Linda Rydson’s roots run deep. Her great-grandfather built a home in Melbourne in 1906. Growing up near Baltimore, her family visited the place several times a year.
“We would often spend the day at Ocean Park Beach,” recalled Rydson, a resident of Melbourne Beach for 30 years. “I knew that historic house on the bend and was always intrigued by it.”
Back in May 2003, a realtor friend alerted Linda and her husband Mike that the legendary “Pinky Brown House” was going on the market. They met with owners George and Cheryl Schmidt and fell in love with the original sand chimney, fireplace, French doors, longleaf pine floors, exposed beams, and a courtyard that features a coquina fountain, all paying homage to the beach town’s eclectic history.
“The floors were uneven, one side of the home raised about four inches above the other,” recalled Mike Rydson, a former mechanical engineer at Harris Corporation. “Linda thought it was sort of quaint, but I thought if people have two glasses of wine they would tip right over.”
Much of Melbourne Beach suffered destruction at the hands of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004. Constructed of sturdy cypress beams, Port d’Hiver escaped unscathed.
“After the hurricanes developers were circling looking to buy, knock it down and put up condos,” said Mike, a native of Elkhart, Indiana. “We didn’t think like that. We wanted to retain the home’s heritage. We just needed a game plan to make that happen.”
The mystique of the main house fostered a new vision: a luxurious bed and breakfast. Once a zoning variance was granted by the Melbourne Beach Town Commission, the couple headed up to Amelia Island to attend a weekend inn-keeping seminar. The classes provided a systematic process for future innkeepers in the areas of personal, financial, operational, and marketing realities of owning and operating a successful inn.
With the help of local Melbourne Beach artisans and tradesmen, the couple spent the next few years returning the residence as closely as possible to Walter Brown’s 1920’s home. Port d’Hiver (Port of Winter) officially opened in 2007.
A retreat that is both comfortable and elegant, the B&B offers ten bright, spacious accommodations each uniquely decorated with a tropical Key West/British Colonial flair. The Sunrise room in the north cabana offers fabulous ocean views and a mahogany four poster bed along with a private balcony for cocktails or just relaxing with a good book. Handcrafted Peter Reed British linens made from the finest Egyptian cotton percale add to the luxurious experience.
Rooms are spread out over four houses, including seven stylish and spacious Cabana Rooms, two historically lovely main house rooms and the out-of-the-way, large and airy Carriage House Suite. Staircases spill down to the central courtyard with a bubbling spa pool fringed with palm trees and flowering bougainvillea. A gourmet breakfast is served on your private patio, outside in the garden courtyard or in the dining room. Healthy snacks are available throughout the day with hors d’oeuvres and wine at a complimentary happy hour. Bicycles are also provided as are beach essentials. There is Internet service throughout, a flat-screen TV and mini-fridge in the rooms.
Port d’Hiver boasts a 70 percent year-round occupancy rate, well above the industry average of 42 percent. The typical guest ranges from age 30 to 50 with many repeaters. The place is full – and rates highest – from Valentine’s Day through April. The rates range from $199 to $519 a night depending on the room and time of year.
This year Port D’ Hiver is ranked as the #3 small hotel in the country by Trip Advisor. It has been named a Top Ten Inn around the world for providing the best travel experience, hospitality, and customer service by Bedandbreakfast.com, the largest global bed and breakfast directory with more than 13,000 properties listed. Distinguished Inns of North America salutes Port d’Hiver as the only AAA Four Diamond accommodation in Brevard County, and one of the best romantic Florida getaways.
“We like making people happy,” Linda related. “We have a wonderful relationship with our guests.”
On the day I visited, Ann Marie and Matthew from Rhode Island were checking out after a three night stay and keeping an eye on a raging blizzard back home. They booked their stay through Distinguished Inns of North America’s Select Registry.
“A fabulous experience, they’ve thought of everything, ” Ann Marie said. “The attention to detail, the staff are friendly and very attentive. There are number of thoughtful amenities. Truly, a romantic Florida getaway.”
Past reincarnations of the main house have ranged from an antique shop to a Florida Tech frat house. It’s also known as the “Walter Brown House.” Brown was a cavalry instructor for the Kentucky Military Institute which had its winter campus in Eau Gallie. Brown purchased the sturdy cypress house across from Melbourne Beach’s casino in 1925. His wife Ella Belle, who went to school at the Sorbonne in Paris, named it “Port d’ Hiver.” It soon became their full-time residence.
Shortly after the Rydsons purchased the property in 2003, they met with the original homeowner’s granddaughter Mimsy Brown who shared family photos and documents, many of which now hang in the B&B’s guest and sun rooms.
Port d’Hiver is a family affair. The couple’s three daughters have all worked at the B&B, including Jade, the current manager. All employees are local. The Rydsons live in a house just around the corner.
“Melbourne Beach is a wonderful place to raise a family,” Linda said. “Kids can ride their bikes to school, to church, to the market, over to soccer practice. Everybody knows each other. All of our neighbors pulled together to make our B&B a special destination.”
Craftsman and neighbor Jim Noble built the wooden hand rail on the round fountain stairs at the south cabana building. The Rydsons used the original wall colors both inside and out, and found a company in Texas who had the correct mold to recreate the Passion Flower ironwork for the porches. They scoured antique stores throughout New England to find the perfect furniture, including a 300 year-old French wedding armoire and a French provincial writing desk from the 1700s.
“During the renovation we drew upon state-of-the-art elements like Pella doors with built-in plantation shutters, ” Mike explained, “but we also incorporated antiques such as the 300-year-old beams we salvaged from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and the brick reclaimed from old Chicago buildings.”
A local treasure, Port d’ Hiver combines a timeless feel, personal attention and a touch of poetry.
“Operating a B&B is a lifestyle, not a job,” Linda observed. “We get to meet people from all over the world in a personal way. Every day is a new adventure.”
photos courtesy of Port D’Hiver Inn