Stereotypes, Stiff Drinks, and Romanticized Myths in South Carolina's Palmetto Bluff
SOUTH CAROLINA - Spanish moss draped over live oaks, beckoning porches, strong cocktails, and difficult history are some of the elements that make visiting the South so deeply satisfying. To paraphrase a friend, no place is only the worst of its stereotypes, or the best of its romanticized myths. This sober assessment is arguably most relevant in the Southern U.S. states.
Meticulously planned and deluxe as all get-out, Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, located about 25 miles from Savannah and about 100 miles from Charleston, distills some of the region's more alluring attributes. With its ample antebellum retro-inspired buildings on protected coastal marshland in the Lowcountry, it's hard not to make Truman Show jokes (although that was filmed in a very different planned community). Some people live here year-round in the past-meets-comfy-present villas; most are visiting for a well-curated experience.
If wokeness can only take so long of a holiday, you can exercise some critical thinking here. But as far as atmospheric getaways go, it's hard to beat cruising along the meandering bike path through the Bluff's micro-ecologies, taking in the wild yet raked grace of its 20,000 acres, followed by a stiff Old Fashioned.
This territory is steeped in a complex past that reaches back to its first Native American inhabitants, and excavations and new interpretations of its history are ongoing thanks to the work of Palmetto Bluff's resident archaeologist. A conservationist ethic is palpable, and visitors are given user-friendly pamphlets about Bluff's wildlife and vegetation. (The area's hunting tradition, however, makes for an interesting combination of environmentalist bedfellows.) I left disappointed that I didn't have an alligator sighting, despite the many warning signs posted around Palmetto Bluff's bodies of water.
The Montage Hotel and "downtown" village with shops and restaurants are heavy on the old-school feel articulated in various retro architectural styles — all tightly regulated at Palmetto Bluff's Design Review Center — while the new Moreland Village is more contemporary. Think: less brick and fancy millwork out of the pages of Southern Living, more bolder angles and clean lines that could sway Dwell readers. It's hard to resist to running your hands along walls embedded with oyster shells and climbing to the top of arguably the best treehouse outside of Disneyland, with its 360-degree views over the coast and egrets galore in the near distance.
There's not much of the Bluff that's left unconsidered. After sundown, flickering gas lamps are the exclusive lighting source. (As if on cue from a slapstick city slicker-themed movie, I walked directly into a puddle I couldn't see within minutes of arriving.) Yes, there's golf, naturally, and organized activities having to do with going out into the woods with legal firearms (I did not pursue these options). And a lot of dudes in what a native South Carolinian friend dubs "the preppy outdoorsman thing," meaning navy and khaki green down vests and tasteful plaid button-downs.
For a little edge, however, tie your visit to Palmetto Bluff's artist in residence program put together by the ultimate arbiter of all things groovy in the South: Garden and Gun magazine. Visiting creatives offer workshops, lectures, and hands-on demos with materials ranging from leather goods to artisanal soda making. Then during the Bluff's annual Music to Your Mouth festival in the late fall, get access to some of the best chefs and food and drink experts working their magic in and around the Southern U.S. After the bacon and bourbon hangover wears off, memories of biscuit bars and afternoons spent on porches still thankfully linger.
Plan Your Trip
Fly into Savannah, GA. From there, drive 45 minutes to Palmetto Bluff. If you plan to stay in and around town, Uber is also an option.
Keep Exploring South Carolina
On the Green at Kiawah Island
Drayton Hall: Time Capsule of the Colonial South
Fathom's Guide to Charleston