Amelia Island wasn’t always the peaceful parcel of vacation land it is today. In fact, more than 300 years of see-saw battles occurred over ownership of this 13.5-mile-long sandbar now regarded as one of Florida’s premier holiday destinations. Located in the northeast corner of the state, 32 miles north of Jacksonville, the island lapped by the Atlantic Ocean is the only U.S. territory to have been under eight different flags beginning with the French in 1562. Over the following three centuries it was seized (sometimes more than once) by the Spanish, English, American Patriots, Mexican rebels and the Confederacy before finally becoming the property of the United States.

It’s not surprising the various parties that fought over it each believed the bitter battles they waged were worthwhile although I doubt their motivations had anything to do with lying on a beach and catching some rays.

Named after Princess Amelia, daughter of England’s King George II, the entire east shore is one, long giant beach and the island’s annual average temperature is a comfortable 70F, a climate that seemed pretty darn good to me in early February.

While I consider myself especially well acquainted with Florida, Amelia Island was a blank page I was about to fill. I made my headquarters the Amelia Island Plantation, the largest resort complex on the island. Located on the southern tip of this slender sandbar, the only complaint with the mega resort was finding my way around its 1,350-acre site punctuated by bike paths, nature trails, a shopping village, vacation villas and an upscale inn–all meticulously placed within an impossible maze of streets shaded by majestic oaks dripping Spanish moss.

Moreover, golfers don’t have to go further south into Florida than just across the Georgia border where Amelia Island has 117 holes of golf with four of the top courses located within the Amelia Island Plantation.

All four are superb tracks designed by renowned architects (Pete Dye, Bobby Weed, Tom Fazio) whose inspired layouts incorporate oceanfront sand dunes, marshland, water features and stands of centuries-old live oaks. The resort also has 3.5 miles of pristine beach, 20 swimming pools, 10 dining spots, a state-of-the-art spa and a health and fitness centre.

While Amelia Island Plantation is virtually a one-stop vacation resort, the island that’s only two miles wide at its broadest point can be driven from tip to tip in less than an hour and has plenty of interesting nooks and crannies to be explored. Among its busiest and most popular tourist attractions is the community of Fernandino Beach, once a thriving Victorian seaport that now boasts a 50-block historic district with numerous original buildings dating back to the late 19th century. Located near the northwest tip of the island its downtown streets are lined with charming establishments housing everything from an ice cream parlour to a chocolate factory, restaurants, and an old fashioned candy emporium. There’s also several boutiques, souvenir stores, antique shops, art galleries, small inns and the famous Palace Saloon purported to be Florida’s oldest continuously operating drinking spot. Also, Fernandino Beach maintains a long history in the shrimping industry where shrimp boats depart daily from the town’s docks. For a cultural fix, the community has two theatres offering live performances (Shakespeare, contemporary drama, Broadway musicals, comedies) from September to June.

Fernandino Beach is also the place to visit the Amelia Island History Museum housed in an historic jail. Here, a fascinating collection of permanent exhibits, memorabilia and art work paint a vivid picture of times past. Golf buffs can hit the links at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club where its 27 holes have been praised by Golf Digest magazine.

As small as the island is, it’s not too small to house The Fort Clinch State Park, part of the U.S. Parks system. Its centrepiece is a remarkably well preserved 1847 fort that was garrisoned by Confederate and Federal troops respectively, although no battles were ever fought there. Within the fort, costumed interpreters give regular tours and re-enact the daily life of Civil War-era soldiers. Today, the fort is surrounded by a 1,121-acre park defined by pristine beaches and sand dunes, nature trails and salt marshes. The park also has a six-mile unpaved, “loop” trail for hikers and off-road cyclists.

Overall, it’s actually mind-boggling how much this tiny island has to offer vacationers. Amelia is renowned for both offshore and back-country fishing and a number of local charter companies are equipped to get people outfitted and on the water. There’s horseback riding on the beach, naturalist tours and Amelia Island Plantation has 23 clay tennis courts.

Truthfully, the three days I spent on the island were not nearly long enough to sample everything it has to offer. However, I was there long enough to know that if I were going to be marooned on an island, Amelia would be among my top choices.

For more information on the Amelia Island Plantation see or call 1-800-874-6878. For more about the island see

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