Step Right Up, Spring
Step Right Up, Spring at The Mockingbird In celebration of the onset of warmer weather and longer days, The Mockingbird will host a carnival-themed springtime late-night
Named for the high bluffs on which it sits and located almost exactly between Savannah and Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, South Carolina, is often called “the heart of the low country.” But the sleepy, small town gives visitors a good look at this culturally and geographically distinct area’s serene soul, too. Add the allure of the newly expanded Montage Palmetto Bluff resort, combining the best of all it offers, and you’ve got a summer escape that has plenty to pack a day, soaked with a tranquil vibe that’ll tempt you to find a spot under a sprawling live oak’s shade and do nothing at all.
Tucked deep within the larger Palmetto Bluff community in Bluffton, the Montage Palmetto Bluff resort is an oasis of calm in an already relaxed-pace place and a great home base for exploring the area. Starting at the simply painted wooden sign marking the Palmetto Bluff entrance off the highway, the four-mile drive to check-in at the resort’s new Inn (finished in fall 2016) winds through hardwood forest and over sea-grass-studded marsh—a portion of the 12,000 acres in the 20,000-acre property that have been set aside as a nature preserve, never to be developed.
With its formidable white columns, the Inn itself is a nod to the mansion that once stood nearby, the massive home of wealthy New York banker R.T. Wilson, one of Palmetto Bluff’s former owners, and it’s only one way the resort celebrates and highlights its history. When work on the land first began, the property’s developers hired an archeologist to identify and catalog artifacts from the area’s first inhabitants—they were so intrigued by what she found, they kept her on staff and now have an archeology center, where guests can view arrowheads, pottery, and more, all excavated from the grounds.
This commitment to the past adds an extra layer of interest, but the resort's luxe accommodations and amenities, and its many activities, are equally impressive and show the same attention to even the smallest details. All guest cars are quickly whisked away and valet parked, and the primary modes of transport around the grounds are bikes and your own two feet. A golf cart ride is only a call (or text) away, or just flag one down. Perpetually cheerful staff members are happy to take you anywhere you need to go. Choose from a room at the Inn, in the guesthouses, or book a two- or three-bedroom cottage. All are outfitted with opulent marble bathrooms, local art, heart-pine floors, plush bedding, and coastal-chic décor in a color palette drawn from the surrounding nature. Some of the guesthouses and cottages have fireplaces.
Pick from numerous ways to pass your time. Grab a kayak or canoe, and glide across the shimmering, breeze-blown surface of the river; float in one of the pools; tee up on the Jack Nicklaus course; play tennis, bocce, or croquet; be pampered at the spa. When the day is done, enjoy making and eating gooey s’mores (with homemade chocolate chip marshmallows) over brick fire pits on the lawn at the River House Lounge, and wash them down with a cocktail, maybe spiked with the resort’s house-made, roasted-peanut bourbon. Or sit back with a glass of pinot on the bow of Palmetto Bluff’s yacht, “Grace,” during a sunset May River cruise, and watch for playful dolphins.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Palmetto Bluff is the soothing quiet. Boats that travel the lagoons cutting through the property are electric, as are the golf carts, both emitting only a low hum. Wind-rustled leaves with birdsongs during the day and frog concerts at night are often the only sounds joining guest chatter and the occasional bike bell.
Eating options abound. Find elegant fine-dining digs, prime steaks, and a stellar wine list at Jessamine. A water view and local seafood selections, including May River oysters, take center stage at the Canoe Club. The “biscuit bar” breakfast buffet at Buffalo’s has far more than bread, including fluffy omelets made to order, yogurt parfaits, and maple-infused sausages. The Octagon Bar, right off the Inn’s lobby, is a cozy spot to gather and nosh on small bites, like bacon-wrapped shrimp with peach chutney and whole fried okra enrobed in cornmeal, while sipping some South Carolina-brewed beer or the bar’s signature (and strong) Artillery Punch.
No one would fault you if Palmetto Bluff’s many charms kept you within its confines, but consider breaking away. Taking a 10-minute trip to Bluffton’s Old Town is a worthy pursuit. Start with a visit to the lovely, unfinished, cypress-paneled Church of the Cross, consecrated in 1857 and spared by Union troops, who burned most of Bluffton during the Civil War, and the circa 1841 Heyward House, a mini-museum and Bluffton’s official welcome center with information on what to see and do.
Shop for the latest casual ladies’ styles at Cocoon, accessories and charming gifts at Mameem & Maudie, or home décor and vintage items at The Complete Home and Stock Farm Antiques. Next, drive down Church Street and check out the vibrant arts district. Pottery, folk art, landscape paintings, and more fill the multiple studios and galleries found in just a few blocks.
See South Carolina's oldest continuous oyster shucking facility, the Bluffton Oyster Company, where oysters are still harvested and shucked by hand, and then taste the fruits of their labors at their restaurant. If you’re interested in land fare, grab lunch at Bluffton BBQ, where the pulled pork needs no sauce and the coleslaw is spiked with crunchy kernels of white corn, or check out Old Town Dispensary and its menu of burgers, salads, and pub grub.
On your way back to Palmetto Bluff, stop at Cahill’s Market for homemade ice cream. Seasonal offerings, like strawberry, peach, and blueberry, are bursting with flavor, but the butter pecan’s subtle nuttiness and barely there sweetness make it a must-try. Whatever you do on your trip to Bluffton and Palmetto Bluff, don’t rush. Going slow lets you savor each moment and make lasting memories.
Photos courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff.