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The natural splendour of Naples Botanical Garden (001 2;; admission .95/£8.60) is found on Bayshore Drive, now fresh from a huge renovation.

If you need any further convincing to visit, bear in mind that the average temperature on this stretch of coast is 29C – and the region revels in 360 days of sunshine each year. Ringling-a-bling Florida has a secret back-story: the circus, thanks to John and Mable Ringling.

The region falls into five main areas, each offering its own take on the sybaritic seaside vibe, plus some surprisingly cosmopolitan touches.

Starting in the north, there is the stretch known as "Florida's Beach" for its sheer family-friendly style.

In 1929, John Ringling was estimated to be one of the richest men in the world, although he lost much of his investments in the Great Depression and died in 1936 with only 1 in the bank.

Today, the Ringling Estate, pictured (001 9;; /£16.60), on Bay Shore Road is a 66-acre spread of gardens, plus an 18th-century theatre (brought over lock, stock and barrel from Asolo, Italy), two circus museums and a museum of art, stuffed full of priceless Old Masters housed in a replica of Florence's Uffizi Palace.

If nothing else, you should find enough seashells to start a sizeable collection, including examples of conch, a common sea snail in these parts.The J N "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of Florida's foremost nature preserves (001 2;; admission /£3.30 per vehicle).The beaches also have an array of fine-dining opportunities the equal of anything in the more high-profile cities, notably the new American cuisine of the beachfront Mad Hatter (madhatterrestaurant.Given that Florida's first "tourist" arrived in 1513, it took a long time for the state's Gulf Coast to draw any serious attention – almost 400 years, in fact.But then the 16th-century Spanish adventurer Juan Ponce de León was in search of the Fountain of Youth, not great beaches.

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