HAVE YOU DISCOVERED Florida's Northwest coast yet? The stretch of beaches in Florida's panhandle is known as The Emerald Coast. Think soft sea breezes, pure white sand, and turquoise green — yes, green — sparkling waters.
I was recently a guest at The Grand Sandestin, the newest accommodations at Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort, a massive complex straddling the stretch of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay. Intrawest Corp., owner since 1998, is conducting a massive, $400 million, 10-year redevelopment. You'll find 1,300 accommodations here, ranging from beachside high-rises and penthouse suites to villas and single family homes; four championship golf courses; 15 tennis courts; a marina for fishing excursions; plenty of shopping; and 19 dining choices. The resort's shuttle buses transport guests around the facility's 2,400 acres. The Grand Sandestin houses 168 one-, two-, and three-bedroom condominium units on 10 floors, adjacent to The Village of Baytowne Wharf, a walkable complex of charming shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Next to the Grand Sandestin is the brand-new, 60,000-square-foot Baytowne Conference Center. Its 13,500-square-foot Magnolia Ballroom is the largest in Northwest Florida, and it offers 32,000 square feet of meeting space and full kitchen and banquet facilities. The elegant new conference center can handle groups of up to 1,600.
The area abounds in outstanding restaurants, but right next door to the conference center is perhaps my favorite: Bistro Bijoux. It's a little taste of old New Orleans, presided over by owner Michael Pair, wine-picker extraordinaire. The restaurant seats 130 in summer, 90 in winter.
If all this isn't enough to lure you, know that the Clean Beaches Council, a federally sponsored, not-for-profit organization, has designated all 13 beach communities and three state parks of South Walton County with Blue Wave Certification. This means that Sandestin and its sister beaches are among the cleanest, most environmentally sound in the nation.