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April 2007

Villa Tuscany
4110 6th Avenue
Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island, FL 34217
Villa Tuscany Web Site

Welcome to www.weloveourlife.com. This is our page dedicated to our experiences while staying at a private residence called Villa Tuscany in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Florida.

Our Pictures


Accommodations Amenities Food Bar/Lounge Service Attractions Dining Nightlife Weather Tips



Accommodations

We rented the Villa Tuscany house for the week. We must say that the description and pictures on the rental website (the real estate company rents several homes and condos) were very accurate. We were provided instructions for check-in and did not have to go to an office to pick up keys – we had to punch in a code that was sent to us before our arrival to get our key.

The first floor contained a two-car garage and a small sitting area, with doors to the garage, side of the house (really the main entrance) and the pool area. The house was actually all on one floor – the second. There was hardwood flooring throughout with what looked like Italian tile in the three bathrooms and the kitchen.

The layout consisted of a great room with a sitting area on one end (with TV) and a dining area at the other end, with a galley kitchen that opened to the great room. The kitchen contained a refrigerator (no ice-maker), dishwasher, electric stove and oven, and microwave. There were appliances such as a blender and coffeemaker and pots, pans, and dishes and silverware. There was a washer and dryer in a small room adjacent to the kitchen. The sink had a water filter on it but it was very frustrating to use so we bought spring water and only used the filter to fill ice cube trays (very slow and cumbersome).

The master bedroom was large and contained a fairly comfortable king-size bed and a love seat. There was a TV on the dresser. There was also a very large walk-in closet which provided plenty of storage for suitcases and clothes. The master bath had a pedestal sink, toilet, small corner shower, and single whirlpool tub. The other two bedrooms were on the other side of the great room. Bedroom 2 had a queen size bed with small TV, large walk-in closet, and bath with small corner stall shower, pedestal sink, and toilet, while Bedroom 3 had bunk beds, small TV, a large walk-in closet, and bath with small corner stall shower, pedestal sink, and toilet. There were three sets of towels in each bathroom. Blinds covered all the windows and there were 9-foot ceilings throughout. There was crown molding throughout. It was definitely decorated to remind one of a villa in Tuscany. There was also a nice balcony off of the great room with a table and 4 chairs.

The pool area was wonderful. There was an overhang (where the master bedroom was) that provided shade and contained a table and 6 chairs with cushions. The 20’ x 8’ pool was surrounded by pavers which stayed cool throughout the day. There were a few lounge chairs by the pool. The pool itself had steps on one end and a bench on the opposite. At its deepest it was probably only about 4’ deep. It was perfect for the two of us to float on lounge chairs (we brought out own). The pool area was very private and it really felt like we had our own private resort. A pool maintenance person came a couple times during the week and took care of the pool in the morning.

For cooling, there was central air and a noisy ceiling fan in the master bedroom (too noisy to use). There were also fans in the other two bedrooms, the great room, and one outside under the overhang by the pool.

While we rented the house, there was a sale sign out front and we took one of the sheets. It listed the sale price as $899,000. It said the square footage was about 1,850 (which sounded about right). It indicated the property had partial bay view (which it did, from the balcony) and partial gulf view (which was impossible because it was about 7 blocks from the beach and there were higher buildings in the way).

It was a wonderful place and perfect size for the two of us. Here are some things we would change. The house was extremely bare-bones. There was one roll of toilet paper in each bathroom and that was it – no extras. (Remember this is a weekly rental.) There were no Kleenexes and no paper towels. We went shopping for extra paper products. In addition, there weren’t even the most mundane of condiments, as in no salt and pepper. We purchased some mustard and pepper when we went grocery shopping and also some cooking spray (which we left behind). There was no dishwashing soap so we had to try our best to scrub plates and pans we used with just water and put them in the dishwasher to dry (we didn’t want to run the dishwasher multiple times, and besides – there was only one packet of dishwasher soap!). There was a washer and dryer but only about a half-load’s worth of detergent and a container of softener. These things led us to believe that perhaps this is a relatively new rental. There were no towels designated for use by the pool. We did not want to use the bathroom towels because they were pure white. We found what appeared to be beach towels in the laundry room and took them down to the pool on our first day but they were full of sand so we relegated them back to the laundry room and used bathroom towels. The property manager may want to invest in some inexpensive beach towels in darker colors that guests can use by the pool. The other thing we would change were the lounge chairs – they were cheap resin chairs that were all cracked down the middle and couldn’t be used. Some more sturdy ones would make sense.

Other than that we had a great time and would definitely rent from this property management company again. One thing – when we first arrived, the doors from the first-floor area to the pool and the garage were locked and we could not open them (the deadbolts were locked). We called the property management company and they seemed confused why the doors would be locked but told us they would take care of us. The first day, we had to get to the pool by a gate. The next morning someone came out and gave us a key to unlock the doors to the garage and the pool area, which was much better. We were impressed that they showed up at 10 on a Sunday morning to help with that. If it were our choice, we would have put a half-bath on the first floor so guests at the pool could go to the bathroom without having to traipse water throughout the house, but we understand this is a barrier island and the house was set up that way in case of storms.

Resort Amenities

The key amenity for us was the wonderful, private pool The single whirlpool spa in the master bedroom was also nice.

Resort Food

We did make breakfast and lunch for ourselves several times. It would have been nice if there was a cooler available we could take down to the pool. We found a large plastic pitcher which we would fill with ice and our beverages of choice.

Resort Bar/Lounge

We enjoyed having drinks by the pool and did our best not to take glass down there. To that end, there was a limited supply of plastic in the kitchen – some very large plastic cups and some plastic margarita glasses. The property management company may want to consider leaving a supply of disposable plastic cups available to guests.

Resort People/Service

One of the best things about renting a house is you don’t have to get out for a period each day while housekeeping comes in. So you have to pull the bedspread up – big deal. One day the management company called us in the morning (before 9) to tell us the property manager would be by the next day around 11 the next day just to look over the property for maintenance issues. We decided to sit out by the pool. By 11:45 they hadn’t shown up so we decided to go eat lunch inside. Just as we got up, they showed up, so we waited, and they were gone in about 5 minutes.

Area/Attractions

Anna Maria Island is located 1 hour southwest of Tampa and 30 minutes southwest of St. Petersburg. It is divided into 3 towns – the City of Anna Maria in the north, Holmes Beach in the middle, and Bradenton Beach at the bottom. There are miles of beautiful beaches and the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are several well-maintained public beaches with good facilities. There are also deserted beaches. Vacationers can rent boats, go on boating excursions, go fishing, and countless other water-oriented endeavors.

We really just wanted to relax, so the only real attraction we went to was Mote Marine Laboratory. It’s a great place located in Sarasota about 30 minutes south of where we were staying. This is a great place to take kids as there are a variety of exhibits geared towards them and at levels they can see. We were there for the shark feeding which was interesting because we viewed it from a glass panel rather than on top. A particularly nice things about the place is that seniors volunteer to work there and seem to really enjoy sharing things with visitors. This was our second visit to Mote; it’s always worth the trip. Plus, remember to go across the street to the turtle and manatee exhibits.

Dining

Sandbar - 100 Spring Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216 941-778-0444
Sandbar's Web Site
We had a late lunch on Saturday when we first arrived on Anna Maria Island and were waiting to check into our rental. We thought since it was 2:30 p.m. it would be quiet. Boy, were we wrong. We had to wait about 15 minutes for a table outside. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in April and the place was packed. We ordered Coronas and burgers and simply gazed out at the ocean, which was a startling shade of aqua – startling because we usually only see that color in the Caribbean. We’ve been to the Sandbar before and knew it was a reliable choice for burgers (and beautiful views).

Old Hamburg Schnitzelhaus - 3426 East Bay Drive (Anna Maria Shopping Center), Holmes Beach, FL 941-778-1320
Old Hamburg's Web Site
We’ve been to Old Hamburg before and were actually looking forward to it. It’s located in a shopping center and doesn’t look much from the outside but it is cozy and decidedly German on the inside. There is a two-sided bar that Wolfgang Jahn (the owner) happily tends. We generally reserve going to this place on nights when the weather isn’t as nice so we don’t miss being outdoors. They have good German beer on tap and a selection of German wines. You will hear German music in the background. We each had Weissbier (wheat beer) and split potato pancakes as an appetizer. Keith had the Weinerschnitzel with veal, and Lori had the Kaesespaetzle (cheese spaetzle with sautéed onions). Be forewarned – you get a lot of food at this place. After one wheat beer, we switched to dry reisling.

Sun House Restaurant - 111 Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-782-1122
Sun House Web Site
We have been to the Sun House, but usually just for drinks and appetizers. This time we decided to try it out for dinner. The Sun House is actually located on the 2nd and 3rd floors at the Bridgewalk Resort, and there is an elevator that takes you up to it. It is full of light with highly colorful artwork throughout. We sat outside on the terrace across the street from the Gulf (and directly across the street from the Moose Club – Lori tried unsuccessfully to get Keith to go to the Moose Club afterwards – we are members). We ordered a bottle of wine (a sauvignon blanc). Keith started with the three-cheese onion soup (tasty) and Lori got the chips and salsa – a variation on the original, with various sorts of spiced home-made chips (like plantain) and several dips. For his entrée, Keith had the Chicken Martinique (boneless breast layered with mango and apple-smoked bacon, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes) and Lori had the Drunken Shrimp (marinated in tequila and sazon, sautéed in wine, and garnished with bruschetta and rice). Both were very tasty and the weather made the venue superb. Our server seemed young and inexperienced but pleasant.

Gulf Drive Café - 900 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-778-1919
We had breakfast one morning at Gulf Drive Café – we had been there before. We were a little surprised when we walked in and saw cases of beer stacked up not far from the front door and thought maybe the place was now a beer distributor. There were lots of jugs of wine. We realized they must have obtained a license to serve beer and wine, but no bar. This place is right on the beach and is much like a diner inside. There is also a covered area outside right on the beach but you usually have to wait in line for that (no reservations). They serve lunch, dinner, and breakfast all day. We each had tasty omelets, wonderful biscuits, and hash browns. It’s a good reliable place, but no need to dress up. Oh, and don’t expect a special vintage – if you order chardonnay, it will probably come from a very large jug.

Beach House Restaurant - 200 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-779-2222
Beach House Web Site
We have been to this place multiple times (sister restaurant to Sandbar) and will keep going back. The setting is just perfect. It is huge, both inside and outside, and is situated on a beautiful stretch of beach, perfect for viewing the sunset. We sat outside and ordered a bottle of wine. Lori had peel & eat shrimp and Keith had the artichoke dip. For entrees, Keith had the blackened chicken alfredo while Lori had the lobster ravioli, accompanied by a great garlic bread. John Dewey was the entertainer that night. He was excellent – he played guitar and had a midi set-up and had a really great voice. He also was quite humorous as he talked with the audience. Like other performers at the Beach House, he was a perfect accompaniment to the sunset and timed the end of “What a Wonderful World” to the exact moment the sun set over the Gulf. The Beach house has something they do for sunset – they ask each table to put in an exact time of sunset. The table that is the closest gets a free bottle of champagne. We’ve done it before but never won. This time we did. Lori – who is a weather freak – had seen earlier when sunset would be in Bradenton and she added a few seconds and came up with 8 p.m. + 15 seconds. We were spot-on, exactly right (“a one-in-a-million” as our very excited waiter told us – he’d never had a table guess correctly) and were rewarded with a free bottle of bubbly which we enjoyed while we listened to John Dewey. We keep going back to this place and recommend it to anyone to get a true taste of Anna Maria Island.

We returned to the Beach House for lunch a few days later – it was hot so we had frozen mango daiquiris. Keith had the chicken salad and Lori had the lobster roll. Again, consistently good and friendly!

Peach’s Restaurant - 3240 East Bay Drive (Anna Maria Shopping Center), Holmes Beach, FL 941-779-0738
Peach’s is actually a chain of restaurants that serve breakfast and lunch. It’s a cute little place that had very good food at reasonable prices. Keith had eggs benedict and Lori had a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant with breakfast potatoes, with very good iced tea. This is an early-riser place, and is only open 6-2:30.

Waterfront Restaurant - 11 South Bay Boulevard, Anna Maria, FL 941-778-1515
Waterfront Web Site
We had been to this place once before for breakfast. In the time since then it had burned down and was rebuilt. It is a cute cozy-looking place with thick stone walls and an expansive front porch overlooking the bay. We could get a reservation for inside, but outside was first come, first served. It was a beautiful day and early on a Tuesday (5:30), so we decided to take out chances and would up with a very nice table outside overlooking the water towards Tampa. This restaurant serves wine and beer. They will also make you a margarita with agave wine (tempting, but we stuck to wine). Service was excellent, from our greeting by the hostess to our server. It felt like they really wanted us there. We ordered a wine called Blanc de Mer (white sea?) which was an African wine combining several different varietals – went with different things. Keith began with a fruit and cheese selection and Lori had the wonderful garlic steamed clams (she counted 18, not a dozen). The juice was so good she was soaking bread in it. For his entrée, Keith had a special “lite” entrée that consisted of a flavorful chicken enchilada accompanied by a Caesar salad. Lori went for the Alaskan King Crab – they allowed the diner to choose either legs or claws and she went for the legs. She ended up with one huge one-pound-plus leg which she said is some of the best King crab she has had in a long time. We very much enjoyed this dinner. If you want a nice table outside, get there early. It really filled up while we were there.

The Waterfront has been awarded a "best of ..." www.weloveourlife.com award for their crab leg dinner.

Hemingway’s Restaurant & Bar - 325 John Ringling Blvd. (St. Armand’s Circle), Sarasota, FL 941-388-3948
We had been to Hemingway’s back in February 1999, the night before we got married, so we had fond memories and decided to return. We had a nice lunch out on the balcony overlooking the hustle and bustle of St. Armand’s Circle, a busy shopping district in Sarasota at the junction of Longboat and Lido Keys. Hemingway’s is on the second floor. We ordered the lahvosh – a large Armenian cracker topped with melted havarti cheese. OK, it was really the size of a pizza, and for $10, can’t be beaten. It comes with a side of “salsa” – really a pico de gallo, and extra “toppings” (really dips) are $1 a piece. We also got the guacamole. It’s really a meal for two in itself. Keith also had a chicken Caesar salad and Lori had the coconut shrimp appetizer. We had a couple glasses of wine and relaxed as we relived our long wedding weekend. The place did not disappoint. There are a number of other restaurants and stores nearby: check out the St Armand's Circle website.

Sharky’s Seagrill - 2519 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-779-9151
Sharkey's Web Site
We stopped in at Sharky’s for a drink a few nights earlier, and the owner (who was tending bar) told us they had a terrific entertainer Wednesdays and Thursdays, so we returned specifically for that. We had dinner in a booth. Sharky’s is lots of dark wood inside with pressed tin ceilings. Keith went for tortellini gorgonzola (a very generous helping). Lori wanted shrimp, and the server went off the menu and suggested scampi. Eight large shrimp arrived in a delicate scampi sauce, accompanied by rice. We split a bottle of wine with dinner. We then moved over to the bar for the singer – Janine Elise Scott. She was excellent, singing a variety of tunes, and handled the crowd well. We bought one of her CDs – we like to support the local music scene and do so when we travel. One thing we have to say about this place – we felt welcomed from the moment we stepped in the front door. Everyone was nice and relaxed and they made you seem like then were glad you were there (that’s the way it’s supposed to be!).

Beach Bistro - 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 941-778-6444
Beach Bistro Web Site
We went to this place a few years ago and wanted to return. It is Zagat rated and probably one of the classiest places on the island. Reservations are a must as it is a very small place. We dressed up a little (that means Keith wore khaki pants instead of shorts like every other night). We saw all manner of dress there – some people had shorts and t-shirts on but we felt more appropriate in smart casual. We had to wait for our table a bit while a disabled guest in front of us were accommodated, which we understood. We were given a wine menu and one minute later asked what we wanted. We needed a bit more time with it. After that our waiter didn’t return for quite some time. They have an extensive wine list but some of it can get pretty pricey (comparing the restaurant prices to what we knew the bottles cost in the liquor store). They had a decent selection of New Zealand sauvignon blancs at reasonable mark-ups, so we selected a $43 bottle. Our waiter was…there. We remembered last time having excellent experiences with the staff at the restaurant but our waiter seemed like he couldn’t really be bothered so that affected our experience. To start, Keith had a Caesar salad with bleu cheese (a nice switch), which had wonderful home-made croutons. Lori had the spring salad, which had greens, a mustard vinaigrette, candied smoked bacon, candied cherries, and goat cheese – a very satisfying mix. We had some good bread with olive oil. We knew we wanted the cheese for dessert so we selected appetizers as entrees (our server did not appear thrilled with this). Lori had the “Perfect Blue Crab” – crab buds in a martini glass with tomato relish, accompanied with cheese crisps. Keith had small tournedos of filet mignon arranged with a sauce over garlic potatoes. Really the appetizers were the perfect size. For dessert, we split the artisanal cheese course, accompanied by glasses of Riesling. The food was excellent, but the service wasn’t quite what we expected. It’s still a nice place with a beautiful view of the gulf.

Nightlife

This is a quiet island, not really the place to go for nightlife. There is entertainment at several places, but it tends to be singer/songwriters and acoustic guitar, not rock bands, which would probably seem out-of-place here anyway.

Weather

We’ve learned to avoid this area in late summer/early fall (duh – hurricanes and extreme heat and humidity). Late April was perfect – we had sunny days with highs in the low 80s and lows in the 60s. It was similar to the weather we encountered in late October.

Tips/Suggestions

It’s an island and there are definitely bugs in the evening, so bug spray is recommended if you are going to be outdoors. Be sure to apply sun protection liberally. We rented a car. It seemed the free trolley was running fairly consistently so that’s an option, but it is pretty easy to drive on this island. Just relax and enjoy!