This year's Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival -- the fourth annual -- starts with a "Splendor in the Brass" free community concert in Central Park on May 29 and ends with the performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Elgar's Serenade for Strings and Haydn's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra at the Ritz-Carlton. In between, at various sites including churches, the community center and the courthouse, are concerts featuring the works of Fauré and Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Paganini and Saint-Saens. Performers will include the Jacksonville ensemble, which recently played to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall, the Ritz Chamber Players, and the one-and-only Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach, who's giving a Beer and G-String series at the Palace Saloon in town.
The Palace Saloon, Florida's oldest and a museum in its own right, is in the heart of Fernandina Beach, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and loaded with a fascinating inventory of architectural achievement. Pick up a self-guided walking-tour flyer at the unique Chamber of Commerce Information Center, housed in the turn-of-the-last-century depot that served the state's first cross-state railroad running all the way to Cedar Key. There you can also pick up brochures of other fascinating destinations, such as the docks where luxury yachts are moored alongside the shrimp fleet. Fernandina Beach is where the modern shrimp-fishing industry began, with innovative trawler techniques. There are also 13 miles of beautiful beaches -- some of the finest in Florida -- and the solid-as-Gibraltar Fort Clinch, built in 1847 as a bulwark link in the chain of stone-brick bastions along the eastern coast.
Bailey House, 28 S. Seventh St.; 800-251-5390. www.bailey-house.com. A Queen Anne stunner in the heart of the Historic District, happily run by innkeepers Jenny and Tom Bishop with a wealth of antiques and period collectibles, 10 fireplaces, private baths, some with whirlpool tubs, others with antique soaking tubs and separate showers. My favorite accommodations are Marie's Room on the first floor with super-comfortable antique chairs, Victorian armoire and private entrance; and the Carriage House with its private veranda, kitchen and separate bedroom. Full breakfasts are included and pets are not welcome, nor children younger than 8. Rates range from $139 to $199, and there are minimum stay requirements on weekends and during special events, so be sure to inquire. The same applies to all the inns listed.
Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, 98 S. Fletcher Ave.; 800-772-3359, www.elizabethpointelodge.com. 25-room oceanfront Nantucket shingle-style stunner with rockers on the spacious porch and with each room individually appointed but with maritime, Cape Cod feeling predominating. There are 20 rooms in the main lodge, a quartet of deluxe suites in the Ocean House with ceiling fan, CD, VCR, DVD and Jacuzzi, and the Miller Cottage with two bedrooms and two baths, complete kitchen, living and dining rooms and oceanfront deck. Rates range from $175 to $350. All accommodations include full breakfast and morning newspaper. Innkeepers David and Susan Caples are experienced enough in their careers to offer occasional seminars for innkeeper wannabes.
Fairbanks House, 227 S. Seventh St.; 800-261-4838; www.fairbankshouse.com. Romantic Retreat with capital Rs, and the cleverest adaptations of living space from the 1800s into suites with four-poster and canopy king-size beds, complete with all the amenities and necessities plus cedar closets, Victorian clawfoot soaking tubs, and two-person Jacuzzi. The marvelous Tower Suite for up to four guests, on the entire third floor of the main mansion, features exclusive access, queen and king-size bedrooms, full kitchen, living and dining rooms. Full breakfasts are served on the side porch or in the dining room, and there's an evening social hour with complimentary drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Pets are not welcome, nor children younger than 12, and the entire property, including the grounds, is nonsmoking. Rates are $170 to $385.
Florida House Inn, 22 S. Third St.; 800-258-3301, www.floridahouseinn.com. Also in the heart of the Historic District and proud to be the oldest-surviving hotel in Florida, greeting guests since 1857 when it was opened by the Florida Railroad and received everyone from Ulysses S. Grant to Laurel and Hardy. There's a pub and restaurant on the premises and a variety of rooms ranging from budget-pleasing twin-bedded economy rooms for $99 to a stunner called the French Country Room for $219, furnished with French fabrics, a flat stone fireplace, TV armoire and vaulted ceiling with fan. That's the cost of the Pecky Cypress Lodge Room and Log Cabin Room, both dramatically loyal to their names. Pets are welcome, and there are motor scooters available for touring the town and all it has to offer.
The Williams House, 103 S. Ninth St.; 800-414-9258, www.williamshouse.com. Without a doubt one of the loveliest, most elegant expressions of the fine art of interior design in Florida and far beyond. Consider the Empress Eugenie Anniversary Suite, all white taupe and gold with a king-size French walnut camelback bed with crown canopy, or the Emerald Victorian Room with Tiffany lighting, an English mahogany bed 8 feet from the floor, working fireplace, and gallery window that opens out to a veranda. Or the breathtaking Leonardo da Vinci Room with Genoese queen-sized bed and dresser with black marble and inlaid woods, all done in colors of champagne, grape and gold. Rates for the eight rooms range from $219 to $279 and include full breakfasts. No pets are permitted.
Robert Tolf is the author of six books on country inns, including Florida Country Inns.