My friend Lauri has a bucket list of hotels that promise refined elegance and bespoke experiences. But when she wants a sure thing, she returns to the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a coastal South Carolina property just a half-hour from Savannah, Ga. Imagine my delight when I was invited by the Virtuoso-member resort to visit last fall.
Only a hand-lettered, wooden sign serves as a breadcrumb for first-timers that they've reached the turn-off to enter these 20,000 wooded acres, "about the size of Manhattan," said my driver, Sean.
"When I drive people who've never been here before, they expect to enjoy it," he added. "But when I pick them up four or five days later, they are overwhelmed. Every time. Many end up buying a second home."
This legacy property has 32 miles of forested riverfront and roots so deep there's a full-time archaeologist on-site. In 1902, railroad baron R.T. Wilson Sr. bought the land as a hunting retreat, naming it Palmetto Bluff. His son Richard upped the ante with a Gilded Age, white-columned mansion that would burn down in 1926, leaving nothing but stone, ashes and the estate's name.
Within the exclusive gated property are two villages that anchor private residences — architectural eye-candy of one-of-a-kind, front-porch homes — and businesses plus the private May River Golf Club with its Jack Nicklaus-designed course and the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club, popular for its clay-shooting course and range that embody the sense of place.
Enter Montage Hotels & Resorts, aligned with one-of-a-kind luxury resorts out west. This is the company's first East Coast property, and it has fully embraced the site's low country culture and Southern hospitality. For instance, "porching" is a daily activity and Labrador retriever "Canine Ambassadors" show up for regular loving from guests. (The resort is extremely pet-friendly.)
A double queen suite at the Montage Palmetto Bluff, which has 200 guestrooms in addition to residences that can be rented out by Montage on behalf of owners.
Inspired and informed by the Wilson mansion, Montage opened its 74-room Inn at Palmetto Bluff in late 2016. With it came a spa, fitness center with lap pool, salon, new restaurants and even more robust full-service offerings (including a fleet of loaner Mercedes sedans for guests) to add to the existing accommodations.
Stand-alone cottages and cottage suites face the river and lagoon. There are also two-level "guesthouse" compounds, each with a handful of rooms that are identical to those at the inn, that are ideal for groups. A one-bedroom suite with a large screened porch is attached to either end of each guesthouse and can be opened to the adjacent room for a two-bedroom suite. There are a total of 200 guestrooms.
In addition, Montage recently completed its third of 35 planned residences whose owners can choose to put their luxury vacation homes into a rental pool managed by Montage and whose guests will have access to all of the services, amenities and privileges of resort guests, including the otherwise members-only golf and shooting clubs.
The ballroom veranda on the property, which also includes two clapboard chapels, making it an ideal location for destination weddings.
There are two idyllic clapboard chapels on the property, making the Montage Palmetto Bluff popular for destination weddings. Which makes sense, because after a few days, one realizes that they aren't just at a resort. They are at a place.
Nightly rates start at $305. See www.montagehotels.com/palmettobluff.