New Englanders love “Sunday drives” even when it’s not Sunday. How freeing to avoid the interstates and highways and meander along quiet, country roads. There was always an apple orchard at the end of the road with a fragrant bakery shop or a roadside nursery with a riot of color on display. Of course, no self-respecting New England country town would be without its own inn. Inns with names like Silvermine, Westleigh, Cambridge, Washington, The Three Bears.
Here in Southwest Florida it is not so easy to find country roads which lead to apple orchards and charming inns but there are unique and happy ways to spend a day. My friend, Judy and I, both transplanted New Englanders, spent such a day recently.
We journeyed to Ave Maria along Route 951 and Immokalee Rd. Traffic was light and we moved along with no delays. We left the busyness behind after Golden Gate and passed older golf communities, a few antique shops and newer developments as we approached Immokalee Rd.
It is certainly country along Oil Well Rd. which leads to the entrance to Ave Maria. Road construction to widen the road is proceeding but did not impede our way. We passed the Palmetto Ridge Schools where groundskeepers were busily preparing for opening day. Tomato fields lie along the right side of the road but perhaps not for long. The next few years will see retail expansion along this road in order to serve the growing student population of Ave Maria University.
Ave Maria is a beautiful community of homes, town center and of course, the university. The founders have dedicated many acres to land preservation and the approach is beautifully landscaped with fields of flowers on both sides. The beautiful Oratory, the centerpiece of the small town, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been richly enhanced by a 31ft. bas relief on its upper façade depicting The Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a young, devout, Jewish maiden, revealing to her that God had chosen her to be the Mother of The Lord.
The sculpture is carved from Carrara marble, mined from the same quarry in Italy where Michelangelo chose the marble for his greatest works. The artist, Marton Varo, carved portions of the relief in Italy and the larger blocks on site at Ave Maria. The magnificent sculpture was dedicated on March 25, 2011 and is well worth a “Sunday drive.”
We attended noon Mass in the Oratory and enjoyed lunch at The Bean. Great soups, sandwiches and salads! We averted our eyes from the yummy desserts and settled for excellent coffee for our post lunch treat.
We drove around the large expanse of property, noted the new Publix conveniently located just steps from the heart of town center. The elementary school is open and ready for students’ return on August 22. Attractive neighborhoods surround a golf course and sports fields are ready for fall activity.
Ave Maria has felt the pain of the national economic downturn but potential for growth is promising due to an active university and renewed interest by Arthrex Inc. in locating a research and development facility nearby. As for two New Englanders, we enjoyed our meander and will soon plan another just as soon as our schedules coincide again.