100-year-old boutique hotel reopens on historic property with Harvest & Wisdom restaurant
By D.K. Christi
Seeking Shangri-La is a quest often credited to English author James Hilton’s novel describing a mystical utopia, isolated from the world, where the residents live exceptionally long and happy lives. Southwest Florida has its own Shangri-La.
Built in 1921 in the heart of Bonita Springs, Shangri-La Springs is once again open to overnight guests as a boutique hotel. It also offers an organic spa, an organic garden-to-table restaurant and exquisite grounds for weddings and other events.
Originally named the Heitman Hotel, the property has had several owners and name changes over the last century. The current owner, Hana Lama Land Trust, purchased the landmark property to save it from developers and retain its Old Florida ambiance—spread over eight acres—including more than four acres of certified organic gardens tended by four gardeners.
“We expect over 5,000-to-8,000 pounds of mangos to ripen this year and be available for purchase by the public,” shared Lee Bellamy, general manager for the past five years.
The gardens provide organic produce for Harvest and Wisdom restaurant, which is open Tuesday through Saturday for brunch (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.). Indoor and outdoor patio dining in a serene garden environment with water fountains and a giant Mysore fig canopy provide Old Florida ambiance. The food is fresh and wholesome with a gourmet touch.
Shangri-La Springs hotel rises above a discreet fence surrounding the grounds, which includes the natural spring for which Bonita Springs was named. Oak Creek meanders through the property, and two giant Mysore fig trees tower over what has been described as a sanctuary—even as spiritual grounds—a place of natural healing.
“Shangri-La Springs is recognized for having the largest Mysore fig tree in the state, earning the title of Champion Tree by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,” said Bellamy, noting the property’s other impressive fig is deemed a “challenger tree.”
Their enormous canopies provide shade for outdoor yoga classes, connecting the old with the new.
Reprise of a 100-Year-Old Hotel
The boutique hotel is now back after a 27-year hiatus. Following the resort’s heyday as a health retreat, beginning in 1964, Shangri-La Springs’ most recent years have not included hotel guests. The main offerings have been organic spa services, special events, a vast organic garden and an intermittently open restaurant. The property has also gained recognition as a picturesque wedding venue.
Bellamy, formerly with Hilton Hotels, has taken Shangri-La Springs to the modern century without losing historical context. Six king standard rooms located cross from the spa feature individual patios off the courtyard. Two suites in the main hotel consist of combined rooms providing more spacious accommodations. Complete modern amenities are included for all guests, including breakfast.
Since opening, the hotel is often at 100-percent occupancy. Recent guests on a business trip said their three-day stay exceeded expectations, and the best part was the peace and quiet.
“Renovations to a 100–year–old hotel are full of surprises with each step of the way,” Bellamy said of the hotel’s lengthy reopening process, which involved cutting through century-old plaster for electrical and plumbing upgrades to bring the hotel up to modern building codes.
The renovation started before Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. That setback was followed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic that closed Harvest and Wisdom restaurant for over a year.
“The silver lining was the time available to renovate without disrupting services,” Bellamy said.
Pandemic precautions had a positive impact on one activity. Many couples were desperately searching for an outdoor wedding venue. Shangri-La Springs offers abundant natural beauty with courtyards for gathering and dancing, grand staircases, garden patios and walkways through flowered canopies along the creek and spring. Indoor spaces accommodate small groups up to 400 people.
Aesthetics and a storied past now combine with modern conveniences.
“While we don’t currently cater the weddings, this exciting venue may lead to catering in the future,” added Bellamy. “With the opening of the guest rooms, it is even more convenient for couples and their guests.”
Manuel and Julia Scheider, on vacation from Germany, had an unexpected late–May wedding under the gazebo in the Shangri-La Springs gardens. Their twins were born two months early, forcing the couple’s wedding plans in Germany to be canceled as they stayed at Ronald McDonald House awaiting the babies’ readiness to go home. Bellamy, who serves on the Ronald McDonald House board, led an all-volunteer team that planned—and paid for— the wedding.
“The wonder of the event is the volunteers stepping forward to gift all the wedding grandeur details from food to flowers,” he said.
Mr. and Mrs. Scheider will always remember the Southwest Florida community that gave them a wedding in the name of love at Shangri-La.
Enchanting History Meets Modern Tastes
Shangri-La’s history as a Spartan fasting and health spa retreat holds many stories of remarkable health gains. Guests from the 1960s through the 1980s often stayed all winter to enjoy the benefits of organic dining, wellness lectures and classes, swimming in the mineral–water pool and sunning in the solarium.
The serene and spiritual spaces were said to aid natural healing. Many celebrities walked the grounds, usually incognito.
The solarium provided full-body vitamin D. Spartan rooms encouraged meditation and serenity. The lobby’s English phone booths and one television were the only forms of technology available to guests.
Guests were encouraged to dine on organic raw foods—combined by color according to specific instructions on their placemats. A baked potato was considered a special treat. Many guests made enduring friendships and would meet up each winter at Shangri-La Springs.
Pedal–boating on Oak Creek, leisurely strolls, renting bicycles or taking the retreat’s van to the beach were the main activities back then, memorialized in framed photographs now hanging in the Shangri-La Springs conference room.
Pedal boats are long gone, but Bellamy said kayaks may be on the drawing board. Guest rooms today have all the electronic amenities of modern hotels.
The former communal television room is now a conference room. The check–in counter is a bar, and phone booths display artifacts of interest. The solarium is now home to bee hives for producing local honey.
The once “silent dining room” now offers breakfast for hotel guests. While Harvest and Wisdom offers many chef-prepared dishes, fresh, organic produce still plays a primary role, varying with the seasons.
Shangri-La Springs is a Blue Zones Project–recognized property, offering guests healthful foods, wellness activities and opportunities to make and show art. Its history lives on as a place promoting exceptionally long and happy lives.
Go online to for current events and to see the Harvest and Wisdom menu, along with extensive photo galleries of the venue’s beautiful grounds. Call 239-949-0749 for hotel and dining reservations or to book weddings, business meetings, or art and music events. The lovely grounds are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, expect during events.