Lake County: Undiscovered Florida just beyond Orlando
by Graham McKenzie
In case you had not noticed travel is back and in a big way.
In the first six months of this year nearly half a million Brits travelled to Florida and in the second quarter the trend was even stronger with that number approaching 300,000.
This was just a fraction behind the impressive statistics back in those heady pre-Covid days of 2019.
So why is the state so popular? Is it the theme parks? Is it the weather? Golf? Wildlife? Well truth be known it is probably a combination of these, but the real attraction is that when you think you have seen it all something new, refreshing and exciting pops up.
I recently travelled to Orlando, where I have been numerous times before and found within the destination boundaries all manner of surprising attractions and entertainment but this time, I decided to travel a mere 45-minute drive Northwest on the Florida Turnpike to Lake County. A place I had never been to before.
First up was Mount Dora. Yes, you read correctly, Mount Dora. It is to say the least a little unusual to visit a mountainous region in a state that is generally considered flat as a pancake but the Floridian definition of what constitutes a ‘Mount’ is somewhat generous. The bottom line is that with a sturdy pair of Cuban heels upon my feet I would qualify as a ‘Mount’, well almost. Anything over 130ft meets the criteria and Dora exceeds that by about 18 inches. On the slopes of the mount lies a charming village with a wide variety of independent shops, excellent restaurants and quite bizarrely a very authentic British Pub with a very non-British name – The Magical Meat Boutique. Not seen many of those down the lanes and streets of blighty.
Mount Dora is however synonymous with Lake Dora and as such holds great attraction for those who come to stay. In the middle of this small town on the water’s edge is the state’s most historic hotel, The Lakeside Inn, which has been serving holidaymakers since 1883. Built at the height of the Victorian era it is the last of its kind and the charm, class, grace and heritage is obvious for all to see.
Fronting onto the Lake you could quite easily be transported back to those early days of travelling. Relax on the front porch rocking chair whilst sipping on a cooling cocktail prior to a dinner in the wooden floored, high ceiling dining room that is all linen, cut glass and silver. The hotel is most definitely one of a kind and as such worth the effort to experience.
Also, worth travelling for on Lake Dora is a 90-minute guided tour around not only Dora but also Lakes Beauclaire and Carlton on a two-person powered catamaran. Imagine being on an amphibious go-kart with your backside just a few inches from the surface travelling at 30mph and you would be halfway to what it is like. Acceleration, splashes, giggles, speed, inconsistent navigation, deliberately steering into waves to make sure your co-pilot gets soaked are all part of this most enjoyable of gigs.
In addition to the thrill of the ride the tour educates on all of the local wildlife including alligators plus an overview of the history of the area and its role in the rapidly developing world of tourism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Exhilarating, safe, informative and some of the best fun you can have in 90 minutes.
Just 45 minutes from Orlando? Make it so.
My trip was organised by www.VisistFlorida.com. The Lake Dora boat trips can be booked with www.catboattour.com , rooms at the www.lakeside-inn.com start at $155 and I can highly recommend dinner at www.piscesrisingdining.com who specialise in fresh local ingredients.