It is an inspired move to import the best of British literature provenance to an Island off the east coast of America to enhance the Christmas atmosphere and immerse locals and visitors in a world of Victorian celebration and hospitality.
This inspiration was revealed on the first day of the Christmas advent where Enjoy-it was blessed to be in London for an evening of history, literary genius, and fine dining to showcase Amelia Island off the east coast of Florida, we are alongside our long term pals at Cellet PR who designed the entire evening – they are the biggest ambassadors of Amelia Island – without whom I would have sadly trotted on through life without knowing any the better of the island paradise! Thank you, Yolanda!
Enjoy-It was invited to step back into the 1830s, into a Dickensian world that not only changed societal standpoint; it molded the nation’s literary consumption to boot!
We muster in the basement of Charles Dickens’s 1830s London marital home (in the museum of the same name), where we quaff red wine alongside great expectations… of the night ahead!
Jordan Evans, the museum’s curator, takes us through the life and excellence of the master himself, from humble beginnings and debt dodging to the penning of greats such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol… which was credited with popularising Christmas as a holiday in Britain and America.
We learn of Dickens’ loves, losses, his obsessive spirit, his family of 10 and we live his story through the rooms of the house over four floors. From his modest upbringing and aspirations above his station, Dickens’ life is fascinating, not only in his pioneering writings but also in terms of his joie de vivre and philanthropic actions and donations.
His story is one that is more impactful than I had appreciated and it was a pleasure to be in the very building where such greats were written! And it is no surprise to hear that on his death his celebrity was mourned the length and breadth of the country, after all, where would the next fictional great come from? The nation was bereft!
On that note, one could be excused for wondering why would Charles Dickens be a suitable introduction to an evening hosted by the USA’s Amelia Island? Well, all was revealed at a dinner in the oldest restaurant in London, (where Dickens is reported to have dined), the highly regarded Wilton’s on Jermyn Street.
Private dining is a joy at any time, private dining in Wiltons’ Jimmy Marks Room, however, is on another level! The room decorated in the most festive way, the table an example of etiquette excellence. We are welcomed with a glass of Wiltons Cuvée NV Beaumont de Crayeres Champagne. And a big screen… we have a special guest, no, not the spirit of Christmas past, but Amy Boek from Amelia Island – chief of marketing, live from the Victorian quarter down town… more of this later.
The menu at Wiltons is a fixed four-course with wine pairing; secret smokehouse ‘London Cure’ smoked salmon with individual buns and malt bread.
Then Surrey Farm fillet beef – I elected to order mine ‘blue’ and Chef clearly approved as the steak was one of the finest I have ever eaten! The apple and hazelnut crumble with lashings of custard made this treat a truly traditional treat, and a glass of Bordeaux Superior 2018 Chateau Le Bedat provided a smooth backdrop to the close of a seamlessly smooth evening.
So, to the screen – we are introduced to our host via an incredibly clear and trouble-free live-link and the charmingly enthusiastic Amy talks us through the assets of the 13-mile island, the beaches, the investment in to Five-Diamond accommodation, sustainability, and the festive season – featuring ‘Dickens on Centre’!
Now in its 7th year, this is a Christmas festival downtown in the historic Fernandina Beach district, which every year is transformed into a classic English village – with more than a nudge towards Victorian London!
All through December visitors enjoy the festive festival with big bands, costumes and culinary delights – including six themed domes bookable by the hour for charcuterie and drinks in the heart of the Dickensian family festival. There is also a ‘Dickens After Dark’ feature for adults only featuring an historic ghost tour and specialty entertainment.
By any standards, this is such a thoughtful addition to the island’s annual calendar…
Seasonally, the island changes from a winter wonderland to a tropical island of beaches, boats, history (we scan Florida’s oldest saloon in the background during our virtual chat with Amy), horse riding, beautiful weather, diving and fine dining – with one of Florida’s only AAA Five-Diamond restaurants serving brilliance from ‘Salt’ within the plush Ritz Carlton.
The evening is a superb and intelligent mix of relevant themes, all focused cleverly on Amelia Island and its tourism offering, it is a beautiful island with so much to offer. UK visitors travel with Delta Airlines from Heathrow to Atlanta and on to Jacksonville, with the island just a short car journey from the airport.
Put this on the bucket list – put it at the top of the list, as Dickens said himself: “The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will’” – that is my motto, and a visit to Amelia Island is most certainly an ‘I will’!