When Naples Illustrated shot the September cover story “Leading with Heart” at Hotel Escalante, it was déjà vu for Mary Brandt.
Not long after Brandt purchased Hotel Escalante in 2004, she graciously invited NI to shoot a fashion spread on the property—and it was, in typical NI fashion, innovative and memorable. “I remember there was snow everywhere,” she says. “The models were in what I call the rotunda area, where the courtyard is.”
Brandt had discovered Naples on a development trip as a health care executive when she was pregnant with her first daughter. The job had taken her around the world, from France and Italy to Napa Valley and New Orleans, but she was struck by the beauty of the property, talked to the owner, and it soon came up for sale. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is beautiful. This is what would make me move to Naples.’ It’s the prettiest spot I’ve seen,” she recalls. She originally went in with a business partner but has been the sole owner for seven years.
She remodeled the 11-bungalow hotel, keeping the footprint and preserving distinctive Mediterranean architectural features while making each room unique: Asian Zen, New York contemporary, vintage antiques. Each is punctuated with one of her favorite interior accents. “I love chandeliers. Every room has a different sort of chandelier. I even move them around,” she says. “It can make a room.”
She also pressed her green thumb into action throughout, from the certified botanical garden to two massive herb and vegetable gardens for growing organic ingredients for the onsite Veranda E’s Asian-inspired, French-influenced dishes prepared by the executive chef. One is a typical, 3,000-square-foot veggie garden; the other is a copious aeroponic, vertically terraced garden tower that she personally tends.
Because of the courtyard hotel’s small size—with bungalows and suites featuring French doors leading to verdant patios–Brandt remained open this year, hosting healthy seniors during pandemic stay-at-home orders. “We made it a safe haven for seniors who wanted to isolate without feeling alone. We made it as personal as possible, and brought food to their patio,” she says. “They wanted five-star service while feeling safe and comfortable.”
The hotel’s enviable location at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South is surrounded by shopping, dining, galleries, and cultural amenities, and a stone’s throw from white-sand beaches and the Naples Pier. As a result, bike rentals are available.
The hotel’s name pays homage to the only European—Hernando D’Escalante Fontaneda—a Spanish shipwreck survivor who lived with the indigenous Calusa natives in the 16th century. Fontaneda’s memoirs provided critical details about the daily life of the Calusa, who disappeared from Southwest Florida 300 years ago. He also spearheaded the building of a canal from the Gulf of Mexico to Naples Bay to shorten travel time on their canoes. It later became destroyed by development with segments buried under Old Naples, but in recent years, interpretative markers have been erected to educate the public about the “Calusa Canal.”
Imagine Fontaneda’s reaction if he time-traveled to the boutique hotel today, and saw the property featuring a bakery, lap pool, outdoor hot tub, and fitness center—named in his honor.