The Inn At Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina - My Family Travels

Class, fabulous golf, southern charm and the comforts of someone else's mansion and wait staff make this “inn” a rather splendid place to get away.

An elderly gentleman leaned out the window of the stately entrance station and handed us a compact disc. “You might want to listen to this,” he suggested. “It’s about a five minute drive to the Inn.”

We persuaded our two teenagers to pry the iPod ear buds from their brains, and my wife popped in the CD. As we crossed a charming wooden bridge straddling a classic low country view — tidal creek, marsh grass, pluff mud — a profound Southern drawl purred from our car speakers as the narrator introduced the Inn at Palmetto Bluff. And dang if our kids didn’t start guffawing and mocking the accent. “Turn it off, turn it off!” they begged.

Are my kids really that jaded that they can’t listen to five minutes of history in a pleasant regional accent? I mean, for crying out load, we live in the South. Was this a harbinger of things to come? Was our weekend doomed?

Thankfully, no, I am delighted to report. Apparently the sudden shift from Fall Out Boy’s musical angst to mellow, low country charm was more than their teenage sensibilities could handle. By the time we were graciously received at the Inn, our daughter Maddy (15) and son Jamie (14) had loosened up and adjusted to the new tempo.

A Country Resort

The Inn at Palmetto Bluff is perched on the edge of an entirely charming village square that overlooks a widening in the May River. It is nestled under a canopy of gnarly live oaks and the ever-present Spanish moss. If there is such a style as Modern Antebellum, this is where it was invented. While many resorts have more grandiose settings, Palmetto Bluff invites you into its graceful ease and unending charms with the whisper of quieter times. Scarlet O’Hara’s Tara meets Mayberry RFD.

But my kids never saw “Gone With The Wind” or “The Andy Griffith Show.” The closest city — Savannah, Georgia — is 40 minutes away. What on earth will they do here?

Quite a bit, as it turned out. Strewn across the property’s 20,000 acres — that’s 6,000 more than Manhattan island — are scores of activities to keep even the most jaded teen and preteen alive, active and happy. And the jaded one’s parents.

But first, on to our own 2,000 square-feet … We were swiftly escorted to our room for the weekend: a proper home with three bedrooms and baths, an up-to-date kitchen with granite counters and Viking appliances and enough screen porches to sleep an invading army. The decor was tasteful and inviting, with cozy nooks, banquette seating and tall ceilings, far from the cookie cutter and sterile environment of countless timeshares and resorts. We broke out the board games and (gasp) home movies (we knew we had the teens to ourselves). Late nights turned into languid mornings of coffee, bacon and sleeping in, the result of late night cable TV in each bedroom.

While our cozy home beckoned, “Sit down, relax, stay,” the resort screamed, “C’mon, get out, play!” So we played, in a fashion: a raucous game of HORSE on the full outdoor basketball court, complete with hoops that adjust from little tike to regulation height; biking across preposterously picturesque bridges and through acres of pine and oaks, even a precarious nighttime romp over dimly lit paths and across bridges lit by gas lanterns; numerous pick up games of bocce ball, making up rules as we went; even swaying on swing sets under the shady live oak canopy.

Resort Activities & Dining

In all our indolent bliss, we neglected tennis, golf, kayaking and more. But we did not ignore the swanky Canoe Club pool roosting above the May River, with its cushy, covered cabanas, pool boys/girls who catered to our every whim, and outdoor foosball and billiards. Even an afternoon rain shower couldn’t dampen the atmosphere; we simply huddled under the canvas and noshed on a salmon BLT and Kobe beef sliders until the sun reappeared. We had plenty of opportunity to be more active.

The Wilson Lawn and Racquet Club is a serious facility, with eight clay courts and two bocce and croquet courts. Not your garden-variety tennis club, the instruction is profoundly professional. The tennis pro, Warren Florence (brother of Tyler Florence of Food Network fame), used to cover tennis for national publications and reportedly is terrific with kids, either in groups or individual lessons. The Club’s concierge, Carole Crow, is a ranked croquet player who spends much of her time coaching guests on the proper rules of croquet and bocce (and here I thought we simply banged balls together).

The Club actually converts one of the croquet courts into a tennis court for a couple of weeks around the French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon, creating the only grass court in the region. Word is that the Club may succumb to the ne plus ultra of serious tennis: all whites. The resort’s web site photos simply do not capture the Club’s grandeur; it is lovely, simply the best resort tennis facility we’ve seen.

Had I been wealthier, more confident in my tee shots and traveling with a golfing family, I would have made a beeline to the May River Golf Club, an astoundingly beautiful course entwined in the maritime forest and lazily spilling into the May River. Travel+Leisure Golf in 2007 named this resort the number two golf community in the U.S. The prize for walking this Arnold Palmer-designed course is drinks at the clubby May River Grill or a seat on its lovely terrace with views of the 18th hole. There you sit, munching on classic sandwiches and salads (thankfully not watching me stumble in with a course record high score).

After watching other people engage in all this strenuous activity, we were hungry. Many pricey resorts dumb down their cuisine to meet continental sensibilities (read: boring). The Inn at Palmetto Bluff takes advantage of its proximity to one of America’s great shrimp sources, pulls the best from area farms and then reaches out to America’s classic regional specialties: Carolina shrimp on grits, in salads and on top of pizza, crab cakes, ale battered fish, fried green tomatoes, local peaches, Colorado lamb, Angus beef. For its fairly small size, the resort provides ample dining choices, including its jazzy new restaurant with a broad, open air terrace that sits high over the May River.

The high cost kept us from trying the River House, the Inn’s premier dining spot. Instead we opted for more casual dining at the simplest of spots, the River House’s sprawling screened porch overlooking the lawn and the gentle bend of the May.

Home of the relaxing afternoon “porching” scene with cookies, tea and lemonade, the porch by night takes on a pastoral, coastal vibe, illuminated by mellow candlelight and cheerful service. From there it’s a few easy steps to the three fire pits that light up the night sky and fuel the s’more-making frenzy.

Many of the resort’s visitors and homeowners focus on the boating privileges offered by the Boat Club at Wilson Landing: deep water on the May River, dry dock slips, docking rights and boat rentals. The Kids Camp takes full advantage of the boating scene and watery environs, including crabbing, shrimping, dolphin tours, late night stargazing on a nearby island (during half- and full-day programs). We contemplated the countless kayaking options (some complimentary) to explore the placid creeks and tributaries of the Lowcountry, but our mellower side got the best of us.

And that’s not all we missed: the classy spa with manicures, pedicures and sassafras facials for teens, the glossy new fitness center, yoga classes overlooking the May River, in-home dining, local history tours, a boat to the beach, fishing and more.

When we reluctantly loaded our bags into our VW to head home, we asked our kids if they once again wanted to hear the southern gentlemen who introduced them to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff. No takers. But they did volunteer that the resort would be a cool place to bring their friends … or another family … and hang out for a week or a month. High praise from the iPod generation.

Details, Details

The Inn at Palmetto Bluff (866/706-6565) is located at 476 Mount Pelia Road, Bluffton, SC 29910. Our Village Home was very comfortable and lovely, but opt for the Cottages and spacious Cottage Suites for a sublime setting, perched near lagoon or river and tricked out with decadent bathrooms, sound systems and original artwork. We’ll stay there next time, when it’s just the two of us. Families might want to book adjoining cottages for more space while still retaining privacy, but there are no adjoining doors between the two.

Rates begin at $475 per night in cottages and $1,100 per night in Village Homes with ongoing specials found on their website. A service charge acts as the gratuities for housekeeping, valet and bellstaff, but tipping at the restaurants is still expected. The Inn also includes bicycles, fitness facilities and scheduled classes, pools, tennis, croquet, bocce, canoes, kayaks and fishing equipment for the internal waterways in these rates. Tricycles and bikes with training wheels are also available for little ones eager to learn.

The resort can stock your Village Home with provisions from RT’s market, a cute gourmet market on-site with a bit of everything, from French wines to sunscreen, including a gas station and ATM.

A kids club has weekly activities with a varied schedule; guests should check the schedule and fees ahead of arrival to better plan their stay. For other child-friendly options, smaller kids will adore the resort’s unique tree house, expertly entangled around the trunk of an ancient live oak.

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