Like parched women who had found an oasis, my sister and I happily embarked on a getaway to Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida. Weary with daily newsfeeds and life’s challenges, we hoped for a refreshing break. To our delight, the Henderson, tucked in the little-known northwest corner of the state on the Emerald Coast, proved to be a hidden jewel, embracing us with sunny skies and a touch of warm, friendly luxury.
The Henderson was the perfect place to rest and regroup. Instead of trying to balance needs and meet other people’s schedules, we had a three-day agenda to ponder the many lovely mysteries that the Henderson set before us: What single word best describes the exquisite white-quartz sand that stretches into the western horizon? (It’s finer than sugar, for sure.) Who would have guessed that a verbena leaf between dinner courses would clean the palate so beautifully? (A tiny piece of fruit from a Buddha’s hand citron plant, we learned firsthand, is just as delightful.) Would we choose a massage or a facial in the resort’s spa? (After much thought, the massage won out.)
When we weren’t chatting about these sunny topics, we immersed ourselves in the stunning nature surrounding us (and yes, there was an afternoon of immersion in the spa, as well). The Henderson, with 170 rooms and eight suites, and fronted by warm ocean waters and a private beach, enveloped us with opportunities to try new food, beautiful vistas, and a special focus on our personal wellness.
We enjoyed blocks of time doing nothing but sitting on our balcony, which faces the greenery of Henderson Beach State Park and with a slice of ocean to the side; walking the pristine beach; and sitting at one of the two spacious pools (one restricted to adults) with a blood orange margarita in hand and a lazy river beckoning.
The Henderson attracts a variety of guests: multi-generational families, wedding parties with couples who came to marry on the resort’s Grand Lawn, and women of all ages who had come for the Girlfriends Getaway package.
The spa offers several treatment rooms with private space for men and women. Wrapped in robes and awaiting a massage, we sat quietly in the Relaxation Room on velvet chaise lounges and drank in the views from the deep windows. Women around us sipped prickly pear champagne. (It was water for us, after a big night of food and wine.) My massage, given by Zoy in a quiet candlelit room, was a dreamy getaway in itself, quieting my mind and relaxing my tight muscles. Afterward, we happily took time in the steam room and jacuzzi.
Though it was built just five years ago, the Henderson has the elegance and comfort of a classic old resort, including a long hallway off the lobby which displays mesmerizing photographs of 1950s beach life in Destin. Owned by DiamondRock Hospitality and managed by Aimbridge Hospitality, the resort easily fulfills a variety of wish lists.
One evening, we were asked to join the Chef’s Table, a very special meal prepared by the Henderson’s executive chef Gary Palm. Palm prepared a five-course meal, featuring exquisitely assembled dishes and handpicked ingredients (some grown on site). Just as delightful is the setup of the table – a high-top, covered in a white cloth, in the kitchen itself. We watched, mesmerized, as Palm and his 10-person staff prepared our meals, including heirloom carrot soup with pickled ginger and a divine vanilla bean butter cake with an impossibly delicious flavor and texture.
Between courses, Palm presented us with five “mysteries,” piquant little tastes of foods that we were asked to identify. Even as much as we see ourselves as experienced foodies, we failed all five mysteries (one being asked to identify one lemon verbena leaf). The Chef’s Table is a limited offering but is very well worth the wait.
Our last night, we visited the rooftop bar for a drink and to see the sunset, one of the most beautiful I’ve witnessed. Early the next morning, bags packed and coffee in hand, we stood on the balcony, listening to birds chirping with their morning song, and watching the rising sun chase away puffball clouds and lighting a distant building with a golden glow. It was a purely sensory experience, the perfect farewell, and all the enticement we needed to make a promise: We will be back.