Written by Bridget Williams
Spanish moss languidly dangling from majestic live oak trees, waiting for a passing breeze to break its stupor. A sinuous flame endlessly shimmying within a gas lantern. The rhythmic ticking of a fan as it whirls away beneath its mount on porch ceiling painted Haint blue. These sleepy and sultry keepers of the cadence of the deep South are utterly intoxicating to me; their charms persist even as the pace slows even more at the height of summer, when the humidity hangs around your shoulders like a wet, warm blanket and the best antidote is a glass of sweet tea.
Epitomizing an idealized version of genteel Low-country is Palmetto Bluff, a 20,000-acre development within the historic community of Bluffton, South Carolina. At its heart is Wilson Village, a mixed-use city center whose architecture—including tidy cottages and larger estates disguised as a cluster of smaller dwellings—belies the fact that many of the structures are just over a decade old. Miles and miles of hiking and walking paths meander like the many tributaries of the nearby May, Cooper, and New Rivers. Prominently yet comfortably nestled into this utopia is the Montage Palmetto Bluff, the first East Coast outpost of Montage Hotels & Resorts.
Surrounded by 32 miles of riverfront, the resort is comprised of guest cottages, Montage-branded residences and a 74-room Inn that debuted in 2016. With its vast front porch supported by grand columns, the architecture of the Inn pays homage to a storied mansion that stood nearby in the early 1900s . Inside, the elegant coastal-inspired interiors are sprinkled with heirloom-quality fine art (including pieces by notable local artists) and antiques that lend a feeling of residential realness to the graciously proportioned rooms.
Arriving at lunchtime, I gladly whiled away the hour before my room was ready by tucking into one of the tastiest cobb salads I've ever had at the Inn's Jessamine Restaurant. The tang of the salad's pimento ranch dressing mixed with the sweetness of candied pecans was divine. Guests of the Inn have access to all seven restaurants spread out over two villages in Palmetto Bluff.
The heartiness of Southern cuisine is legendary, and people in living in this region have eaten well for generations. Archaeologists say that ancient shell middens located on high bluffs next to local waterways are remnants of oyster roasts by the Altamaha and Yamassee Native American tribes. Appetites have remained consistent according to Executive Chef Nathan Beriau who said the restaurants under his charge can go through ten-thousands oysters on a holiday weekend.
At Cole's restaurant in the newly developed Moreland Neighborhood, tabby concrete accent walls pay homage to the bounty of the nearby marshland. After loading up on yummy fried pickles, head next door to the state-of-the-art bowling alley, whose gleaming lanes were crafted from a single cypress tree felled on the property.
Palmetto Bluff strives to be an ambassador for the foodways of the Lowcountry. You can taste this commitment at every dining outlet, as they receive produce from a small working farm on property. Going beyond the table, their farmers are committed to understanding and improving best practices that can be shared with students and the broader community. So, while you're indulging at Buffalo's famous Biscuit Bar, a craft cocktail at the Octagon Bar, or coastal cuisine at the Canoe Club, you can feel good about supporting local producers.
Lucky for me there were ample options to keep active in atonement for my daily indulgences. Each morning I referred to the weekly activities booklet to inform the day's agenda. A cruiser-style bike assigned to me for the duration of my stay allowed for frequent leisurely rides on wide paved bike trails, as well as a few forays onto unpaved pathways that provided an even closer look at the local flora and fauna. An absolute highlight for me was a sunrise kayak excursion. As we paddled across the smooth-as-glass waters, dolphins dipped in and out of crimson-colored spotlights created by dawn's first light breaking through the clouds. There's also an option to explore local waterways at a more leisurely pace aboard Grace, a recently restored 60-foot 1913 motor yacht.
Anglers can fish inland waterways, coastal shallows, or deep waters offshore. Located in a 40-acre hardwood bottom, the new Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club offers 13 sporting clay stations. The Wilson Lawn and Racquet Club features two manicured croquet lawns, two bocce courts, and eight Har-Tru tennis courts. Longfield Stables is part of a 173-acre equestrian facility that offers a variety of programs for guests of all ages and levels of experience. A booklet is printed each week outlining the myriad activities available to guests.
A unique aspect of the development is the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, whose staff of six, including an archaeologist, are tasked with being stewards of the environment and cultural heritage of the property. They carry out their mission via a combination of wildlife management, research, and more than 200 outreach events annually. Conservancy staff have an infectious level of enthusiasm for their job, which has resulted in marked improvements to the local ecosystem at all levels, from bugs to raptors.
Conservancy staff were consulted during development of the par-72, 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed May River championship golf course. Seashore paspalum turfgrass was chosen for being drought resistant and able to handle contact with brackish water. Pesticide use is kept as low as possible, and bird boxes throughout the course ensure that you'll experience at least one type of birdie during your round. A comfort station on the 6th and 15th holes serves up boiled eggs with hot sauce, a curious but beloved Palmetto Bluff tradition started years ago by the original director of the golf program.
Back at the Inn, Spa Montage Palmetto Bluff eschews the temptation that befalls many destination spas who veer from their given sense of place into something more generic. The crisp palette of the pretty environs stays in step with the rest of the property. A spa is only as good as its therapists, and my facialist was a master. My 90-minute facial used indulgent Tata Harper products, including a mask made with pure raw honey that smelled good enough to eat. Spa guests can partake of eucalyptus steam rooms, a whirlpool, cold plunge pool, and redwood sauna.
While I still hold tight to my love of the South's sleepy slant, I'll readily admit that I didn't mind upping the tempo to take advantage of the sophisticated satiation offered by engaging in all aspects of the Montage experience.
Montage Palmetto Bluff is located at 477 Mount Pella Road in Bluffton, South Carolina. Rooms from $370/night.
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