A tour of discovery with the CLA on the road to Key West.
Islamorada, Boca Chica and Rodriguez Key. The names of the islands you encounter on the way to Key West are the first harbingers of the Caribbean lifestyle that could not be further away from the hustle and bustle of Miami. The drive from Florida's metropolis to Key West takes only a little more than four hours, but when you reach the most southern point of the continental United States it makes you feel like you’ve entered another world. For us, driving in a Mercedes-Benz CLA, this ride from the pulsating major city with its glistening skyscrapers, exclusive beach clubs and prestigious galleries to the idyllic island with its laissez-faire attitude is no more than an excursion.
The road takes us south along the Overseas Highway, which connects the individual islands of the Florida Keys like a chain of pearls. Ahead of us are the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and pelicans soar above '7 Mile Bridge', one of the most spectacular sections of the route. We leave the mainland behind accompanied by the sound of an eclectic medley of music from the local radio station, which mixes all genres ranging from Caribbean calypso to country songs and 80s evergreens. At the halfway point we stop for refreshments in the 'Good Food Conspiracy', an organic diner that has been serving locals and visitors with delicious, homemade juices and snacks since the 1970s.
On arriving in Key West, the destination of our road trip, we explore the narrow streets of the old town where free-running chickens look for grains of corn and tourists search for entertainment. Geographically speaking we are now closer to Cuba (145 km) than to Miami (240 km), and that is just how it feels. A warm breeze blows around the historic timber houses, and the cry of gulls is a constant reminder that the beach is never far away. The nearby Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is recommended for bathers, as the shallow water is ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
It is the extremely relaxed atmosphere of Key West that has attracted artists, creative minds and drop-outs for many decades – foremost among them Key West's most famous inhabitant: Ernest Hemingway lived here from 1928. Today his house is one of the island's most famous sightseeing stops, and his spirit still seems to watch over the town. Enjoying fishing, good food and a strong drink on the veranda - the writer's recipe for a pleasant lifestyle has definitely stood the test of time.
The streets of the old town come alive in the evening. The oyster happy-hour in the 'Half Shell Raw Bar' is legendary - this is the perfect place to enjoy a small appetiser in the early evening. At sunset people meet at Mallory Square and then move on towards Duval Street, the epicentre of Key West's famous nightlife. Here you can sit in colourfully painted Victorian houses and try out the creations of the town's best bartenders, meet people from all over the world and simply go with the flow. A lifestyle you can enjoy for days or weeks on end, until you get back into the car and head north again, towards reality, replete with tastes, smells and impressions.