An unassuming sign off Highway 46 somewhere between Savannah, Georgia and Bluffton, South Carolina points to a place called Palmetto Bluff. If you blink, you’ll miss it. But, if you turn down this country road and are patient enough to see where it leads (it’s a four-mile long stretch of road and forest after all), you’ll find a hidden destination. It’s a place where discerning travelers, families, and decadence-seekers go to vacation and sometimes live – away from it all without ever going too far.
My childhood vacation memories consist of road trips to grandma and grandpa’s trailer in Deland, the aunt and uncle’s mountain house in Boone, North Carolina, or budget motels at Disney. All-inclusive resorts or mountain lodges were out of the budget or far beyond the limit my parents were willing to travel, but as a kid I didn’t know any different. I had fun. But I do remember watching the movie Dirty Dancing (to my mother’s dismay) and being struck with wonder at the old-school Catskill resort, Kellerman’s, where Frances and family vacationed at in the summer 1963. “What a way to get away,” I always thought.
Fast forward to 2019 and my 38-year-old self is certain – this place is the South’s version of that, sans any dirty dancing. It’s the best way I can describe our vacation at Montage Palmetto Bluff. Luxury family camp, we call it. Perhaps it’s the “all-inclusive” vibe of this place that gives me that feeling. Though it’s not the way they necessarily market the resort, like at Kellerman’s, you can theoretically stop your car at the valet on day one and never need it again until you leave. Kind of like a cruise ship but without the 3,000 other people on board. Do I have your attention yet?
The story of this place starts with a rich history of the land and the protection that has been put in place to preserve it. Its 20,000 acres sit high above the banks of the May River where back in the 1700s several plantations occupied the land, farming indigo and cotton during the Antebellum era. In 1902, a wealthy banker, Richard T. Wilson purchased the property and affectionately named it “Palmetto Bluff’ as he built his ultimate dream-home – a 72-room mansion overlooking the water that sadly burned down in 1926. The remains of that mansion, topped stone columns and front-porch steps, still sit at the town’s center reminding us of its former glory while creating an incredible backdrop for modern-day weddings often hosted on its grounds.
Since the Wilson mansion fire, the property was used for farming, hunting, and lodging until 2000, when it was acquired by a land-management and real estate development firm that has managed the land with extreme reverence for the stewardship practices of previous owners and meticulously cultivated what the property has become today.
At the epicenter of the 20,000 acres of conservation land sits Montage Palmetto Bluff, a 200-room resort featuring a collection of rooms, suites, cottages, and vacation homes connected together by pebble paths, walking bridges, and tree-lined bikeways that reminds me so much of that Catskill lodge. The style of the resort is what speaks to me the most. It’s that classic southern-esque aesthetic that made me fall in love instantly – white siding and shiplap paired with red brick, gas lanterns, rocking chairs, and porches for days.
Our cottage was perfectly situated beneath the towering oaks overlooking the river just a short walk from the main inn. Inside we indulged in a little self-care with the steam shower, soaking tub, cozy window seats for reading, and fireplace. Outside we’d rendezvous each afternoon for our own version of “porching” to enjoy the views and recharge from the day’s activities. It was my favorite time of the day.
During the day – we adventured. Upon checking in, you’re given a “Life on the Bluff” magazine – a 24-page guide outlining all of the daily activities from yoga to concerts, tours, classes, lectures, and even church services offered that month on the property. It essentially serves as your paper cruise director and excursion itinerary. At this point, the concierge also introduced our son to the Montage Merits program where kids can earn a “merit badge” after finishing one of the many activities onsite. Between these two, we set the agenda for our entire stay with the goal of doing and seeing as much as possible.
We climbed into treehouses, roasted s’mores, played bocce ball, biked through river roads and neighborhoods (bikes are available for all guests), scoped out the golf course for our next trip, and even tried to catch a fish. We spotted alligators, dolphins, and took a private May River cruise learning the history of the surrounding towns and marshes thanks to our Southern guide, Duke. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but we definitely made time to leisure poolside for lunch each day. While we kept busy, it never felt rushed or strained.
Palmetto Bluff is home to several restaurants located both inside the main inn or across the “town.” The first evening, we headed towards Moreland Village (yet another part of Palmetto Bluff) to find Cole’s, the resident comfort food-style eatery made with kids and the young-at-heart in mind. There was a bowling alley here and the ultimate game room with pool tables, foosball, and more “porching” for mom. The following evening we biked over to RT’s market and stocked up on meats and cheeses to enjoy charcuterie by the sea back at our cottage.
Here’s the thing – it’s because there is so much to do within the boundaries of Palmetto Bluff that you never have to leave it… and that’s what I feel like vacations are all about. You’re not supposed to worry so much about traffic, schedules, and getting from one place to another. Rather, you want to just get to your destination and unwind.
You find that here, and that is what both affirms my connection to that old-school Kellerman’s-style vacation I always longed for and what makes me truly love this place. It’s not just a hotel visit – you are sincerely getting away from the hustle of everyday life like you pull away from shore on a ship. But here, it’s in a way that gives you space to explore independently and yet brings you together.
It is Lowcountry luxury at its finest.
Learn more about Montage Palmetto Bluff by visiting www.montagehotels.com/palmettobluff.