Lowcountry Refuge

Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff has become one of the premier boutique hotels in the world

By: Tom Cunneff

On the Great Lawn next to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff lay the ruins of an early 20th-century mansion. Built by New York banker Richard T. Wilson as his winter home, the “Palmetto Lodge,” as it was called, was said to be the grandest structure on the Carolina coast, standing four stories and containing 72 rooms and 22 bathrooms. Until it burned in 1926, Wilson and his socialite wife, Marion, extravagantly entertained guests.

All that remains of their lavish lifestyle are the lower portions of three massive outdoor pillars and some stairs but the Inn has picked up where the Wilsons left off. Run by one of the finest operators of small luxury hotels in the world, Auberge Resorts, the Inn is their first property on the East Coast. Its setting in Bluffton, S.C., between Savannah and Hilton Head Island amid moss-draped live oaks on the May River, couldn’t be more peaceful and perfect. From the cozy cottages and distinctive dining to the spectacular spa and great golf, the Inn is the very definition of first-rate resort.

But what makes the resort particularly unique is its understated elegance. Classy is the word that comes to mind, starting with the spacious guest cottages, which number just 50. (Crowded it’s not.) With fireplaces, wide-plank pine floors, vaulted ceilings and large, screened-in porches, the 1,140-square-foot bungalows, which ring a long courtyard of oaks, palmettos and pines, are so homey and comfortable you could spend your entire stay in one and be perfectly happy.

But there’s so much to do, from a treatment at the world-class spa and a round on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course to a fabulous meal at the River House restaurant and a boat trip on the May River, that an exterior foray is highly encouraged—not necessary, mind you—but recommended.

Auberge is well known for its spa operations, and the one here lives up to expectations, starting with the spice-scented, warm terrycloth neck roll guests receive in the waiting room. The May River Golf Club is one of Jack’s best courses, routed through a preserve of giant oaks and wetlands. Ample room off the tee make it possible to wail away on the driver, but the crowned greens with tightly mown aprons demand approach shots with precision. Overlooking the May, the aptly named River House features Lowcountry dishes as sumptuous as the setting. And just as the food gives diners sustenance, it’s the river and surrounding tidal marshes that provide nourishment to this unique environment with its abundance of wildlife so a naturalist-led sojourn on the May is a must.

The Wilsons, no doubt, would be impressed.


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