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  • Writer's pictureDes & Sandie Nichols


Updated: Jun 27

We start at the beginning, at the very first place with fell in love with after setting off from our cottage in Key West.

One area of Florida that we had been meaning to explore better was the Panhandle and we had eagerly looked forward to returning to one place that had left an indelible memory. It's a long drive from one end of the State to the other but we got it so right when we headed back to that charming of little town with the tongue-twister name, Apalachicola. Its reputation had reached us a couple of years before and we had fleetingly passed though on a trip to Destin. This was an eagerly anticipated longer return visit. We were not to be disappointed. Thankfully, the Hole In The Wall Oyster bar was still there, and open, so we fell in and were picked up by the same wonderfully eccentric staff, including the faithful old shucker with his grey locks falling down his back in the same ponytail. The same handsomely etched faces, each telling a life story, were behind the tiny bar. Nothing much changes here.

"I been shucking oysters since I was 16", the shucker told us proudly before adding that he had 7 children and 23 grandchildren. It must be the oysters. He also had a remarkable memory, as, incredibly, he remembered us immediately from our previous visit. Next door, outside the small brewery, some twenty familiar locals sat on rickety wooden benches on the sidewalk in exactly the same places we had left them six months ago. One guy stood out as he still had his faithful parrot on his shoulder. As soon as we sat down with our beer, they struck up a cheery conversation with us interlopers. Two men and a woman had two bags of popcorn, which is free at the bar. They didn't offer us a pinch. They spontaneously gave us a whole bag. They're like that round here. Nothing much changes in Apalachicola, or so it seems. This is the essence, the beating heart, of America, the best of America, and that's why we love it so much.

When the United States shows to the world that star-spangled razzmatazz of confidence and pride, it ignores its glaring divisions. On occasion, its obsession with lightning fast development overshadows its inherent natural beauty and its inward thinking dominates its sound global intentions. This is the strongest, wealthiest, most successful nation on Earth, and, boy, do they know it. However, on its journey of the past 150 years, America has sadly lost much of its soul and culture in its hyper speed evolution. Cities are just concrete, corporate jungles and the victims are the thousands of small towns that are reduced to dormitories with unloved 20 year old houses, many ready to be torn down at the next opportunity and communities that, lost and forgotten, are withering on the vine. The motor car and the vacuous malls with their identical chain stores rule supreme and have come to define the lifestyle.

So what a joy to find Apalachicola. It is a privilege to be a guest here. Set your watch back to a long lost era and find for yourself how life should, and could, be. This is the nearest thing to a true village we have found. It reminded us of parts of the South Island of New Zealand. A small, happy, smiling community who love what they have. They are proud of their town and are in no rush at all to join the modern chaos. Apalach, as it is called by those who live there, seems to have been spared the burden of discovery. It isn’t a sanitized living museum. It is still a hodgepodge of local quirky shops, fishing boats and sheds on the river with a thriving brewery bang in the middle of town. It is a quiet, friendly center of existence for 2000 people. There is, we were told, one traffic signal, but we never saw it. Someone said it must be like Key West was 20 years ago. No, its soul and lifestyle are what living must have been like 100 years ago throughout America. Unrestricted, welcoming, unconcerned. Time seems to have just stood still.

So you can gather we loved it. And, what’s more, we must remind you that it has the best local oysters outside Prince Edward Island. Plump pearls of a delight and absolutely delicious eaten, with a speck of horseradish, in the most unpretentious setting.

Everyone here greets you as a friend, with a southern charm that we have never experienced in Florida. Indeed, can this really be Florida? Answer - it can’t be. But it is. The aptly named Forgotten Coast. It is so very different. Only the few cars (parked wherever the driver wants to stop) give you a clue that these are modern times.

We went into a ‘boutique’ called La Robe. In a gorgeous y’all accent, a fabulously colorful lady owner, her smile as wide as the river itself, welcomed us with ‘Parlez-vous français?’. I replied ‘oui, je parle français un peu mais pas très bien’. She laughed and said in her southern drawl. ‘Ah don’t know what yer sayen. That’s the only French ah know’. Then she pointed to a small table. ‘We have real French perfume here ..... from France’. We could have been in a scene from Bonanza. We then went to a local oyster bar called The Hole In The Wall. The conviviality continued with merry banter exchanged across both sides of the old bar. It is the sort of place where everyone joins in the same conversation. And in the loo, or men’s room as it is called, there was a large basin on the wall, full of ice, into which we were invited to pee. Ask no questions.

This place is a definite 'mustn't miss'. Come in winter when there are no swarms of tourists covering its real charm and character like a smog. We were totally seduced by the name, Apalachicola. The seduction was completed by the welcome we got from the most warm and interesting people; it was a glorious submission into a forgotten age. Let’s hope it remains the Forgotten Coast.

It was a privilege to be accepted into the Apalachacola community for a few wonderful days, to explore this small fishing town, to savor its delicious oysters, and to meet and talk to the likes of John Lee (a great friend of actor John Hurt) in his eclectic Tupelo Honey store. To visit this town is to be taken back to a bygone American era. It was moving to visit the shady graveyard where they give you a leaflet guiding you round the graves of the most interesting citizens, interred below ground, with a brief life story of each and so many very young children in their pathetic, tiny resting places.

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