Florida Keys

18th January 2008 at 00:00
Florida Keys, a chain of coral islands that begin just south of Miami and end up nearly in Cuba, are a relaxed, year-round destination with clean beaches such as Bahia Honda and average temperatures hovering between the mid-20s C and the low-30s C (mid-70s F to high-80s F).

The Keys have long been, and still are, the haunt of writers and artists and while other locals may not be as wacky as portrayed in the satirical Florida novels of Carl Hiaasen, it does seem that for every Robert Frost Poetry Festival (Key West, April 9-13, www.robertfrostpoetryfestival.com) there is an Underwater Easter Egg Hunt (March 23, off Key Largo) and for every celebration of Hemingway Days (Key West, July 15-20) there is an underwater music festival (July 12-24, Looe Key Reef, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary).

Even Hemingway is not taken that seriously: Sloppy Joe's, his favourite bar, holds a "Papa Lookalike Contest" (July 17-20, www.sloppyjoes.com) annually.

The Bar is part of the Duval Crawl, the route to take to sample the island's nightlife after joining the nightly sunset celebration in Mallory Square (www.sunsetcelebration.org).

The natural world is the Keys' real draw. Between them, Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America's first underwater reserve, and Key Largo National Maritime Sanctuary are home to 55 varieties of coral and 500 species of fish.

READERS RECOMMEND

WHAT TO DO

The drive down US1 towards Key West has to be one of America's most scenic, especially if you're in a convertible on a sunny day. You get some spectacular views from the string of bridges.

Andrew, Perth

Tucked away in the middle of Florida is the Historic Bok Sanctuary (www.boksanctuary.org), which features an art deco bell-tower set in magnificent gardens. It's something of an oddity among all that commercialism.

Helen, Oxfordshire

WHERE TO STAY

The Island City House (www.islandcityhouse.com) is three different buildings, each with its own style and set among tropical foliage in a quiet residential area. The pool is lovely and a few minutes from the waterfront.

Anthony, Cambridgeshire.

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