Written by Catherine O'Neal for the New York Times
WHILE millions flood Florida's theme parks and southern beaches in winter, a shrewd few head instead to the central Panhandle. Sure, the sun isn't quite as warming, but tupelo honey runs pure in national forests, rivers flow along moss-threaded cypress stands, and Apalachicola Bay -- one of the planet's richest -- lavishes diners with choice seafood. The ideal base camp is the town of Apalachicola, 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee. It has long been famous for its oysters and lately for its demeanor: a historic fisherman's haven with stylish inns and galleries but solid Old South roots. Known locally as Apalach, it was founded by 19th-century sponge divers and cotton and lumber barons. Their restored Georgian and Victorian manses and cottages idle along the bay, and their descendants work hard hauling shrimp, fish, crabs and oysters. Meanwhile, newcomers trickle in (the population is barely 3,000), opening fashionable boutiques, cafes and antiques stores in former cotton warehouses. Minutes from Apalach, the white sands of the barrier-island beaches are so smooth and quiet, locals guarantee that "you can hear the fiddler crabs shuffle by."