When you think of Florida, scaling a mountain doesn’t come to mind. But a journey inward towards center Florida will yield the one and only mountain in the state which even the most out of shape person can climb.
An elevation of 2,208 feet above sea level, Mount Dora barely makes it at what is considered a mountain. And no, a hike to the top will not yield all inspiring views of Florida. But it’s still worth checking out.
The city of Mount Dora was founded in the early part of the 1800s, and with the abundance of natural fresh water lakes and crystal clear springs, it became a famous playground for the rich and notorious. During the Prohibition Area (1920 -1933), bootlegging, moonshining, and speakeasy were all the ragged, and most of the older buildings have a not so clean history to them. A favorite playground and resting stop for Al Capone and others, this little city had a wild side that is hidden. For those who didn’t want to journey all the way to West Palm Beach, and through the swamps, found a great couple week of vacation there.
The city sits on the Lake Dora, and a journey here was a trip to a century ago.
I have been to this city a couple of times; my parents had originally thought of moving here after retirement (and before they discovered The Villages) because of its quaint feel and old homes. There are tons of Bed and breakfast here, but to truly get the feel of Edwardian vacationing, the Lakeside Inn is where you want to stay. Built in 1883, this hotel has placed hosted too many famous and notorious people throughout the years that it has been open.
Most of the time, we just wander around the town, checking out the local business. There is a feel of an era gone by, with many of these shops in the old building (some of them hunted). We were planning on staying later to check out a ghost walk (I will have more on it later), so it made for a nice day trip.
This little shop, which is down an alley, is probably one of the best wine and beer stores I have ever been. Locally owned, it is an excellent place to stop and have a sip of wine before continuing with the shopping. The inside reminds you of someone basements, with its dark woods, leather couch and fantastic selections of wines and beers.
Another favorite of mine is Under the Cherry Blossom, a handicraft store that sells local artist. Look up, and you will see hundreds of pink tissue papers glued to the ceiling, to give the illusion of being under a cherry tree.
In one of the old hotels, local artist Amy Seller sells her paintings. She is usually there and loves to talk about her artwork.
Another point of interest is the Chamber of Commerce, which is in the old train stations. Along with brochures about nearby attractions and what’s going on. They are relics of the past, including a train schedule (trains coming from New York once a week). Next to the Chamber is a small park. While we were visiting, there were hundreds of plastic flamingos around the park in celebration of Breast Cancer Month. Each Flamingo had a name of someone who had breast cancer for the community.
An old Victorian House sits on Donnelly Street. Once upon a time, it belonged to the Donnelly’s (one of the big shot families of Mount Dora), but now it serves as a Masonic Lodge. Unless you are a Mason, the chances of you going in there are slim.
We usually eat at The Goblin Market, off of Dora Drive, down one of the many alleys in Mount Dora. This restaurant is one of those hidden gems that you don’t know where it is you will miss it. Hidden in an old house, this restaurant has been around for about 20 years and own by the same couple who started. The inside looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Edger Allen Poe and is usually decorated for the holidays. We were there; the house had been decorated for Halloween. Before dinner head upstairs to the lounge and enjoy a cocktail as you ponder over many forgotten lore.
At night, the bars and restaurants have live music, and people are wondering around. After the ghost tour, we headed back to Maggie Attic for one last glass of wine before heading home.
Mount Dora is one of these hidden gems that not many Floridians know about. But if you are searching for the real Florida or a history buff, this is one of the places you need to check out.