With some of the best beaches in the country, combined with a laid-back, classic Lowcountry vibe, it’s no surprise that 2.5 million sun-hungry visitors flock to Hilton Head Island every year.
What many of these tourists don’t realize, however, is that there is a much friendlier and alluring hidden gem of a town less than 10 miles away.
Bluffton, South Carolina, on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining understated.
Many resort communities have an aura of tackiness, filled with obnoxious colors, loud music and crowds. However, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage resort, which contains an inn, cottages, cottage suites, vacation homes, a church, restaurants and a plethora of outdoor life bounded by the May, Cooper and New rivers, sets itself apart in a reposition of functioning as its own village.
Winding, quiet streets in a centuries-old maritime forest filled with live oaks and red cedars, the classic Southern homes in the Inn at Palmetto Bluff operate as a neighborhood with amenities and activities.
Palmetto Bluff certainly hasn’t gone without recognition. It was ranked in 2014 as the No. 1 hotel in South Carolina and No. 2 in the country by the U.S. News and World Report, as well as Conde Nast Traveler’s No. 1 resort in the U.S. and No. 11 resort in the world in 2013, among many other awards.
The accommodations, which feature touches such as vaulted ceilings, fireplaces and verandas with views of the surrounding Lowcountry, are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight for rent.
Although this does price out many visitors, you don’t need to be a Palmetto Bluff guest to enjoy some of the resort features.
Buffalo’s, a corner café open for breakfast and lunch across from the community chapel in Wilson Village, sits parallel to the May River, with a menu offering salads, sandwiches, pastries and bar items.
Other restaurants in the community include RT’s Market, a neighborhood general store, and the River House Restaurant, a farm-fresh eatery with a deep Southern feel.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Palmetto Bluff, however, isn’t what visitors can find indoors but what they can find outdoors in the 20,000 acres of the property. By hopping on a bike, horse or by foot, tourists can explore the Bluff trails or waterways by kayak, canoe or paddleboard.
While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout.
Palmetto Bluff also houses a 1913 60-foot antique motor yacht that is one of the last remaining pre-World War I gas-powered yachts, restored and available for tours and private charter at any time.
Back on land, Longfield Stables is home to the community’s equestrian facility, a 173-acre farm surrounded by 15 miles of trails.
Besides getting a workout outdoors, visitors can also check out the Bluff’s fitness centers, movement studio, heated horizon lap pools overlooking the May River and award-winning day spa.
No resort community is complete without a golf club, and May River Golf Club, a par-72 course, holds sand from Ohio at Jack Nicklaus Signature Course along 7,200 yards running on the banks of the May River. Golfers of all skill levels in a state-of-the-art practice facility can play at the Bluff’s course, consistently ranked among the best in South Carolina.
However, it’s not all about taking from the land — it’s about giving to it, too. The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural resources of the property, funded by every home sale on the site.
To showcase and protect other forms of community beauty such as local artists, public art shows are also routinely held on the property in a medium that allows visitors to interact with artists, as well as blues, jazz, Southern rock, Lowcountry stomp and bluegrass artists and performers.
Although tourists looking for the laid-back, timeless feel of South Carolina tend to head to Hilton Head Island, a more genuine Southern experience can be found just a few miles away in Bluffton — and thanks to Palmetto Bluff, the same resort element of luxury found on the island can be found in the small town, too.
Where: 476 Mount Pelia Rd. in Bluffton, South Carolina, about eight miles from Hilton Head Island
Rates: Accommodations currently are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight
Contact: montagehotels.com/palmettobluff/ or 843 -706-6500