As anyone who’s been there will tell you, there’s much more to the Florida Keys than picture-perfect beaches. One such person is Paul Menta (pictured below), who having moved to the Keys in 1984 made it his home and soon became a pro kite-surfer, restaurateur and now the region’s first legal rum distiller. Paul is passionate about his home, his hobby and his business so who better to share their insider tips on this amazing corner of the USA?
You’re an entrepreneur who’s set up restaurants, a rum distillery and kite-surfing school in the Keys – why do you think the islands make such a great backdrop for these?
Besides the staggering beauty of the Keys, with its incredible sunrises, sunsets and truly easy-going people, the conditions here are perfect for lovers of food, thrilling water-sports and luxury. There’s plenty of wind for kite-surfing, the fishing is legendary - so you know it’s freshly caught when eating out - and when it comes to rum, there’s no better place to enjoy it than on these dreamy Caribbean islands, especially as the sun is setting and the waterfront is lit with an incredible array of colours and light.
What brought you to the Florida Keys, and what made you stay?
The Quaker school I attended introduced me to the Keys. They thought the ocean might calm me down a bit! I fell in love right away – there’s still nothing quite like getting in the ocean at the end of the day. This is also a place where everyone has the best fun and gets along really well, and that’s a rare thing. Not to mention miles and miles of pristine beaches and the perennial sunshine you find here!
As a pro-kite surfer where should we go to find the best kite-surfing spots in the Keys?
For kite-surfing I highly recommend Smathers Beach in Key West, Sombrero Beach on Marathon or Anne's Beach on Islamorada for easterly winds; then on the northerly winter winds take out a boat and go to the Key West flats. I’ve been around the world for kite-surfing and, because of the shallow, warm waters, quality wind and masses of space within a beautiful marine sanctuary, I don’t think you’ll find a better backdrop for this exhilarating sport than the Florida Keys.
What other sports are the Keys great for? When you give yourself a day off, what do you like to do?
The list is endless, but the top activities are probably snorkelling, paddle boarding, spear-fishing, cycling, swimming and running along the gorgeous beaches. One thing is for sure, it’s impossible to get bored and you won’t tire of the stunning scenery. As for me, a typical day off would look like this: spear-fishing and kite-surfing in the morning, then cooking up a feast and enjoying some rum cocktails in the evening. There’s never a dull day here in the Florida Keys.
You mentioned that you’ve travelled around the world. What is it about the Florida Keys that makes it such a pleasure coming home?
When I’m flying back in, or driving home along the Overseas Highway and I have the brilliant blue seas around me, I always think the same thing: I’m coming home for even more fun. I love being a part of this great community, surrounded by the ocean and friendly faces.
Drawing on your experience as a chef and distiller, where do you recommend for an indulgent dinner and drink?
Don’t miss The Stoned Crab in Ibis Bay on Key West for the best seafood, lobster and of course crab, Roostica on Stock Island for amazing pizza, or for something a bit different, head to Thai Island down on Palm Avenue where you can expect delicious sushi and other Asian delicacies. For a drink, you can’t beat a glass of Key West Legal Rum over shaved ice with limes, cane sugar and a sunset. Mix it and then let the ice melt while watching the show.
Describe the Florida Keys in three words:
Unlimited lifestyle opportunities!