ZOTA BEACH RESORT ON LONGBOAT KEYis the vacation equivalent to sliding into a brand-new sports car and firing up that purring engine for the first time. Everything is perfectly tuned to make for an unforgettable experience, and it all begins with an ideal first-impression. 

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

AERIAL OF THE ZOTA BEACH RESORT.

uge glass windows reveal the pool and the tantalizing view of the ocean and beach (that’s why you came after all, right?). A massive, circular sofa makes for an excellent place to gather your troops.

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

SCALLOPS AT THE ZOTA BEACH RESORT'S VIENTO KITCHEN+BAR. PHOTO BY WES ROBERTS.

The architects and artists that put the Zota experience together were inspired when they developed the sculpture and fountain that adorn the lobby and the space exterior to the entrance. It’s a subtle effect, but wonderful, that the fountain and ornamental pool outside the windows appear to flow under the walls and into the lobby. These touches don’t make or break a vacation but they do let you know that no detail has escaped consideration.

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

AT THE POOL AT ZOTA BEACH RESORT.

A complete renovation, including a new building and completely reimagined lobby and common spaces, has transformed the stately former Longboat Key Hilton into a resort that is ahead of its time. When you enter the amazing foyer, it seems reasonable to assume that this is the new template for a welcoming entrance space. The renovations have brought the entire hotel up to a thoroughly current level, but I would encourage readers to call ahead and see if you can secure a room in the new building. The rooms run diagonally to the center line of the building, and the result is that every room feels like it has a directly-on-the-beach private view of the ocean and a balcony all your own.

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

STORYTELLING BY THE FIREPIT AT ZOTA BEACH RESORT. PHOTO BY WES ROBERTS.

Designers have handily matched the room to a more modern traveler’s needs. It’s nice to be in a space that was designed with the flat screen TV, USB chargers and other details as part of the design, rather than as the obvious add-ons that one sees in hotels that are trying to stay current with an older layout. I also loved the nautical touches in our room—the colors were calming blues and greens, and a couple of cute porthole mirrors gave the illusion of even more space. But of course, a traveler doesn’t come to Longboat Key to stay in their room! The beach is perfection. Silky, white sand that is soft on your toes and gentle Gulf waters will draw you to the beach. The resort maintains a squadron of comfortable loungers. We sat in them the first evening to watch as the sun prepared to set. Gulls circled, gentle waves kissed the sand and, from a discreet distance, we enjoyed a beach wedding that was taking place at the resort during our stay.

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

CREME BRULéE AT THE VIENTO KITCHEN+BAR AT ZOTA BEACH RESORT. PHOTO BY WES ROBERTS.

The Zota is not a sprawling campus like some properties. It is centered on the long pool deck and the view of the ocean. The workout facilities, the breakfast areas and the pool bar all offer variant views of this lovely central space. The atmosphere is one of restrained luxury. I noted in the foyer that people arrived at the resort well-dressed rather than travel-rumpled, and when you toured the sundeck there were real, honest-to-goodness paper books being read everywhere instead of iPads. Maybe something about the classy space encouraged people to return to the comfortable reality of a “real” book.

Chocolate Cake at Viento Kitchen+Bar. Photo by Wes Roberts.

SPECIAL HOUSE PATé AT MAISON BLANCHE. PHOTO BY WES ROBERTS.

Even the conversation I ended up in with a lovely Canadian family in the enormous, oversized, beach-front hot tub wandered quickly into unusually intellectual areas—in particular about issues of free speech and education policies; hot topics in Canada at the moment. Although maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the hotel reserves a precious front-and-center position for an oversized chess board with enormous pieces.

When traveling I find that connecting with people makes everything richer—and the guests of the Zota were consistently interesting. A garrulous character on the beach turned out to be a TV producer, with an impressive string of successful shows whose names I knew. And a late night gathering of laughing and happy guests was revealed to be a semi-secret conclave of published authors of a particular genre. They knew each other from writer’s conventions and had come to the Zota to enjoy each other’s company without the constant interruption of their various fans. I was honored to be the only interloper as they sat about the long fireplace outside, singing songs and comparing “editor stories.”

The Cascades Pool Bar makes for a friendly place to imbibe, from day through night. Alongside the pool, on the bottom floor of the newest building are a series of bungalows that they call the Zen Lounges. These spaces are special and deserve their branding.

Many hotel poolside bungalows amount to little more than a couple of wicker walls. Not the Zen Lounges. Better equipped than some apartments, the lounges boast real furniture, refrigerators, big screen TVs and just about every creature comfort one could want. It’s the next best thing to actually having your room open up onto the pool and beach, and it’s even better, perhaps, because your room is upstairs, comfy and private. Space is limited, so reserve your bungalow when you reserve your room.

Longboat Key and Sarasota are both known for their excellent dining options and two of the best on the west coast of Florida are just up the island; Beach Bistro and Maison Blanche run away with awards year after year. But excellent food is found even closer at the Zota. The Viento Kitchen + Bar demonstrates that it can keep pace with the best of them, thanks to Executive Chef Jason Pellett.

The culinary style is self-termed “Floribbean”—combining Florida, Caribbean, and Mediterranean flavors. We loved the shrimp and polenta and the tamale cake off the tapas menu, and then fell in love with the Charcuterie board off the appetizer menu. It was a pleasure to combine the meats and cheeses, willy-nilly, with the grass-fed carpaccio, which we also ordered. By the time the main course arrived we were already stuffed—and it is only because thes seared sea scallops on ratatouille and the grilled filet were both perfect that we were able persevere and eat it all. And as far as dessert, both the VKB creme brûlée (it comes in an adorable glass jar) and the espresso gelato were amazing. I have never had anything quite like the “Zota Nog” off the dessert cocktail menu. It includes Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Rumchata, Bailey’s Irish cream, Godiva White Chocolate and Amaretto, but now I wonder where has this delight been my whole life!

The Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key is a restorative respite from the travails of daily life. Whether you need a vacation right now or not (you probably do), the Zota is calling, and purring—summoning you to re-find yourself in its generous comfort.