Where? No, never heard of it. Did you mean Myakka?
We had a few days on our March trip to Florida unbooked, and we were sizing up our options. Descriptions in guidebooks about a kooky little fishing village / artists retreat sounded intriguing. But its reputation was not so much low as hidden when we asked people living and working in Siesta Key about it. Matlacha? Where’s that?
It hides itself near Cape Coral, itself concealed beside louder Fort Myers. Barely signposted, it almost slips by you unnoticed at first. Then, like some rare bird of paradise, it puts on a show of colour and character that is scarcely believable.
Population circa 700, Matlacha’s proud residents declare itself to be what the Florida Keys were and should have remained.
It draws in an outdoors crowd – fishing, kayaking, boating afficianados, then snares its prey with nightlife, food and galleries.
We stayed at the Bridgewater Inn – a small motel that gives you the first glimpse of the charm that is about to become abundant. Arrive by car or boat. Choose one of the beautifully decorated cosy rooms, and get ready to slow down your daytime pace. Located right beside the so-called “fishingest bridge in the world”, nearly every guest seemed to be sitting on the dock, line in the water, as dolphins and manatees splashed around in front.
The next blast of charm comes from two spots of hospitality and straight forward fun – the Old Fish House Marina and Bert’s Bar. While the latter’s fame is wider, for our money the Old Fish House was where it was at. Quality fresh fish, delivered to the back door from the boats, a fine range of beers for $2 to $3, and nightly music of the highest quality, with locals and visitors alike swept along by the atmosphere. Here’s a sample (not from our visit):
Bert’s plays later, and is perhaps a bit slicker, but either guarantee a lively few hours day or night.
The other draw is a range of galleries and stores that scream at you with their wild colours.
The loudest of all is Leoma Lovegrove’s Beatles-inspired gallery and gardens, which also has details of art tours, village tours and other activities in the area. It is a truly extraordinary little site that no photos can reflect adequately.
Back on the water, kayaking with a range of operators brings you out amongst mangroves for a peaceful paddle, immersed in the tranquility of nature all around.
The one thing Matlacha lacks – and the one thing that has probably preserved its character – is beaches. However, boat trips to Captiva and Sanibel are available, or you could head to the madness of Fort Myers Beach – but allow a lot of time for traffic: boaters take the quicker route.
We pulled up at Matlacha intending to stay a night, and move on towards Marco Island perhaps. We ended up dropping anchor for three, and found this quirky corner of South Florida became the highlight of a trip which included internationally renowned destinations such as Siesta Key, the Everglades and Miami Beach.
All were tremendous fun, and all gave rich memories, but it was magical Matlacha that holds the memory longest, and demands a return visit to immerse ourselves some more in its unique charm and atmosphere.