By far the top attraction here, this 66-acre site is where showman and circus legend John Ringling and his wife, Mable, collected art and built a house on a grand scale. Now under the aegis of Florida State University, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the state's official art museum. It's filled with more than 500 years of European and American works, including one of the world's most important collections of 17th-century baroque paintings, collections of decorative arts, and traveling exhibits. The Old Masters collection includes five renowned tapestry cartoons by Peter Paul Rubens.
Built in 1924 and 1925 at a cost of $1.5 million and modeled after a Venetian palace, the Ringlings' 32-room palatial bayfront, four-story winter residence, Ca'd'Zan ("House of John" in the Venetian dialect), has been recently restored. An 8,000-square-foot terrace leads down to the dock at which Mable Ringling moored her Venetian gondola. Don't miss a tour of this house to see the period furniture and stunning architecture and artwork; in fact, I'd make it the first stop on your Ringling itinerary.
The Ringling Museum of the Circus is devoted to circus memorabilia (which is, in a way, more fascinating than the circus itself), including parade wagons, calliopes, costumes, and colorful posters. The grounds include a classical courtyard, a rose garden, a museum shop, and the historic Asolo Theater, a 19th-century Italian court playhouse, which the Ringlings moved here in the 1950s. It's now the centerpiece of the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. If you're hungry, check out the museum's on-site restaurant, Treviso, an elegant lunch-only spot serving fine Italian fare from 11am to 4pm. You can dine inside or, better yet, outside overlooking the Ringling's pristine grounds. A museum admission ticket isn't required to dine in the restaurant. You'll need most of a day to see everything here.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010