Ave Maria, Florida owes a lot of its existence to Dominos Pizza, the huge franchise operation that promises to deliver your hot pizza within 30 minutes.
The founder of Dominos, Tom Monaghan, was the leader of the effort that brought this beautiful new town into existence seemingly almost overnight.
Ave Maria is a planned town in Collier County near Immokalee, Florida about 25 miles east of Naples.
The community was established in 2005 by a partnership of Barron Collier Companies and the Ave Maria Foundation.
The foundation was led by Tom Monaghan, who reportedly invested $250 million in the new town and its university.
His vision was to create a town centered around education, community, and family values.
Perhaps this is why Ave Maria is sometimes referred to as a "big kind of small town."
The principal institution of the new town is Ave Maria University.
Mr. Monaghan served as its first president until he stepped down in 2011. This is a private Catholic university that was formerly in Ypsilanti, Michigan until it closed up there in 2007.
Ave Maria School of Law is an accredited American Bar Association law school, and has a current enrollment of 468 students.
Ave Maria University today has more than 1,100 students and was recently ranked one of the Top Ten Colleges in Florida by USA Today.
The school has athletic programs for both men and women. The sports include basketball, golf, soccer, tennis, baseball, cross country, football, lacrosse, softball, volleyball and beach volleyball.
Monaghan's vision is for the school to have more than 5,000 students one day and have athletic teams in the NCAA Division 1.
Can you imagine a time in the future when the Ave Maria football team takes on Notre Dame or Brigham Young?
What a religious war!
The university, law school and surrounding residential communities are arranged around the carefully planned town center of Ave Maria.
The focal point of the Ave Maria town center is the Ave Maria Oratory, a large steel framed structure that serves as both church and university chapel.
The Oratory was inspired by a Tom Monaghan sketch that captured his long time interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The frame of the oratory is unusual as it is visible both externally and internally. The structure received an architectural award from the American Institute of Architects.
The facade of the church features a 70-ton, 30 foot high annunciation sculpture depicting the Archangel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary.
The sculpture was created by the Hungarian sculptor, Marton Varo. He used marble from Cave Michelangelo in Carrara, Italy.
He carved the sculpture alone, working seven days a week, and it took him three years to complete.
The initial development of the residential communities around Ave Maria was slowed down by the real estate crash of 2008 and beyond, but more homes are being built and the downtown can be an interesting and busy little place.
There is one upscale restaurant, a pizza place, a coffee shop and a small number of other establishments.
The town center is designed to take care of the needs of the students as well as others who live in Ave Maria as their permanent residence.
Medical services include a clinic, a dentist, a hearing aid store, and an optical practice. There is also a Publix supermarket.
Interestingly, there is no Dominos Pizza in Ave Maria. The nearest one is in Naples.
The downtown around the Oratory has been designed with apartments and condominiums above the shops so that residents can enjoy a walkable lifestyle.
Although the college is a main focus of the center of the town, you will find Ave Maria surrounded by residential neighborhoods consisting of new home communities.
These communities are each designed to address specific homeowner needs and wants.
They were each planned by different builders and each has its separate Homeowners Association.
Del Webb Naples is one such example, geared toward an "active adult community." This community is for residents 55 years old and older.
It has a variety of housing styles and residents enjoy recreational amenities including tennis courts, pools, and the Panther Run Golf Club.
Maple Ridge is a community by builder CC Homes. Homes here are single family luxury models and enjoy recreational facilities and a community clubhouse.
Avalon Park by Pulte Homes is designed with personalized upscale homes with an emphasis on architectural features. It is a family neighborhood with private schools and biking and hiking trails.
National Golf and Country Club at Ave Maria is a Lennar Homes community that includes a brand new 18-hole golf course open to the public.
All Ave Maria residents can enjoy community recreational areas and amenities such as sports fields and picnic areas in North Park.
There is also an amphitheater and dog park in South Park, a water park, and a fitness center.
If I were a professor at Ave Maria University, I'd think one of these homes would be a great place to live.
Ave Maria is close to a large new park focused on family activities.
Big Corkscrew Island Regional Park has a large state of the art playground and a water complex with multiple pools.
The park has sports fields and is planning a future canoe and kayak launch area.
It is located on the edge of the Florida Everglades between Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge.
It has a wide variety of birds and wildlife.
The Bean of Ave Maria, 5068 Annunciation circle, Ave Maria, FL 34142. Tel: 239-867-4234.
The Pub & Grille At Ave Maria, 5068 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, FL 34142. Tel: 239-867-4235.
Ave Maria is still a small town with only a few restaurants. Nearby Immokalee has several restaurants including some really good Mexican ones. Immokalee is only 7 miles away on the back roads.
A 25 mile drive to the west takes you to Naples with hundreds of restaurants to please all tastes.
Your best bet is to book a hotel in Naples, about 23 miles west of Ave Maria. Here is one suggestion:
Hampton Inn I-75 Naples, 2630 Northbrooke Plaza Drive, Naples, FL 34119. Tel: 239-596-1299.
Other suggestions for lodging and dining from Tripadvisor by clicking on the links in the call out box below.