10 bonnes raisons de séjourner dans les Keys, Floride

L’extrémité sud de la Floride est vraiment un monde à part des États-Unis. En 1982, la ville de Key West, faisant partie de l’archipel des Keys (mot venant de l’espagnol cayos, signifiant îlots), s’est même autoproclamée indépendante sous l’appellation de République conche (nom d’un coquillage). Outre le climat hivernal très agréable (plus de 20 °C), il y a vraiment une ambiance spéciale, dans les Keys. Un grand nombre d’artistes et d’écrivains – dont l’auteur québécois Michel Tremblay – y ont élu domicile, en particulier à Key West. On sent la créativité dans l’air. En font foi les nombreuses boutiques et galeries d’art, les décorations hétéroclites des plus imaginatives et les spectacles de tous genres – drag queens colorées en tête de liste!
Voici 10 attraits incontournables parmi tant d’autres!

1. Maison d’Ernest Hemingway à Key West
Un des attraits touristiques les plus fréquentés est sans contredit la maison où a vécu Ernest Hemingway pendant huit ans (1931-1939). Même si on n’est pas féru de littérature américaine, on a tous entendu parler de l’œuvre Le vieil homme et la mer, si on ne l’a pas carrément lu à l’école. Eh bien, la visite est passionnante. Si on comprend bien l’anglais, le tour guidé est vraiment intéressant. Sinon, on nous remet un feuillet en français pour qu’on puisse se repérer dans chacune des pièces, jusqu’à la piscine extérieure. On apprend beaucoup sur l’auteur qui remporta un prix Nobel de littérature, sur ses relations personnelles (il se maria quatre fois et eu trois fils), sur sa passion pour les chats, dont on rencontre les descendants polydactyles – à six griffes! – un peu partout sur les meubles et dans les jardins, et bien sûr sur ses œuvres, toutes inspirées de lieux et de gens qu’il a connus durant sa vie. http://www.hemingwayhome.com/

2. Musée des trésors de naufrages à Key West
La maison d’Hemingway appartenait auparavant à Asa Tift (dès 1851), un riche marchand personnifié dans une animation au Musée des trésors de naufrages (Shipwreck Treasure Museum). La visite de ce musée nous apprend pourquoi Key West était devenue au 19e siècle la ville la plus riche per capita des Etats-Unis. Le curieux métier de «naufrageur» (wrecker) a permis à des spécialistes des sauvetages de bateaux accidentés – au moins un par semaine coulait, heurté par les récifs au large de l’île – de garder une partie de la marchandise et de la vendre aux enchères, le pourcentage étant même réglementé. Une forme de pillage d’épave légal, en reconnaissance pour les vies humaines sauvées! Les naufrageurs tels Asa Tift ont fait leur fortune comme «sauveteurs-encanteurs». On raconte que certains provoquaient des accidents en dirigeant les bateaux vers des récifs à l’aide de lanternes… Ce Musée dévoile tout un monde de piraterie et ses trésors. https://www.keywestshipwreck.com/

3. Maison Audubon à Key West
Un autre naufrageur, le riche marchand John H. Geiger, a fait construire une immense maison pour sa famille de 12 enfants, entre 1846 et 1849. La légende raconte que Jean-Jacques Audubon, peintre naturaliste d’origine française, a utilisé une branche d’un arbre sur le terrain de la future résidence des Geiger, en 1832, quand il est venu recenser et peindre 22 oiseaux typiques de la Floride, ce qui explique que cette résidence a toujours porté son nom.

On visite la Maison Audubon (Audubon Home & Tropical Gardens) d’abord pour ses belles pièces richement décorées (on se rappelle que les naufrageurs avaient pigé dans les trésors des épaves), mais aussi parce qu’elle possède des œuvres originales d’Audubon et une galerie d’art vendant des lithographies des magnifiques oiseaux de ce peintre appelé ici John James (traduction de Jean-Jacques). Autour de la maison, il est agréable de déambuler dans ses jardins tropicaux aux plantes importées des quatre coins de la planète. http://audubonhouse.com/

3. La tarte à la lime des Keys
Vous remarquerez la multitude de restaurants servant, outre leurs spécialités, la fameuse Key lime pie, tarte à base de lime jaune des Keys, et non de lime verte (dite de Perse). Dans les Keys, on évite de parler politique, mais on a de chaudes discussions sur la «vraie» tarte, les deux clans s’opposant sur la version avec meringue et celle avec crème fouettée. Jusqu’à présent, les derniers sont en majorité, mais les tenants de la meringue brandissent l’argument que la confection des pics est un art qui nécessite un savoir-faire que maîtrisent seulement les vrais pâtissiers. Plusieurs ne jurent que pour la tarte à la lime meringuée de Theresa T Paturno du restaurant Blue Heaven, à Key West, dont le chef depuis 1994 est un Montréalais, Guillaume Pailloux. De son côté, Kermit Carpenter, des boutiques Key Lime Shop, s’est basé sur la recette de sa grand-mère pour confectionner sa tarte à la lime avec de la crème fouettée. Doté d’un grand sens des affaires, il a dérivé le jus de lime en 125 produits, des savons aux bonbons, en passant par les vinaigrettes et les excellentes boules de pâte à tarte à la lime trempées dans le chocolat.

http://www.blueheavenkw.com/

4. Croisière dans le détroit de la Floride
Les Keys sont évidemment entourés d’eau. Une des croisières à faire est celle proposée par l’entreprise de croisière Danger Charters sur le voilier Danger’s Prize au coucher de soleil dans le détroit de la Floride à Key West. La thématique «vin et fromage» agrémente la balade tandis que le ciel se pare de teintes de jaune, ocre, orange, rouge, violet… Magique (et délicieux)!

Road trip de Key West à Miami !
Les prochains attraits se découvrent du sud au nord de l’archipel des Keys. De Key West à Miami, on compte 270,56 km par la route (215,65 km à vol d’oiseau). On traverse les Keys du sud-ouest (les Lower Keys, qui comprennent entre autres îles Key West, Big Pine Key et Bahia Honda) au nord-est (les Upper Keys, dont Key Largo), en passant par les Middle Keys (notamment la ville de Marathon répartie sur plusieurs îles).

5. Kayak à Big Pine Key
Bill Keogh de Big Pine Kayak Adventures propose de chouettes excursions en kayak à Big Pine Key, avec sa chienne Scooper, telle une figure de proue, au moment de notre séjour. Nous sommes littéralement entrés dans un enchevêtrement de racines aériennes, au cœur de la mangrove floridienne. On dirait qu’on fait du limbo en se penchant sous les branches tout en restant assis dans nos kayaks. Ouf, on ne chavire pas! Pas de danger, il n’y a pas de crocodiles ici! Big Pine Kayak Adventures : www.keyskayaktours.com

6. Parc d’État Bahia Honda à Bahia Honda Key
Ce parc est un des beaux endroits aux Keys pour la plage, la plongée sous-marine, la pêche, le vélo et la randonnée pédestre. On peut marcher sur un tronçon de l’ancien pont ferroviaire de Bahia Honda, construit entre 1905 et 1912, mais détruit par un ouragan en 1935. www.bahiahondapark.com

7. Hôpital des tortues à Marathon
Le Turtle Hospital, un hôpital de tortues marines ouvert en 1986, sensibilise le public aux maladies ou blessures de ces animaux souvent causées par l’humain, par exemple des tumeurs cancéreuses, en raison de la pollution des eaux, ou encore le syndrome Bubble Butt. Les tortues de mer frappées par des bateaux ou autre obstacle au moment où elles remontaient à la surface pour respirer se sont retrouvées à inhaler beaucoup trop d’air d’un coup et celui-ci reste dans leur corps, au niveau postérieur. Elles se retrouvent donc à flotter dangereusement, le derrière (butt) surélevé car rempli de bulles d’air (bubble), sans pouvoir replonger en profondeur. On ne sait pas comment retirer l’air, alors la solution trouvée est de souder des plaques de métal sur la carapace des tortues atteintes de ce syndrome pour abaisser leur arrière-train, afin qu’elles puissent nager et plonger normalement. Une visite fascinante! www.turtlehospital.org

8. Expériences de contact à l’Aquarium de Marathon
L’attraction Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters (rencontres à l’aquarium), propose des expériences pour interagir avec plusieurs types d’animaux marins, dont des raies qu’on peut toucher, dans des bassins où l’on entre en combinaison de plongée, en compagnie un(e) biologiste. www.floridakeysaquariumencounters.com

9. Balade à bord de l’African Queen à Key Largo
Pour les amateurs de cinéma américain des années 1950, faire une balade à bord de l’authentique bateau à vapeur centenaire, l’African Queen, plaira aux nostalgiques. Ça leur rappellera le film de John Huston, L’Odyssée de l’African Queen (1951), dans lequel jouaient les séduisants acteurs Humphrey Bogart et Katharine Hepburn. L’excursion dans le port de Key Largo, à environ 10 km à l’heure, donne le temps d’admirer les belles maisons et les énormes bateaux de pêche! www.africanqueenflkeys.com

10. Hébergement dans deux parcs Encore RV
La dixième raison et non la moindre, c’est la possibilité de séjourner dans 2 des 40 parcs Encore RV de la Floride situés dans les Keys. Ces deux parcs accueillent non seulement les campeurs, mais aussi les vacanciers louant des caravanes (camping trailers), de petits chalets (cottages ou cabanas) ou des chambres de motel, à la journée, à la semaine, au mois ou même toute une saison. Les animaux de compagnie sont les bienvenus.
• Fiesta Key RV Resort & Marina à Long Key
Le parc Fiesta Key est localisé non loin du Long Key State Park et du Dolphin Research Center, avec la plage Anne’s Beach au bout de la rue. On trouve un spa, une piscine, un pavillon de loisir (clubhouse) récemment rénové (ajout d’une table de ping pong, notamment), une boutique d’appâts pour la pêche et une pompe à essence pour les bateaux, un dépanneur et un restaurant sur le site.
• Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina sur l’îlot d’Ohio Key, à Big Pine Key
Ce parc attenant à une marina est l’endroit idéal pour les activités maritimes, dont la pêche. À moins de 2 km, le Bahia Honda State Park a gagné des prix pour sa plage extraordinaire réputée pour ses couchers de soleil sur le golfe du Mexique. Sunshine Key a une piscine et plusieurs équipements sportifs, avec un pavillon de loisir (clubhouse). Il a rénové ses terrains de tennis, de basketball et de volleyball (nouvelle surface de sable).
https://www.rvonthego.com/florida-keys-key-west-rv-resorts

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