Florida city offers a lot for snowbirds


MOUNT DORA, Fla. — This city of 12,000 located 25 miles southwest of Orlando is a likely destination for snowbirds who have done DisneyWorld and are ready to get away from the crowds and traffic congestion in a community that has the feel of a peaceful New England town.

It has become one of my favorite Florida destinations. My four-day visit in January was as delightful and restful as I remembered from three previous visits. It’s a nice package, with a size that is manageable for visitors, an inviting downtown shopping village, good restaurants, and a historic hotel.

It’s about a 45-minute drive to Mount Dora from the Sanford/Orlando airport.

The Lakeside Inn, in downtown Mount Dora overlooking Lake Dora, supports my theory that for single travelers hotels are a better choice than motels, when possible, because you are not locked into one room. Instead, there is opportunity to meet people in the lobby or lounge and restaurant and exchange ideas about what to see, what to shop for, and where to eat.

The 1883 hotel has a lively bar with nightly music, a spacious dining room, and a lobby furnished with antiques. A veranda stretches across the front where guests gather, either in rockers to watch the sunset over the lake or at a table for breakfast or lunch.

Among the many lovely homes built by northerners who long ago chose Mount Dora as a winter retreat, the most beautiful structure has a Toledo connection and is occasionally on tour. It is known as the Donnelly House and is now occupied by the Masonic lodge. John Donnelly was the first mayor of Mount Dora. As a young man from Pittsburgh, he rented a room from Annie McDonald Stone, who is credited in city records as being from Toledo. They were married and became well known for their community service, philanthropy, and their gingerbread house.

I didn’t rent a Segway or climb into a horse-drawn wagon to view the city. Walking was my daily choice and according to the scales, it offset the thousands of calories I consumed at several restaurants in dishes that ranged from crab cakes to Thai soup.

Downtown eateries include a Thai restaurant, a cupcake shop, a German restaurant, and two tearooms

The Goblin Market is the No. 1 restaurant suggested by locals. Because it features fresh ingredients prepared to order, a statement on the menu asks customers to be patient. Take a combination of chicken and shrimp as one example. The entrée is glazed with honey and lime and finished with a mango, jalapeno cream sauce. The chef tops grouper with macadamia nuts, goat cheese, and sun-dried cranberries.

This weekend the downtown will offer more chances to browse and shop than in the boutiques, galleries, and antique stores that stock the unusual in fashions, jewelry, and gifts.

The art show that was to open yesterday is but one reason that Mount Dora is called the City of Festivals. According to the Chamber of Commerce, 285 artists from around the world were expected to set up displays throughout the downtown.

Antique fairs that are held the third weekend of each month draw hundreds of dealers. The antique show that brings in 150 vendors including crafters is scheduled for March 23-24. This year’s three-day music festival featuring jazz, classical, and big band programs will be held Feb. 14-17. Downtown gallery tours are held from 6 to 9 p.m. the second Friday of each month, complete with complimentary wine.

The list of special events is so diverse that visitors can choose their special interests. From March 11-16, authors will be available and writing contests will be held at the library. The Taste of Mount Dora, featuring foods from several restaurants, will be April 28.

In the meantime, a full theater schedule is under way at the Sonnentag, the city’s 300-seat theater in the old icehouse. The Buddy Holly Story will continue through Feb. 17, the Secret Garden runs March 22-April 14, and the Perfect Wedding will be presented May 17-June 9.

Mount Dora again? Why not when there are unfinished plans? I do want to try lawn bowling. Then there’s a seaplane ride over Lake County with 1,400 lakes and a two-hour ecological boat tour on Lake Dora and the Dora Canal that I just couldn’t squeeze into the shopping and eating schedule.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com