By { Misty Milioto

After landing at the Savannah, Ga., airport, the arrival experience at Montage Palmetto Bluff begins with a four-mile drive through marshlands teeming with waterfowl, turtles and alligators, and maritime forests with live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The picturesque, winding road leads to a haven of serenity and seclusion with the Montage Palmetto Bluff at its core. The 20,000-acre property known as Palmetto Bluff is surrounded by 32 miles of riverfront and is bordered by the headwaters of the May River near the town of Bluffton, S.C.; the Cooper River to the east; and the freshwater rice fields of the New River to the west. Expect quiet streets, gas-lit walkways, wraparound porches and massive moss-draped live oak trees throughout the community. It is quintessentially Southern in every aspect. A pristine setting in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Palmetto Bluff is nestled between Savannah and Hilton Head, and is rich with history. In fact, the oldest artifact found on the property is a stone projectile point dating back to 10,000 B.C., suggesting that the first residents of Palmetto Bluff were descendants of the first humans to arrive in North America. 

In the mid-1700’s, Palmetto Bluff was home to about 17 plantations. In 1902, Richard T. Wilson, Jr., a wealthy banker, purchased 20,000-acres of the consolidated plantations and completed construction on his mansion—said to be the grandest structure on the Carolina coast—in 1914. His home later burned down and the ruins can still be seen on the property today. After changing hands a few more times, Charlotte, N.C.-based Crescent Resources, LLC, purchased Palmetto Bluff in June 2000 with a focus on environmental stewardship.

This classic Southern escape is now home to Montage Palmetto Bluff, which is nestled amongst the sprawling community. In 2016, Montage Hotels & Resorts, in partnership with Crescent Communities and The Athens Group, completed a $100 million expansion and debuted its first East Coast resort. Set within an extensive nature preserve, the resort boasts numerous hiking and biking trails, two vibrant villages (Wilson Village and Moreland Village), eight restaurants, three distinctive pools, a 13,000-square-foot spa, the Inn, and 48 spacious cottages and cottage suites. Also debuting in 2016 were Montage Residences, designed by acclaimed local firm Pearce Scott Architects, ranging from two to five bedrooms and offering distinctive charm with traditional Lowcountry architecture. Boasting airy sitting rooms, spacious porches and cozy fireplaces, the village homes offer owners exclusive access to the full amenities and services of Montage Palmetto Bluff.

The largest undertaking of the expansion was the development of a new Inn, which sits along an expanded lagoon waterway at the heart of Wilson Village. Developed by The Athens Group and designed by world-renowned Hart Howerton, HKS Hill Glazier Studio and Wilson Associates, the Inn took inspiration from Wilson’s original mansion with a vast front porch, entry columns, and a grand interior space adorned with fine art and antiques. The common areas throughout the Inn reflect the natural surroundings with a palette of Spanish-moss gray, pine-needle green, river-clay brown, ocean blue and crepe myrtle crimson. The Inn is home to 78 guest rooms and suites (including the Presidential Suite, Carolina Suite and Palmetto Suite), a lively lobby lounge, Octagon, and Spa Montage. All of the accommodations take inspiration from the setting with subtly toned fabrics, rugs and accessories; reclaimed antique pine wood flooring from Southern structures; and new and antique furnishings. Local art also plays an important role throughout the resort, with works by featured artist West Fraser of Hilton Head and others.

The resort expansion complements a wealth of existing amenities throughout the surrounding community, including the May River Golf Course (an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course), Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club, Wilson Landing Marina, Longfield Stables (a 173-acre boarding and equestrian event facility), the Wilson Lawn & Racquet club (with tennis, bocce, croquet courts and pickleball), boating at Wilson Landing, the Boundary Bowling and Game Room, and the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy.

On a recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting the pet-friendly Montage Palmetto Bluff canine ambassador, Cauley, before checking in to a King Balcony room at the Inn with a view of the lagoon. The seating area and furnished balcony were perfect for catching up on work, while the super plush bed and full marble bathroom with separate shower and soaking tub (and custom bath and body products) provided some much needed R & R. After checking in, I joined my group for a cooking class with Executive Chef Nate Beriau—who prepared hot smoked corvina tacos with corn tortillas, sauce verte and jalapeños—paired with beer and wine from Montage Palmetto Bluff’s Director of Beverage and Certified Sommelier, Thaddeus Miller, at Cole’s Smokehouse. The tacos whetted our appetite for more to come at Cole’s, which is named in honor of the owners of Moreland Plantation and is known for its regionally inspired comfort food. We ordered the Fried Angry Pickles with Carolina Reaper ranch and the Duroc pork BBQ nachos for the table, served with Tilamook cheddar, corn chow chow, scallions and sour cream. The real highlight though was the signature fried chicken with Red Clay aioli.

After we were perfectly satiated, we settled in for a friendly game of bowling at the Boundary Bowling and Game Room. As the social hub of Moreland Village, the four-lane, state-of-the-art bowling alley and game room also features pool tables, a foosball table, shuffleboard, card tables and board games. 

The following morning, I started my day with a visit to Spa Montage. The serene sanctuary features separate men’s and women’s relaxation areas with eucalyptus steam rooms, redwood saunas, cold plunge pools and whirlpools; and 13 treatment rooms, including a Couple’s Suite. There’s also an outdoor lap pool surrounded by maritime forest. After relaxing here for what seemed like not quite long enough, I settled in for a 90-minute Vitality of the Glaciers Facial ($365), featuring Valmont products to counteract the impacts of stress and pollution, while returning oxygen and nutrients to the dermis. To say it was the best facial I have ever received is an understatement. Not only were the products fabulous, but the esthetician simply worked magic on my skin. Spa Montage also offers HydraFacials, Tata Harper organic facials, collagen enhancements, massages, body treatments, hair and nail services, and much more. Every treatment is highly personalized and inspired by the resort’s Lowcountry locale. While I didn’t get a chance to visit the fitness center, Montage Palmetto Bluff offers state-of-the-art Life Fitness equipment paired with views of serene pools and nature. The Movement Studio features yoga, pilates, spin and cardio classes, and personal training is offered in 30-, 60- and 90-minute sessions.

After the spa, I met back up with my group for lunch at Buffalo’s. This casual restaurant located in the center of Wilson Village specializes in Southern Italian cuisine. I—along with nearly half of my group—opted for the BLT with Parmesan-crusted sourdough, turkey and aioli, which was simply to-die-for. Buffalo’s also offers views of the May River and the May River Chapel. (The other on-property chapel, the Somerset Chapel, is located by the Inn and is where Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin recently held their star-studded wedding.) With such stunning scenery in every direction, it’s no wonder that Palmetto Bluff is a premier wedding destination. 

After lunch, we headed to the May River Golf Course for a putting contest with Head Golf Professional, Greg Wrobel. He explained the basics of putting and described the design of the course, which meanders through the May River Forest and features wide, inviting fairways with strategic bunkers. Champions Bermuda greens, white-sand bunkers and gently undulating slopes were all designed to follow the natural lay of the land. Meanwhile, all tee boxes and fairways feature Paspalum, the newest eco-friendly turf. Better yet, caddie service is required with each round, so golfers of any ability will have the best experience possible.

In order to get a better acclimated to the area, we took a short drive to Old Town Bluffton where Bluffton Bike Taxi awaited our arrival. The bike tour included an overview of the charming town, its history and landmark sites, plus a bit of environmental education. The plethora of restaurants, boutiques and art galleries make this small town worth a visit or two during your stay.

After returning to the Inn and having a bit of downtime, we met back up again for dinner—this time at Canoe Club. The restaurant, which looks a bit like the interior construction of a yacht, specializes in coastal cuisine with ingredients and inspiration drawn directly from the May River, such as shrimp and oysters. Also on the menu are fresh vegetables, beef and poultry sourced from local farms. We started with the May River oysters on the half shell, which gave the Gulf oysters I’m used to a serious run for the money. We followed with crab beignets served with aioli, lemon and parsley, and, for an entree, I chose the roasted New Bedford jumbo scallops with Kai lan, celeriac mousse and Proscuitto. While fantastic, I have to admit that I had a bit of FOMO when one of my travel mates was served the potato gnocchi with winter squash, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, tomato, sage, brown butter and Parmesan Reggiano. To cap off the night, we retired to the fire pits outside of the River House for s’mores with house-made marshmallows.

The next morning started with breakfast at Buffalo’s, where the biscuit bar beckoned with all kinds of fixin’s. I opted for biscuits with sausage gravy, and a few other selections from the buffet, such as breakfast salad, polenta, fruit and bacon. Casual, relaxed and friendly is the name of the game here, with everyone from the staff, guests and members always ready with a welcome smile.

Next up was the highlight of my trip: the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy tour with Conservancy Director, Jay Walea. The private, non-profit organization is tasked with protecting the rich ecological diversity—such as bald eagles, snowy egrets, bottle-nose dolphins, American alligators, white-tailed deer and bobcats—that makes the Bluff so special. The Conservancy also conducts yearlong research and provides educational programming for members and guests. The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy’s current projects include surveys of alligator, turtle, white-tailed deer and bird populations; monitoring bald eagle nests; a study of cavity-nest use and correlation with habitat; and the analysis of artifacts from the antebellum Pettigrew Plantation. 

Walea explained that conservancy means maximizing but utilizing the land. As such, we learned all about the 360 acres of cultivated land that Walea and his team have planted for wildlife feeding, including purple top turnips, chicory and clover—all of which are high in sugars and starch for the winter season. These plants will keep the white tailed deer, Eastern white turkeys, migrating song birds, swamp rabbits and other species well fed throughout the season. We also learned about controlled brush burns and the barn owl project Walea is working on to reintroduce the species to the area.

As enthralled as we all were, we eventually had to head back to the Inn for lunch. This time, we chose seats alongside the lagoon waterway edge at Fore & Aft. This casual eatery serves Mexican-style fare that pairs perfectly with the views of the rookery located just beyond the backyard of the Inn. Our first course was the coconut ceviche with snapper, red onion, celery, cilantro, tomato, coconut milk and jalapeño ginger marinade, all served inside of a coconut. The fish tacos with snapper, cabbage and chipotle aioli—which I sprinkled with some extra-hot habanero tatemado salsa—hit he spot, while a May Margarita with silver tequila, lime and grapefruit juices calmed down the heat on my palate.

After lunch, we hopped in a golf cart (the preferred mode of transportation, although there are also bikes available for rent, and a Ride & Drive Program with a fleet of the newest luxury Cadillacs available for use on-property), and headed to the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club. With a total of 15 shooting sites, the club features 13 sporting clays stations peppered through a 40-acre forest, an elevated and covered five-stand station, and a wobble deck field. Who knew I had pretty good aim? To be honest, this experience tied with the conservancy tour, as both were fully immersive, educational and fun.

A farewell dinner at Octagon concluded our trip, with wine pairings by our thoughtful Certified Sommelier, Miller. The extensive wine list is complemented by a selection of bourbon, rye whiskey, single-malt scotch, brandy and cognac. The food menu really shone with hearty selections such as salmon, beef short ribs and truffled chicken. Since we couldn’t decide, we tried all three—the beef short ribs were my personal favorite. 

In addition to all of the activities I participated in, there is so much more to do both at Montage Palmetto Bluff and the community as a whole. Area experiences include May River dolphin tours, yacht charters, nature guided interpretive hikes, beach excursions, historic tours of Savannah and Beaufort, and so much more. On my next trip, I’ll be sure to book a wine cruise on the Grace, the resort’s 60-foot recently restored 1913 motor yacht. Guest rooms from $289 per night, 476 Mount Pelia Road, 866.706.6565,