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Exploring Mount Dora

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BY RICHARD ROSSER

This charming Central Florida oasis is just a short jaunt up the turnpike.With stately oaks, an abundance of front porches and picket fences, Mount Dora is an ideal spot for a weekend getaway.

Above Donnelly Street is the central drag downtown. Artsy boutiques and mom-and-pop eateries line Donnelly Street and adjoining avenues

Still, Mount Dora is over three hours away, which places it outside of the day-trip zone, so it is best to plan a weekend. The Lakeside Inn is Mount Dora’s biggest hotel and, as the name suggests, is down by Lake Dora yet close to all the downtown action. There are also When considering the perfect weekend getaway, two essentials come to mind: One must return feeling relaxed, and it is imperative to feel as if you visited somewhere distant. Good news — you don’t need to travel very far to accomplish both of these weekend goals.

Just northwest of Orlando, Mount Dora is only a little over a three-hour drive from Pompano Beach, yet it feels a world away. As the name implies, it’s a touch hilly. No, not Alpine-style hilly, but the flat South Florida landscape does give way to a more rolling hill scene. This Central Florida retreat feels more like the American South than the palm tree-laden beach scenes of South Florida. In Mount Dora, the ancient stately oak trees outnumber the palms by a large margin. And It’s not uncommon for a server to ask, “what ya’ll havin’?” with a touch of a southern drawl. A visit to Mount Dora is akin to living inside a live-action version of a Norman Rockwell illustration.

It just feels different.

several quaint bed and breakfasts to choose from and a plethora of listings on Airbnb.com.

The Festivals

The city is famous for its festivals, and the lodging does fill up during festival weekends, so it is best to plan ahead. The Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza happens several times a year and is a huge draw, as well as the art and crafts fairs that happen throughout the season. There is even an Annual Scottish Highland Festival with live bagpipers marching through downtown. And the Taste of Mount Dora Festival will satisfy visiting foodies. The Blueberry Festival is in its eighth year — yes, there is s a festival for everyone.

Mount Dora has no shortage of bed and breakfasts. The Grandview Bed and Breakfast, just a few blocks from downtown, is pictured here.

The Lake County Historical Society offers a Citrus Label Tour — a driving tour steeped in history. Visitors can scan the QR code on each sign to learn more about each label and the citrus industry. The tour is a perfect chance to drive through the small rural towns of Lake County while taking in this naturally magnificent part of Florida.

Dora Festival will satisfy visiting foodies. The Blueberry Festival is in its eighth year — yes, there is s a festival for everyone.

The Historic Lakeside Inn, located in the heart of the Mount Dora Historic District, overlooking Lake Dora, opened in 1883, is the oldest continuously operated hotel in Florida.
Donnelly Street in downtown
Fifth Avenue Streatery is a popular spot serving Southern classics with a modern twist

Shopping and Dining

Downtown Mount Dora has an abundance of dining options —from super casual all the way up to fine dining. The city enforces an ordinance that prohibits chains and franchises in the downtown area, ensuring the charming village keeps its mom-and-pop small-town atmosphere.

We were impressed with the fish and chips at the Magical Meat Boutique, a British Style Pub serving all the classics.

An unexpected find was Wave Sushi and Asian Bistro. The restaurant serves sushi, sushi-tacos, sushi-burritos and sushi-burgers. And for a small fee, you can have any sushi creation coated with flaming’ hot Cheeto dust. Yes, we tried it, and yes, we liked it.

Downtown Mount Dora is full of crafty boutiques, including the Naples Soap Company pictured here
A corner street sign in downtown directs patrons to their favorite stores and restaurants.
A small colorful alley serves as a spot to have a quick coffee or snack

You can also find Cuban, Italian and Indian fare downtown, a plethora of ice cream and gelato offerings, and several more high-end dining options. There is even a gluten-free restaurant — The Salted Fry — specializing in — you guessed it — French fries.

But the clear stand-out is 1921, an impressive establishment housed in a former home constructed in 1921. The restaurant is everything you want from fine dining — inventive cocktails, an impressive and huge wine list, and fabulous food, all served by a friendly and attentive staff in a contemporary and sleek setting.

The menu highlights modern Florida cuisine drawing on the local bounty. Adding to the elegant atmosphere, the restaurant features art pieces on loan from the nearby Modernism Museum.

There are several great spots to pick up unique gifts.
The Spice & Tea Exchange is a great spot to pick up some sumac and other hard-to-find spices.
The Mount Dora Olive Oil company sells a wide variety of oils and vinegars — all available for tasting.

The view of the sunset over Lake Dora from Pisces Rising — a popular downtown restaurant
Tavares, on the other side of Lake Dora, is known as the seaplane capital of North America. Seaplane rides are available for the adventurous.
A nature trail adjacent to Lake Dora.

More Adventure

If you’re looking for more to do than just eat and shop, there are many other options. A stroll on the boardwalk at Palm Island Park is the perfect place to relax. The expansive vistas of the lake along with a path that winds through the preserved natural site will calm your soul (who doesn’t need that these days?) and of course help you get in a few steps. There is also a plethora of wild life and this is a favorite spot for bird watchers. Word to the wise — watch out for alligators.

Catboat Adventures offers guided boat tours of Lake Dora — another fantastic way to see the area. Drive your own two-person powered catamaran across beautiful Lake Dora through the Dora Canal and into Lake Eustis. This guided tour is two hours long and narrated by knowledgeable guides.

A boardwalk along the shores of Lake Dora is the perfect place for a restorative stroll.
he entrance to 1921 — the standout fine dining option in Mount Dora
A Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-dusted sushi burger from Wave Asian Bistro

For the more adventurous, Tavares, also known as the seaplane capital of North America, is only a 10-minute drive from Mount Dora. You can ride in a seaplane that takes off and lands from the waters of Lake Dora. And of course, from up above, you can see why it’s called Lake County to begin with.

For a touch of culture, visit The Mount Dora Center for the Arts — a community center offering art exhibits and educational programs. They also coordinate monthly art strolls, and of course, this is the group that hosts the Annual Mount Dora Festival of the Arts, which takes place the first weekend of February every year.

In just over three hours, you can transport yourself to — as the sign at the town’s entrance boasts — Mount Dora: someplace special.

English style fish and chips at the Magical Meat Boutique, a British-style pub downtown
Deep-fried deviled eggs at Fifth Avenue Streatery, an outdoor restaurant housed at a revamped gas station
Sacchettini pasta stuffed with Italian cheese and fresh pear in a shrimp and wine sauce at Gianni’s Italiano, a cozy Italian eatery

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