Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages
Anna Maria Island, Florida

2710 Gulf Dr. Holmes Beach, FL 34217
Fax 941.778.5764

When the sun goes down, everyone and everything on Florida's Anna Maria Island
stops to watch, says Ferne Arfin.

     Sitting on immaculate, white-sugar sand one recent January evening, I was surrounded by a flock of sea birds - common gulls, oyster catchers, sandpipers, orange-billed royal terns, their black crests flattened by Gulf breezes - all of them squatting together and apparently watching the horizon.
     The few dozen people I saw on the miles of beach were doing the same. I wondered if, like me, they were enjoying the highlight of a very laid-back day. On cue, a pair of dolphins leapt across the water and a pelican dived in after a fish.
     Anna Maria Island is a narrow scrape of land in the Gulf of Mexico, tethered by bridges to the Florida mainland near Sarasota. It is also a rare survivor of Florida's past, before theme parks, shopping malls, restaurant chains and high-rise hotels turned much of the state into a kind of high-class holiday camp.
     Today, it offers the same simple pleasures that drew holiday visitors to Florida in the first place: miles of perfect beaches, abundant seafood and endless sunshine....
     It is lapped by the pale waters of the Gulf of Mexico and punctuated by fingers of salt grass and sea oats. Beach development is minimal because of the loggerhead turtles that nest here from May to September. Limited facilities - lavatories, cafes, lifeguards - are available at two public beaches frequented by day trippers...
     Accommodation is never more than a few hundred yards from the beach and is always well equipped. I filled my fridge with bottles of Mexican beer, mountains of chunky (and cheap) Gulf shrimp, and local stone crabs, before setting out to look at other digs on the island...
     At Cedar Cove Resort, "The Innkeeper" likes to suggest a sort of "wasting away in margarita land" ambience. But the casual dishevelment is just a front. Inside, his pastel-painted, 1950s-style units are as spiffy and well-equipped as any of the best...
     The Gulf is calm with a clean, gently graded bottom. Because it's relatively shallow, it warms to comfortable swimming temperature...
     Once, while searching for tiny coquina shells at the water's edge, I came face to face with a great blue heron. Standing more than three feet tall, it calmly stepped aside and watched me for a while, just an arm-span away.
     On the Bay side, nothing was biting, though pelicans loitered with intent. "Well it's not about catching anything is it. Not here, anyhow," one man drawled. Out on the bay, a boatful of more serious anglers headed to deeper waters, after grouper, snapper and amberjack...

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004