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The Inn at Palmetto Bluff is a Classic
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One such property of excellence is the Inn at Palmetto Bluff (just outside of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina), which has been garnering deservedly rave reviews since its opening. Actually located in the small but rapidly growing town of Bluffton, we were some of the early doubters who scratched their heads at the idea of building a luxury resort almost an hour from the area’s primary draw – Hilton Head. Now, some three years later, we are among those who marvel at how the Inn’s parent company, Auberge Resorts, continues to show excellent judgment and foresight as to where to establish its inns, resorts, and hotels.*
If you think you know this low country area from five years or more ago, you will need to think again. Since the upgrading of Rt. 278 into a four lane highway from I-95 to Hilton Head, this 30 mile stretch between Interstate and Island has seen the construction of residential communities, golf courses, a college campus, automobile dealerships, restaurants, motels, mega stores, etc. – all the trappings of semi urban America in the twenty-first century. To some, we suppose this is progress. To others, unfortunate uniformity.
Despite the massive growth in the Bluffton area, those seeking better dining, wine, golf, and water experiences will still need to choose Hilton Head as their destination - with one exception - the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, which benefits greatly as a relatively self contained property that offers activities galore to its guests. The 20,000-acre tract known as Palmetto Bluff extends from the headwaters of the May River near the actual town of Bluffton, skirts Bull and Dafuskie Islands via the Cooper River to its east, and gives way finally to the ancient freshwater rice fields of the New River along its western edge. The land mass defined by these three historic rivers is thus an island in the truest sense, and that is surely one of the reasons it remains so pristine and inviting today.
With this ancient beauty as background, the Inn offers all the modern day amenities.
For golfers, the May River Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus signature course with some spectacular holes in the forest, and others on the water. Designed to championship level, we listened in the bar as foursome after foursome described a challenge they couldn’t wait to tackle again the next day.
For spa lovers, the setting is so serene that you will be relaxed before you meet the professional staff for massages, body treatments, and a selection of uniquely designed soul enhancing baths on the bluff. The goal of the spa is to balance the mind and body, and as one bathes on a private outdoor veranda listening to the sounds of nature, it is almost impossible not to lose the ills of the world for a while.
Because the Inn is so close to the Inland Waterway, the river, and the ocean, those desiring water sports from fishing to boating to swimming have more options than can normally be undertaken in a typical three or four day vacation. Yachting, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking are common, as are river or deep sea fishing.
No resort can claim world class status without a restaurant of note. The Inn took great pains to experiment and work out a menu, cuisine, and style that would serve to merge the California cuisine so familiar to the parent company with the low country ingredients and tradition so many who visit here demand.
The elegant May Room should not be missed for at least one or two dinners. The chef is world class, and the menu, from veal loin wrapped in bacon to low country grouper, shows that the marriage of two cuisines is complete. You can enjoy a more casual bistro dinner at Buffalo’s in town, and a clubhouse luncheon menu at the May River Grill at the golf course. Room service is available 24 hours a day. We should note that if you visit for more than three days, you will no doubt want to dine at some of the fine restaurants on Hilton Head. A few are well worth the 45-60 minute drive.
No matter how many activities a hotel offers, without the staff to run them the numbers are worthless. At the Inn, the staff has been well chosen. Educated, knowledgeable, and affable. One can hardly ask for more.
Finally, we should mention the magnificent accommodations. It is possible we have not stayed at any other property where all aspects of the room have been so well thought out. The individual cottages are large (about 1150 square feet) with a sitting area and oversized furniture for comfort. Marbled baths with separate steam showers and bathtubs, his and her closets, a fireplace, free WiFi, and a dressing area/vanity add luxury to convenience. Music and a plasma television are available, though the view provided by Nature just outside the large windows or on the screened porch no doubt keeps the attention of most. Cottage suites (1350 square feet) have a separate bed room and living area. And you can also choose to luxuriate in one of a number of multi bedroom village homes (about 2500 square feet) that are located on the property as well.
Are there any problems? Well, all places face some. But here they are minor. We didn’t love the distance from the main house/dining room to the cottages. It is a fair walk, and in hot, humid summertime South Carolina it would be hard to stay cool and collected as one makes the trek. There are golf carts to help, but not enough of them or of staff to allow everyone a timely trip back and forth. We also wish the Inn was closer to Hilton Head, which is not an easy drive with all the traffic. But as we said, these are not major matters in the overall scheme of a great resort property.
As one might guess, a stay at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff is not inexpensive. The lowest rates are about $400 per night for a cottage, but, when you think about it, tiny Manhattan and San Francisco hotel rooms with average amenities these days commonly cost over $275. It is a telling comparison. The Inn might want you to feel at home, but they do too good a job. You might only feel at home if you live in a resort.
* Other properties owned or affiliated with Auberge Resorts include Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, CA (Napa Valley); Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Calistoga Ranch in Calistoga, CA (Napa Valley); and (scheduled to open this month) Solage, with studio styled accommodations in northern Napa Valley.
Along with his wife Sara, Monty's (Nightlawyer12@aol.com) weekly wine articles are published by Wine on Line International and by Sallys-Place, and are taken electronically by many in the wine industry. The Preisers are wine columnists for the Boca News, and are contributors to various magazines and newsletters throughout the country. They judge the annual Hilton Head Winefest and Monty is the founder of the Hilton Head chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food. Sara and Monty are also founders of Creative Professional Programs, Inc., a company specializing on a world wide basis in the education of business professionals in conjunction with learning about, and enjoying, fine wine and dining. The Preisers publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the only comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley.