Soak up the Southern charm of South Carolina’s Palmetto Bluff.
As the sun sinks behind the Spanish moss-draped live oaks, Palmetto Bluff transforms into an even more enchanting version of itself. Gas lanterns flicker on down narrow village lanes, while groups gather around crackling fire pits overlooking the wide darkness of the May River. A vintage bicycle cart pulls onto a nearby brick path, filled with house-made ingredients for roasting s’mores.
Inside the Bluffton, S.C. development’s Montage Resort, glasses clink around the Octagon Bar as cocktail hour begins, while guests mingle over drinks in the resort’s opulent library or on its airy porch. The hotel is new—it was completed last year—but everything about it hearkens to a past filled with halcyon days and elegant evenings.
The first night I visit, Garden & Gun magazine is hosting a party celebrating some of the South’s most talented creators. They toast the savvy entrepreneurs al fresco under white string lights with crushed oyster shells underfoot in the property’s newly developed Moreland Village. The next night, a couple from Manhattan hosts a Lowcountry wedding on the green in Wilson Village next to the romantic ruins of what was once R.T. Wilson Jr.’s 72-room mansion—all as a famous blogger in the wedding party garners thousands of “likes” on Instagram posting photos of the picturesque weekend.
It’s this mix of historic and modern, of rustic and luxury, that sets Palmetto Bluff apart. Its village lanes, wide front porches, and brick paths evoke memories of old Charleston or Savannah, but its pristine grounds and modern amenities give away the fresh newness of this 20,000-acre Crescent Communities development.
In 2014, Palmetto Bluff’s inn came under new management by California’s Montage Hotels & Resorts and underwent a dramatic renovation. Last year, Montage Palmetto Bluff opened more than 70 new guesthouses, as well as a brand new inn, and the decadent 13,000-square-foot Spa Montage.
Inspired by a historic mansion that once stood on the property and surrounded by towering live oaks, the inn appears to have been in place for decades. But its chic rooms, modern dining, and sybaritic spa tell a different story.
Book one of the lagoon-view rooms, where spacious balconies overlook the inland waterway. Or, for the ultimate Lowcountry experience, spend your weekend in one of the charming riverside cottages. Wide screened-in porches are perfect for morning coffee overlooking the May River and gas fireplaces offer an inviting cozy ambience on cooler evenings.
And with the latest renovations, all of the resort’s rooms have indulgent touches like marble bathrooms with soaking tubs, relaxing bath products, and plush linens. It’s almost tempting to simply luxuriate in your room, but Palmetto Bluff’s adventures beckon.
For the outdoor enthusiast, Palmetto Bluff is a grown-up playground. From its prestigious shooting club and equestrian center to its renowned 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and miles of trails perfect for biking and hiking, this is paradise for those who prefer their idle hours outside.
Plan on spending some of that free time on the water. Palmetto Bluff offers boat tours, trips to private beaches, water skiing, fishing, dolphin tours, paddle boarding, and kayaking. With miles of rivers, marshes, and lagoons, there’s plenty to explore by boat. Spend at least one early evening on the resort’s restored 1913 60-foot yacht, Grace, watching the sun sink from the May River.
The resort is also serious about its dedication to its vibrant natural and cultural environment. Palmetto Bluff has its own conservancy team, which is focused on everything from monitoring bald eagle nests to searching for artifacts from plantations that once stood on the property.
Guests and residents of Palmetto Bluff can participate on various levels. There are often tours (see alligators up-close in their natural habitat!), lectures, and even art classes, but it can be much more interactive. The resident archaeologist takes guests to search for artifacts around former plantation locations, and conservationists even take groups to capture turtles and mark them for identification.
Dining at Palmetto Bluff comes with all the Southern charm you’d expect in a place where rocking chairs line seemingly every porch and brick walkways lead to each restaurant. Start your evening in Wilson Village with cocktails on the veranda at the River House Lounge. The handcrafted libations are locally inspired with creative—and potent—offerings like a “PB&J” made with peanut-infused bourbon and fresh strawberries.
Wilson Village is also home to the Canoe Club, which offers views of the May River and a taste of the region in its dishes featuring ingredients from nearby farms and the water. One of the favorite spots at the resort, for both locals and visitors, can be found in the center of the village. The cozy and convivial Buffalo’s is a popular gathering spot for its breakfast Biscuit Bar (be sure to snag a few of the famed sticky buns) and fills up fast in the evenings with fans of its artisan pizzas.
Make reservations for at least a few meals inside the inn. Its Octagon Bar offers a lively setting for traditional Southern cocktails, including “Artillery Punch,” a concoction said to be first enjoyed by celebrating military officers in Georgia in 1819. The adjacent Jessamine serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Its gorgeous views and sophisticated seasonal dishes like Wagyu beef short rib and foie gras with a black cherry sauce make this spot a must for at least one elegant evening.
And while Jessamine’s dessert menu is tempting with its luscious chocolate cake topped with bourbon Chantilly cream or its banana fosters soufflé with brown sugar rum anglaise sauce, for the resort’s best dessert you’ll need to take a walk. The resort’s s’mores cart includes six flavors of marshmallows and three flavors of chocolate, which means that every evening here should end with sticky fingers next to an open fire.