Key Largo is arguably Miami’s favorite key.
In just over an hour’s drive, we can gaze out at the mesmerizing, liquid horizon pooling around mangrove scrub islands ending only at, what feels like, the edge of the earth. The flat, calm water of the Florida Bay glints like a mirror reflecting cumulous clouds hanging in the big blue dome of Key Largo’s sky.
We don’t have to trek another hundred miles to the end of the road, to Key West, to settle into a “Keys state of mind.” Our pulses have already slowed down. A calm has already set in.
We’ve driven as far as we need to go.
The newly opened Playa Largo Resort & Spa (97450 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo; 305-853-1001; opening rates from $249) is perhaps the most compelling reason in the last 20 years for Miamians to make a stopover in Key Largo.
An aerial view of Playa Largo’s 15 acre property.
The Marriott Autograph Collection hotel marks the first newly built resort in Key Largo in over two decades and the result is a thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed retreat with an unprecedented air of luxury on this uppermost key.
Located at mile marker 97 on the Florida Bay side of the Overseas Highway, Playa Largo unfurls across 15 waterfront acres that were previously a campground and RV park.
“We did thousands of surveys to make sure we weren’t harming any of the native wildlife,” said Shakir Hussain, Playa Largo’s general manager.
Just like the indigenous Key Largo monarch butterflies that developers took care to protect before breaking ground in 2013, a striking metamorphosis has taken place. The 144-room resort occupies four wings, all with tin roofs, large balconies with white railings and even the classic eyebrow-style roofline, typical of vernacular Key West architecture.
The property also boasts 10 free-standing, two-story cottages and a three bedroom beach house that can be rented for weddings and private functions.
The lobby has a subtle nautical theme with a compass rose extending from its central fountain.
Stepping into the lobby with its sparkling terrazzo marble floors, dramatic spiral staircase to the lower level and cheese hole wall leading to Las Olas ceviche bar, it’s clear that interior design firm Gettys Group borrowed a little bit of Miami’s mid-century glamour for inspiration.
Still, the design details are grounded in a subtle nautical theme meant to echo the fishing villages of Key Largo homesteaders. A central fountain is actually a compass rose and lanterns are strewn throughout as a nod to the area’s lighthouses.
This aesthetic extends to guest rooms where wood paneled walls mimic the wall decking of old clipper ships and floors are tiled in wood-washed porcelain, a more durable solution to hardwood floors favored amongst many new hotels today. The color scheme is neutral with subtle washes of blue in area rugs and accent furniture.
The presidential suite’s floors are marble whereas the rest of the rooms have wood-washed porcelain floors.
Hussain and team have lofty ambitions with the hotel’s food and beverage offerings, aiming for upscale and first-to-market features like an authentic ceviche bar and a serious steakhouse. What they’ve created is sure to please Miamians with discerning palettes.
The ceviche at Las Olas is as fresh, flavorful and inventive as any at the nicest Miami restaurants, which is no surprise since their chef trained under Peruvian powerhouse Gaston Acurio.
Las Olas serves inventive cheviche dishes and craft cocktails.
La Marea steakhouse sources its meat from Larry Kline in Deerfield Beach and serves dry-aged New York strip, porterhouse and bone in cowboy rib-eyes in addition to seafood dishes like a whole yellowtail snapper.
La Marea steakhouse boasts an indoor-outdoor dining room with a breezy cabana-style design.
For a seafood focused menu, the al fresco Sol by the Sea was built around an old boathouse on the water whose walls are covered in reclaimed buoys for a touch of barefoot luxury one craves in the Keys.
The element bringing all of this together, of course, is the shallow green water of the Florida Bay, still as a sheet of glass, hugging the resort’s retaining wall and manmade beach. Arena-style concrete steps have been built to access the water and a 22-slip marina extends into the bay where guests can embark on fishing excursions or sunset sails directly from the resort.
The beach is strewn with lounge chairs, clever trio hammock pods and kayaks and paddleboards.
There’s a zero entry lagoon style pool and Sand Bar restaurant serving lunchtime temptations like soft shell crab tacos, conch fritters and passion fruit caipirinhas made with fresh ingredients.
The zero entry pool has a lattice arch for a projection screen for dive-in movies.
To round out the offerings, there’s a full service spa, fitness center and ample meetings facilities.
Playa Largo is positioned as a game changer in the Florida Keys. In a market with so many legacy hotels, it offers an unrivaled breath of fresh air and modern luxury, and it hasn’t lost sight of Key Largo’s unique identity.
At just an hour drive from Miami, it’s bound to become a favorite escape.