Lowcountry Beauty

Southern charm awaits at Montage Palmetto Bluff

Posted on May 10, 2018

There are plenty of breathtaking destinations worldwide that are fabulous vacation spots, but only a rare few places on earth can completely capture one’s heart at first glimpse. Palmetto Bluff took hold of me before I crossed the property’s threshold. For the few miles that meander between the entrance gate and the Montage’s front door, the storybook landscape of giant live oaks laced with delicate strands of Spanish moss encourages quiet appreciation of the beauty that surrounds. But, if it’s not complete silence you desire, the greeter at the gatehouse will provide a CD with the history of the property to enlighten you on your short drive, narrated by Jay Walea, director of the nonprofit Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. This slow, stately drive creates an anticipation that pays off in spades upon sight of the main hotel, known as the Inn. A circular drive lit by flickering gas lamps services the stunning building, a white plantation house that could be plucked straight from Gone with the Wind. 

 

The efficient staff who welcome guests inside can quickly get you your room keys and send you on your way, but the inn’s common areas draw you to linger before heading upstairs. The sunny entrance feels like walking into someone’s living room — albeit, a grand one — with a curved staircase lining the wall and a view straight through French doors to the back of the property, where a fire pit beckons for late evening cocktails, and the pool beyond. Cozy sitting areas are ideal spots to relax, and a rich, wood-paneled library boasts a round-the-clock roaring fire that’s a perfect backdrop for a quiet afternoon of reading or a rousing game of cards at the beautiful leather-topped
card table.

Accommodations range from rooms and suites in the Inn to cottages, cottage suites, guest houses, and village homes that dot the property. The larger options are extraordinary, but at 450 square feet, the Inn’s guestrooms are spacious and beautifully appointed, and feature one of the downiest, fluffiest beds I have ever encountered. One taste of the welcome gift of delicious shortbread cookies and some sinful confection the Montage calls “Bourbon Milk Jam” that awaits, and you may want to cuddle up in the oversized fluffy bath robe they’ve provided and never leave the room.

Except, to just stay in would be borderline criminal. Palmetto Bluff’s 20,000 acres, with waterways that weave through and the May River that borders it, are a playground for nearly any activity imaginable. The Wilson Lawn and Racquet Club, just a short walk from the front steps of the Inn, features eight Har-Tru surface tennis courts and two bocce courts. A bit farther, the challenging, 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature May River Golf Course delivers knockout forest and river views with bonus wildlife. Eagles (the winged variety) can be spotted soaring overhead and a docile mother/baby gator duo might greet you from their lagoon home as you come in on #18. Beach cruisers are at the ready for a casual bike ride on trails that weave neatly throughout the resort and the neighborhoods that compose the greater master-planned community. Children’s bikes are also available for family excursions, but they’ll want to pull over to scout the property’s two giant treehouses that are the stuff of which kids’ dreams are made: Rope ladder! Zip line! Five-story observation deck!

The 173-acre Longfield Stables is the happy home of Winter the pony, who’ll patiently allow little hands to finger paint on her silky white coat, and the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club offers some more heart-racing fun with sporting clays in a dedicated 40-acre forest. Those wanting to explore off property must visit nearby Bluffton, but slowly! It’s a notorious local speed trap. Bluffton Bike Taxi, owned by a Bluffton native who knows far more than you can google about the many antebellum and civil war-era sites in town, is a great way to see the town, but stay for dinner. Despite its small-town charm, the farm-to-table culinary offerings at both FARM Bluffton and The Pearl Kitchen & Bar rival that of any epicurean hotspot.

Dining at the resort is fabulous as well, but my favorite on property is Cole’s, a few minutes’ drive from the Inn. It not only features delicious comfort food (the fried pickles are to die for), but San Diego oenophiles may encounter a familiar face in Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s esteemed former director of wine, Jesse Rodriguez, who now holds that post here, and calls Bluffton home. Bonus: next door, four lanes of bowling await for a post-dinner diversion.

A world-class spa and a lovingly restored antique commuter yacht for river cruising add to the multitude of options available to fill the time anyone is fortunate enough to spend here, but the true magic of the place comes from the people — Southern hospitality is alive and well in Palmetto Bluff. Though born-and-raised locals are nearly as much of a rarity as native San Diegans, you get a sense that everyone knows just how lucky they are to be there now, and they’re all more than willing to share it, even if it’s only for a spell. montagehotels.com/palmettobluff   Deanna Murphy