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The Pearl hotel is the gem of the Florida panhandle

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Last week, Atlanta, where I live, was hit by a winter storm that made national news because it basically shut down the city and resulted in people trapped in their cars literally overnight or abandoning their cars altogether and sleeping in the aisles of the nearest grocery store or gas station that would take them in. Luckily, I wasn't out there amid the madness. But the snow and ice and resulting chaos did make me want to escape the city for a warmer clime. Someplace with a sandy beach, frozen cocktails, and a laid-back vibe where no one would think twice if I just sat in the sun all day. And I knew just the place.

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Last September, I drove the five hours from my house to a quaint little spot on the Florida coast to check out a new hotel called the Pearl. It's hard to say which was more charming, the hotel itself or the town of Rosemary Beach where it resides. For now, though, I’ll just focus on the Pearl, a luxury boutique property that marks the first full-fledged hotel in the quaint master planned community. (There are small European-style accommodations across the street at the Pensione Inn, and numerous rental homes available.) I found the Pearl so enchanting, I immediately knew I had to schedule a return visit, which is somewhat unusual for me, as I normally prefer to go someplace new rather than go back to a place I’ve already been.

Maybe I was swayed by the Pearl’s top-notch staff, who always seem to be around to offer you a warm greeting, open a door, hand you a chilled bottle of water, or help you with whatever else you may need. Maybe it was the incredible four-course dinner we enjoyed at the hotel restaurant, Havana Beach—a meal that consisted of everything from a starter of gourmet chicken biscuits with artisanal honey to a massive seafood platter stacked with lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, and crab claws to the most popular item on their dessert menu, the beachside s’mores (complete with hickory smoke for that campfire aroma). Or it might have been the Chihuly-like glass chandeliers and captivatingly colorful images of Cuba that hang throughout the hotel. Really, it could have been any number of things.

Says general manager Michael Votta, “We didn’t want the Pearl to look like a shiny new W hotel. We wanted it to fit into the destination, to have some charm, some mystique. We wanted to put our fingerprint on developing a hotel that would be truly special.” The hotel is, in fact, doing some special things, like filtering its own water, via an on-site bottling plant. The Pearl was also the first hotel in the country to feature Apple TVs in each room (read: free movies!). Another extra is the effort they make to call guests a week or so before their arrival and ask what type of beverages they might want stocked in the fridge or any special needs or requests they might have. The latter points to Votta’s insistence on giving guests the greatest service possible. “If you don’t mention how great the staff was when you leave,” he says, “then we’ve missed the mark.”

The Pearl has a total of 55 rooms and suites. Only two of them feature double rather than king-size beds, which I could foresee being a downside for some families or other groups of guests. But the rooms are super chic and comfortable and overlook either the pretty pool or out toward the beach, which is mere steps from the hotel. And each one comes equipped with its own iPad, on which you can do everything from check the weather to order the valet to pull your car around. The bathrooms are spacious and feature step-in showers and those nifty little TVs built into the mirror.

There's more to report, including how much I'm in love the architecture and ambience of adorable Rosemary Beach, but I'll save that for a report on my return visit, when I can check out the Pearl's spa and rooftop bar, which had yet to open when I there last fall. Stay tuned.

The Pearl is located in the Florida panhandle, about halfway between Destin and Panama City Beach. It’s just off Hwy. 30A, which runs parallel to the coast and features other cute beachfront communities like Seaside and Alys Beach. Rooms at the Pearl start at $299 a night, but in honor of the hotel recently becoming a member of the Southern Living Hotel Collection (a small, curated group of independent four- and five-star hotels across 18 states), you can grab a room for $279 a night using the promo code SLHC when you book your stay online at thepearlrb.com or by phone at (850) 502-2488.

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