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I’m staring into a freshwater lagoon at Montage Palmetto Bluff, eyeing a circle of bubbles, on a warm, sunny December morning.
“That’s an alligator,” my guide explains, “They might be napping or eating.”
He goes on to explain that alligators can stay deep in the lagoon for hours, but when it gets warm—like it’s expected to do later that same afternoon—the alligators surface to take in the sun. Sometimes they crawl up onto the dock at the resort to the delight of the guests.
“A common question we get is why at such a luxurious resort the grounds aren’t more landscaped—and we explain that we’re committed to preserving the land as close to its natural state as possible.”
Palmetto Bluff is a land parcel larger than Manhattan just minutes from the airports at Savannah or Hilton Head, and the conservation efforts have paid off. Driving in, it’s picture-postcard South Carolina Low Country—pristine lagoons and wetlands, alligators lazily sunning on the banks, the tree line white with bird rookeries. The grounds are dotted with palmetto and live oak dripping with Spanish moss.
“This is the healthiest ecosystem on the Eastern seaboard,” the captain of my afternoon boat excursion explains, as we glide through the tidal estuary that fronts Palmetto Bluff. We keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins, and we aren’t disappointed—they feed in the shallow waters of the estuary during the sunset hours of our cruise. The captain pulls the boat up into an oyster bed and plucks out several, shucks them and slurps them up, while a bald eagle keeps watch from atop a pine tree nearby.
The resort has multiple types of accommodations, from rooms in the main building to “guest houses” clustered across the lagoon. There are suites available in both. The resort’s original room category was the fully detached cottages lining the estuary. There are private residences in the nearby village communities that are also part of the resort’s rental pool—a five-bedroom home is also on the table! My suite in the guest house has it a gas fireplace and screened-in porch, and tons of space—it feels almost like a cottage unto itself.
Guests can check out bicycles to get around the resort, as it’s pretty spread out, or they can rent a golf cart if they feel something more motorized is more convenient. Many amenities are spread throughout the grounds, so it’s nice to have wheels. Up the street from the resort building are the tennis courts, a gas station with the deluxe mini mart RT’s Market (you wish your gas station was this nice!) and the 18 hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course (where conservationists marked out specific environment-crucial trees that couldn’t be harvested or moved, so the course is designed around them).
Many of the resort amenities, like the boat house, bicycle and golf cart rental and a lot of resort shopping, are located in Wilson Village. The village is named for a New York businessman who built a stately home on the site in the early 20th century, where visitors from the north would spend weeks enjoying a leisurely lifestyle on the estuary. The house burned in 1926, and the ruins of the pillars and front steps can still be seen today. Wilson didn’t have the heart to rebuild and returned to New York. The cabins were built in the later decades, and the development of the modern resort began in earnest around 2001.
In Wilson Village, in addition to boutiques and real estate offices, is Buffalo’s, which turns out Italian-inspired fare with fresh Lowcountry seafood and produce. Guests can dine indoors in the lively dining room, or outdoors on a lovely terrace across from the riverfront chapel. Next door, Melt is a nice after-dinner walk for ice cream.
At the resort building, Octagon is the resort’s three-meal restaurant. Lavish a la carte breakfasts proffering everything from decadent French toast to huevos rancheros give way to light waterfront lunches (including a delightful hot chicken sandwich). Dinners are homages to Lowcountry cooking gone upscale—ora king salmon, a soulful beef tartare, even oscetra caviar with homemade blinis and crispy fingerling potatoes adorn the menu.
Ultimately, the resort is custom-designed for relaxation. Guests can linger by the fire pits in the “backyard”, or impulsively sneak handfuls of chocolates and mints from the dispensers on the back porch while waiting for their spa appointments or popping in for morning coffee. Across from the back yard is a plush resort pool and jacuzzi, and light lunches can be had at Fore & Aft, on the lagoon.
Those seeking luxury languor in the Low Country need look no further—Palmetto Bluff’s tradition of rest and relaxation punctuated by watchful southern hospitality is well-stewarded by the resort staff, and the carefully conserved environment that bestows upon the region its lurid naturality is managed to remain alluring and vibrant for years to come.
I’ve seen rates from $530 per night. The resort fee is $42 per night plus tax.
Here, it’s all about the wildlife or the vistas of the May River, the lagoons or the resort grounds.
Montage Palmetto Bluff is part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Legend Collection. I Prefer members will receive benefits when booking via Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
Good To Know
The resort fee includes resort bicycles, fishing equipment, croquet and bocce ball, morning coffee and newspapers in the lobby, fitness facilities with daily exercise classes, afternoon amenities on the porch, nightly s’mores, concierge gratuity, property shuttles, Cadillac Ride and Drive program and High Speed WiFi.
Various excursions and walks are offered with the resort’s staff of Naturalists and are a great way to learn more about the ecosystems within the resort.