It took us fifteen hours to get there, instead of the expected six. We fell into bed at 4:00 a.m. of the morning after we had planned to arrive, and were awakened at 7:00 a.m. by a tornado warning. We were telephoned by the front desk informing us that we'd overstayed our welcome and asking when we'd be leaving. And in between, we had one of the best times ever on a vacation.
We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and we decided that a special trip was in order. Debbie researched potential destinations on the web and landed on an hitherto unknown place - to us, anyway - known as the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, located on the coast of South Carolina in a part of the state referred to as "the Lowcountry" (which, frankly, strikes me as a poor nickname, but if it works for them, who am I to judge?).
Palmetto Bluff is a 20,000 acre planned development, with beautiful custom homes living in harmony with rentals, town homes, and, of course, the Inn. The property has 35 miles of shore line along the May River and lagoons that wind through some of the most beautiful coastal forest you'll ever see.
We were scheduled to leave Midland via Southwest Airlines around 1:00 p.m., and catch a connecting flight in Houston that would take us directly to Charleston, which is about two hours north of Palmetto Bluff. We figured we'd be in our room no later than 9:00 p.m. We figured wrong.
Thanks to a mechanical issue, we left late enough that we missed our Houston connection. SWA had thoughtfully booked us an alternate flight to Charleston...through Chicago. Long story made short: we landed in Charleston just after midnight, trudged out to our rental car in a steady drizzle, and drove on unfamiliar roads, much of which were under construction, to a destination we'd never been to, arriving after 3:00 a.m.
But get this: a bellman was waiting for us, greeting us with a smile, calling us by name, and he quickly loaded our bags and us into an overgrown golf cart and took us to our cottage. It was just a foretaste of the service we'd get all week.
Our new home was a pristine 1100 square foot cottage with a vaulted ceiling, pine flooring, a full-sized fireplace with a wall switch-controlled gas log, and a screened private back porch overlooking the May River. Here are 11,000 words worth of photos; click for full-sized pictures.
The little alligator is Pierre, and if the housekeepers find him on the bed each day, they know not to change the sheets. You could say he's an ecogator, but I wouldn't advise it.
As you can see, the room was well-appointed and made for spoiling guests. We weren't thrilled to have a Keurig coffeemaker - it's not our favorite form of coffee - and the wi-fi was a bit on the slow side, but those were the only complaints we could come up with.
After a couple of days, however, we noticed that the lighting wasn't as bright as it was when we checked in. We wondered if they'd come in and swapped out all the bulbs; it took us a while to notice the details on the light switches.
We're a bit slow on the uptake, I guess, because we didn't notice that every switch in the cottage had a tiny dimmer slider, and housekeeping had set all the lights to a more romantic [I suppose] level. We were happy to restore the lighting to a level more in keeping with our aging eyesight.
In any event, waking up to a view like this each morning provided plenty of atmosphere.
I could spend hours trying to describe the beauty of the landscape, but as always, pictures will do a better job.
Our front porch and bicycles
Even the path to our cottage was amazing.
View of the May River from our back porch
May River at low tide
Looking north from our back yard
Looking south from our back yard
Part of the common area in front of cottages
Palmetto Bluff is crisscrossed with miles of paved walking/bicycling paths (and we discovered some additional miles of unpaved-but-smooth roads off the beaten path). Every cottage has two cruiser bikes assigned to it; they weren't speedy but they were comfortable and well-maintained, and we put them to good use spending hours exploring the property. Some of the views were just stunning to our West Texas eyes.
Morning view from bike path; can you spot the gator head?
The paths meandered along these lagoons.
Wood and steel bridges with separate cycling paths span the lagoons.
You sometimes felt you were on the world's largest golf course.
The paths were wide, smooth, and well-maintained.
We did explore some of the undeveloped parts of the acreage. Never saw another person.
Around the Grounds
It seemed like everywhere we turned, there was something interesting to see.
A driftwood sculpture of nesting egrets was donated by one of the residents.
These fire pits were lit each night and all the ingredients for DIY s'mores were provided.
There was a community garden...
...and anyone could partake of its produce via the honor system.
We couldn't resist this rope swing overlooking the lagoon.
A chapel on the grounds had a bell tower that announced the hour.
View from inside the chapel
The weather was delightfully mild during our stay...
...and the shopping was delightfully limited (one store).
These are the ruins of the 19th century plantation/lodge that once dominated the site.
This small cemetery in back of the Inn contains the remains of beloved hunting dogs.
And speaking of the Inn, this is it.
Low tide exposed oyster beds as far as you could see.
There were plenty of boats stored on site, but very little actual boat traffic.
We're getting to the serious stuff now. Palmetto Bluff doesn't have a plethora of dining choices - there were four restaurants on the property - but what it lacks in quantity it more than compensates in quality.
The River House Restaurant is located in the Inn, and it's the most elegant of the alternatives. We ate there twice, once to celebrate our anniversary and again on the last night of the stay. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and observant, and the meals were memorable. In the afternoons, the restaurant offered a veranda menu of appetizers and libations.
The Canoe Club had a slightly more casual ambiance, but the menu was just as impressive, as was the staff, and the view was even more so. It's on the second floor, and the full length windows that lined both walls provided beautiful views of the May River on one side and the lagoon on the other.
As much as we like the elegance of the River House, we thought the Canoe Club offered the most enjoyable combination of food and atmosphere on the property.
The Canoe Club from the lagoon side
The May River Grill is located on the 18th hole of the golf course, serving only lunch and giving hungry and thirsty golfers a first-rate rest stop. We ate there the first morning following our arrival, and we weren't too drowsy to be surprised at the delicious offerings of what we first thought would be basically a burgers-and-fries diner. We would gladly have enjoyed more lunches there, but it was closed the remainder of our stay for some maintenance.
The May River Grill as viewed from the golf course
The golf course as viewed from the May River Grill
Finally, Buffalos served breakfast and lunch in a very casual setting. We bicycled over for breakfast every morning, and for lunch at least once. We were also fortunate to be there on a Sunday, because their breakfast buffet was not to be missed. We tried to eat on either the patio or the screened-in porch whenever possible; the photos below offer sufficient explanation, I think.
Next installment: The Wildlife of Palmetto Bluff