Timeless escape Montage Palmetto Bluff

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, “culinary heirlooms” such as steamed May River Oysters are served happy-hour style each day and Labrador retriever “Canine Ambassadors” show up for regular loving from guests. (The resort is extremely pet-friendly.)

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. 

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.

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