A traditional resort that has modernized its Old South feel, South Carolina’s graceful Montage Palmetto Bluff has been called one of the world’s most romantic hotels. The property opened two new restaurants in 2017 and added a third, serving Southern classics, this month. The resort’s owner, California-based Montage International, finished a $100 million renovation in 2016, adding a 74-room inn and 13,000-square-foot spa. Now Palmetto Bluff wants to extends its Southern hospitality to younger and tech-savvier guests with fresh offerings, like a bowling alley and text concierge service, in addition to the obligatory Jack Nicklaus golf course.
The Montage Palmetto Bluff is at the edge of the former fishing village of Bluffton, about a 20-minute drive from Hilton Head Island and a half-hour from Savannah, Ga., in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Set along the idyllic May River, the 20,000-acre property occupies a prime spot that sustained the Cusabo coastal tribes in pre-Columbian times, and more recently was the site of a turn-of-the-century mansion for the New York banker Richard T. Wilson. Today its lagoons host photogenic alligators, turtles, egrets, and nesting bald eagles. Rental cottages and vacation homes are also spread across the property, which is draped by Spanish moss and that is lighted by flickering gas lamps.
At the tail end of Labor Day weekend, we were given a complimentary upgrade to a room overlooking the resort’s front lawn, with an ample balcony perfect for sundowners. A welcome gift of bourbon milk jam and vanilla salted shortbread was nice. The soothing room, all creams, yellows, and blues, held a king-size bed, dark-wood desk, and inviting sectional sofa. The speaker’s Bluetooth easily connected to favorite music via our phones. At bedtime chocolates were left on our pillows, and the TV was turned to a jazz station.
The spacious bathroom—all white save for a gleaming black marble floor—was arranged thoughtfully for two, with a big freestanding tub, separate rainfall-fixture shower, adjoining toilet closet, double vanity, dimmer switches for flattering lighting, and a speaker bringing in tunes from the bedroom. Toiletries are by Gilchrist and Soames.
When our rooms weren’t ready on arrival, clerks handled the inconvenience pleasantly by granting access to the spa, locker rooms, ample gym and two pools. A text alerted us when we could check in (although there was no further response to our questions, which the message had offered to answer by text). Stand-up paddleboard rentals were comparatively steep ($55), and bicycles ($15) were surprisingly not included in our stay, so we chose complimentary kayaks. The watersports guide sent us off by promising an “amazing time” around sunset on the May River. Six minutes later, his promise was kept when we spotted dolphin fins. My husband and I paddled together with a lively pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins for the next 40 minutes, making for one of the most memorable nature experiences of our lives.
Poolside service from casual-dining spot Fore & Aft was prompt, although the large black “love bugs” ubiquitous at summer’s end are less romantic than their name suggests. For dinner, we chose the buzzing, wood-paneled Octagon Bar, where an acoustic guitarist played while guests downed beer and cocktails. Come morning our room-service breakfast turned up 14 minutes later than we’d ordered it to arrive. The huge biscuit and egg sandwich with Tillamook cheddar ($22) was a heavy start to the day, and the vegan burrito ($18) was bland, but fresh flowers and tiny Tabasco bottles were appreciated gestures. The comfort-food restaurant Cole’s, the grab-and-go Canteen and the casual, Southern-focused Octagon Porch Restaurant are other dining options.
Along with its many subtle but lovely touches for couples, the stunning nature at Montage Palmetto Bluff makes this updated Southern resort as romantic as promised.
The Montage Palmetto Bluff; 477 Mount Pelia Road, Bluffton, S.C.; montagehotels.com/palmettobluff