Villa Zorayda shines during St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights!

** 2012 Nights of Lights update: I’ve included all this year’s dates at the end of this post **

There’s something nostalgic about returning to a childhood memory.

Saturday night, Villa Zorayda surpassed those memories with the Candlelight Tour they offer during St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights.

We arrived a tad late- I grossly underestimated Nights of Lights traffic. Fortunately, parking for Villa Zorayda guests is always free and plentiful. A few cookies and other treats remained on the silver trays under the tent on the lawn and I sipped a glass of cranberry punch as the knowledgeable tour guide shared about the history of Villa Zorayda and the Alhambra Castle in Spain after which it was modeled.

Entering this St. Augustine National Register Historic Site by “candlelight” was one of my favorite moments of the evening.  Festive music played as we entered the darkened building wandering what lay ahead.  Lights shone on the tree in the Court of Lions and we enjoyed the peaceful moment taking in the Christmas lights and traditional creche (nativity scene).

Any visit to Villa Zorayda provides an interesting lesson in history, but the candlelight tours are special as they’re personally led by the docents- including the knowledgeable granddaughter of 2nd owners!!  (A typical visit would include a self-guided audio tour.)  I enjoyed the intimite knowledge Marcia and her husband have of the beautiful home.  I admired Moorish architecture, intricate traceries and 400 year old wall tiles from an Egyptian mosque.  Clearly, architect and builder Franklin Smith spared no expense when he built this “castle” in 1883- a gilded age in St. Augustine.

The tour is full of history- both regional and international. All fascinating, my favorite rooms in Villa Zorayda were the Prayer Room (Smith’s office) and the Harem Room because they’re furnished the way they would have been originally.  I wish more of the villa was set up as a home, but I’m not sure which of the fascinating collection I’d be willing to leave out to accomplish that!  Notable pieces include a 2,400 year old Egyptian rug made entirely of cat hair, intricate hand-carved Burmese Padouk furniture, and fun memorabilia of Zorayda Club days when it was used as a high-class Florida Casino.

I forgot to mention the lights were turned back on for the tour, in case you were wondering.

I went with a friend and was glad we didn’t try to go as a family.  Docents were friendly, but a 1 year old slipping under the rope to climb on valuable furniture or artwork wouldn’t have been a welcome addition to the evening!  The brochure recommends children over 3, and there is no charge for 4-6 year olds, but there is so much to take in (which equals a slow pace) that I was very happy to be there with adults only.

The personal stories and 125 years of history make this tour a neat addition to St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights!

Villa Zorayda Candlelight Tour
83 King Street * St. Augustine, FL

Adult admission $17
Children 7-12 $8

Free on-site parking! Arrive by 6:00 for Christmas cookies & punch, starts at 6:30 pm
2012 Candlelight Tours of Villa Zorayda
November 23, November 24, November 29 – No refreshments only $14 November 30th- No refreshments only $14
**December 1 – tour starts at 6pm refreshments 5:30 pm so guests can also enjoy the    British Nightwatch which begins at 8 pm.**
Following 3 dates no refreshments so only $14: December 3 – December 5 – December 11
Tours with refreshents: December 15       December 21       December 22       December 27       December 29       December 30
PLEASE call to make your reservation and to confirm dates/times!!

Daily Admission to Villa Zorayda, with self-guided tour
Adult $10, some discounts available- check their site to confirm hours and other prices
M-S 10:00 – 5:00, Sunday 11:00 – 4:00

** I received complimentary admission to Villa Zorayda’s Candlelight Tour.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own. **

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