Folklore, films and widespread hearsay have given the FLORIDA KEYS – a hundred-mile chain of islands that runs to within ninety miles of Cuba – an image of glamorous intrigue they don’t really deserve; at least, not now that the go-go days of the cocaine cowboys in the 1980s are long gone. The Keys can more accurately be described as an outdoor-lover’s paradise, where fishing, snorkelling and diving dominate. Terrific untainted natural areas include the Florida Reef, a great band of living coral just a few miles off the coast. But for many, the various keys are only stops on the way to Key West. This self-proclaimed “Conch Republic” has vibrant, Caribbean-style streets with plenty of convivial bars in which to while away the hours, watching the spectacular sunsets.

Wherever you are on the Keys, you’ll experience distinctive cuisine, served for the most part in hip little shacks where the food is fresh and the atmosphere laidback. Conch, a rich meaty mollusc, is a speciality, served in chowders and fritters. There’s also key lime pie, a delicate, creamy concoction of special Key limes and condensed milk that bears little resemblance to the lurid green imposter pies served in the rest of the US.

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