, beaches and have and chance to enjoy the pretty ocean side views.

The Bayfront Hilton in St. Augustine. The Bayfront Hilton in St. Augustine. Some of the stops will include Fort Clinch and American Beach, where the African-American community came to swim and socialize during the time of segregation.

The third day includes a visit to the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, where kayaks await for a paddle through the marshes.

On day four, the circa-1780 Kingsley Plantation estate at the end of St. George Island is the destination. There, participants will have a chance to browse interpretive exhibits on the plantation life of days gone by. Established by Zephaniah Kingsley Jr., the Kingsley Plantation once produced indigo and Sea Island cotton.

From the plantation, tour participants will be shuttled to St. Augustine, about an hour’s drive, and check into the Bayfront Hilton.

The Williams House on Amelia Island. The Williams House on Amelia Island. On the fifth day, after riding through potato fields, mostly on quiet lanes, participants have lunch at a farm-to-fork culinary market on a 22-acre farm.

After lunch, guests can visit the Lightner Museum, which was built in 1887. The museum is full of relics from America’s Gilded Age, including a fine collection of music boxes.

A sunset sail on the historic schooner Freedom is on the evening agenda. Tour-goers will have a chance to get an up close look at the recently restored Bridge of the Lions, which connects downtown St. Augustine with Anastasia Island. Another option is a visit to the 1880s lighthouse, St. Augustine's oldest surviving brick structure.

Meals are provided each day.

Check-out from the Hilton is on the morning of the sixth day.

Transport shuttles are available for those who need assistance or want for a shorter ride option. And, those who want a day off from riding are welcome to do that too.

The Lightner Museum has Gilded Age relics. The Lightner Museum has Gilded Age relics. Airport shuttle service is provided for those who fly in.

Bike riders average between 15 and 35 miles a day, or two to four hours. The tour costs about $2,000, excluding air or car transportation to the region.

For more information, or reservations, call 800-245-3868 or see www.vbt.com/tours/floridas-historic-coast/. ¦

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