It was closing in on happy hour when I turned off May River Road in Bluffton, South Carolina, and into the entrance of Palmetto Bluff, a 20,000-acre resort, residential community, and sportsman’s paradise. This was my second attempt. I’d missed the place five minutes earlier and had to turn around. I’d assumed there would be a giant, grandiose entrance, perhaps with a waterfall and stacked stone columns. But the entrance to Palmetto Bluff is marked only by a small wooden sign that one would expect to designate a campground or RV park. This is your first indication that while Palmetto Bluff is a “World’s Best” destination, it is never ostentatious.
Once through the entrance, it’s a five-mile drive through moss-draped oaks and swampy wetlands to the recently opened Montage Palmetto Bluff. The inn’s design is based on the 72- room, four-story mansion built by R.T. Wilson Jr. on the property in the early 1900s. The mansion burned down in 1926 and its ghostly remains, a few masonry walls and large grey columns, flank one end of Wilson Village, a small community of cottages, shops, and restaurants.
After a hard-hitting Artillery Punch at the inn’s Octagon Bar, I was shown to my room, where I shook off the four-hour drive from Greenville in the large soaking tub. The only question now was how I would get to dinner at the Canoe Club, located a half- mile away in Wilson Village. Should I drive my car, ride my resort- issued bike (bad idea), or ask one of the valets to transport me in a golf cart?
As the golf cart weaved past stately trees, gas-lit paths, and cottages with wraparound porches and rocking chairs, I felt absorbed by the relaxed grandeur of the Lowcountry. The Canoe Club only amplified this feeling with its expansive views and wood-beam cathedral ceilings. Perched on the second floor of the Wilson’s Landing boathouse and overlooking the May River, the Canoe Club features a seafood-heavy menu and stellar wine program. The grilled cobia with shrimp, clams, Andouille, and sweet corn was especially satisfying.
Lowcountry Luxury // Whether it’s a round at the shooting club, boating on the May River, or an evening at the Canoe Club, the Montage Palmetto Bluff is the fulfillment of relaxed adventure.
After dinner, I strolled through the village to the River House Lounge, where I ordered The Elvis, a concoction of peanut- infused bourbon, banana liqueur, and candied bacon. Then I headed out to the lounge’s veranda where I grabbed an array of complimentary s’mores ingredients and a long metal stick, which I took out onto the River House lawn where three fire pits were blazing in the dusk. Maybe it was all the sugar, or the moonlight reflected on the river, or the promise of another soak in my giant bathtub, but I began to feel giddy.
The next day, a variety of activities were on offer. Skeet at the shooting club, tennis, bocce ball, and croquet at the Wilson Lawn and Racquet Club, golf at the May River Club, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, horseback riding, fishing, paddle boarding, or an assortment of spa treatments. There was also breakfast, lunch, and dinner to consider. The biscuit bar buffet and a Bloody Mary at Buffalo’s in the village, a steak sandwich and cold beer at Fore & Aft by the inn’s pool, smoked beef tartar and “Shrimp & Grits Tots” at Jessamine. It was going to be a full day.
The Lowcountry has no shortage of unique experiences, but Palmetto Bluff has somehow mastered the art of unfussy luxury. From the bars and restaurants, to the spa and sporting activities, to the service throughout the resort and village, there is a current of understated excellence mixed with a feeling that you have entered another time, maybe even another world. While there are countless grand Southern resorts where one can go to be seen, Palmetto Bluff is where one goes to disappear.