A Disney-perfect pink tower sculpted with blossoms as well as birds stands among lavish Florida plant. The scene is shown in a lily fish pond at the base of the tower, where koi flit under the surface area. While you won’t locate a princess on top of the framework, voice raised in track, the tower has something probably much more wonderful: 60 unified bells. As well as it’s bordered by a 250-acre paradise with such extravagant views as a fairy town, underground chamber, as well as secret yard.
Among Florida’s earliest traveler destinations, Bok Tower opened up in 1929. This noted completion of a years that saw a substantial land boom in the state, as waves of vacationers rolled in with their brand-new vehicles, looking for sunlight as well as enjoyment. The 205-foot Vocal Singing Tower was an immediate hit, commemorated on whatever from grain boxes to playing cards, a few of which you can still see today in the destination’s exhibition hall.
The tower’s lavish setup included in its allure. Its yards were developed by renowned landscape engineer Frederick Regulation Olmsted Jr., recognized for style tasks like Biltmore as well as the Jefferson Memorial (occasionally functioning together with his popular papa). The tower’s prime place atop Iron Hill provided sweeping sights over citrus groves as well as a close-by nature protect.
However unlike various other roadside tourist attractions of the age—a springtime with mermaids, an island with apes, as well as the claimed Eternal youth, among others—Bok Tower wasn’t meant to be industrial. Edward Bok, that’d immigrated from the Netherlands and done rather well for himself in the States, created it as a gift—“a place of quiet and repose for the electronically-driven people of America,” he’d called it with uncanny foresight for the 1920s. As such, both tower and gardens had a higher purpose than mere money.
“Both were erected and laid out solely and singly to express the gospel of beauty: to open our eyes and awaken our senses to the beautiful,” Bok explained in a letter to President Calvin Coolidge. “What more can the heart ask for than is here? Beauty, beauty, beauty—everywhere and on all sides.”
That purpose seems pretty evident even if you’re not digging through Bok’s archival letters. An arch above a flower-filled courtyard at the entrance proclaims his mantra, “Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” The tower—ringed by a moat and rising above the trees—looks every bit the storybook structure, the surrounding gardens dotted by showy pink and yellow blooms.
In most cases, a bell tower is just a bell tower. Bok Tower houses carillon bells, a type of bells played via keys by a carillonneur—and according to Geert D’hollander, the garden’s full-time carillonneur, it’s particularly special. D’hollander would certainly know; he estimates he’s played more than two thirds of the 600 or so carillons in the world.
“After I graduated from the Royal Carillon School at 17, my father asked if I wanted to see the most beautiful carillon in the world,” D’hollander recalls. “And he flew me from Brussels, Belgium, to Bok Tower. I’ve never seen a more beautiful tower than this one.”
Made of pink marble and gray coquina, the tower blends Art Deco and neo-Gothic styles. It features herons at the top instead of gargoyles, tile mosaics in the windows instead of stained glass, and is sculpted all over with wildlife—swans, seahorses, foxes, flamingos, you name it. At the base, a luminous brass door depicts the creation of Eden. But the tower is more than just a pretty face. Size matters when it comes to carillons—and Bok Tower has some of the biggest bells around, heavier than Florida’s three other carillons combined.
“The heaviest bell is 12 tons, and it produces a very rich, warm sound. That’s what you want,” D’hollander says. “This carillon is comparable to an orchestra. You can play Bach, Mozart, Lady Gaga, and everything in between.”
And he sure does. Daily concerts gleefully cross genres, swapping between classical, jazz, folk, and the Beatles. The lawn behind the tower has primo seating—benches, if you’re into that sort of thing, or a patch of grass under a Southern oak—so you can daydream as you gaze at the clouds while listening to the melodious hum of the bells.
As for the gardens, well, they’re at their most spectacular in spring when thousands of azaleas and camellias bloom, but they’re colorful year-round thanks to winter temps that seldom dip below 50. And they’re as fanciful as you please. Care to sit in a giant bird’s nest, write poetry with stones, or dance in a fairy ring of palm trees? Each corner has something you had actually be sad to overlook.
For example, you might be tempted to skip Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden if you’re this side of 12, but then you’d miss out on its fairy trail, music tree, cypress boardwalk, as well as mini limestone caves. On the western edge of the gardens, discover El Retiro, a 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion. You can tour its interior, but the lavish grounds steal the show. Look for the frog fountain at the entrance as well as a moon gate said to guard against evil spirits.
Further afield, Window by the Pond (which is exactly what it sounds like) is often deserted, save for the birds. Bok Tower doubles as a bird sanctuary, home to more than 100 species. There’s also an Endangered Plant Garden, Wild Garden, Pollinator Garden, Edible Garden, as well as a 1.5-mile trail through a longleaf pine forest, providing varied landscapes for visitors to explore.
Bok Tower Gardens may not actually be enchanted, but it can be hard to remember that during your visit to this whimsical place. One can hardly be blamed for expecting its woodland creatures (mainly gopher tortoises as well as squirrels) to talk, as well as admittedly the songbirds should have plenty to say. But that sunlight glittering through the trees? Well, it’s the next best thing to pixie dust.