With more than 20 championship golf courses, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is widely recognized as a golfer's paradise, but it's also the perfect place to unwind and indulge in a bit of pampering.
Nestled in the heart of the Low country is Hilton Head Island, the largest barrier island between New Jersey and Florida. Home to many charming towns and communities, like Palmetto Bluff, it's also a bastion of top level golf in the United States.
You may have heard that things move more slowly in the South, and it's true. Here, time is a bit more fluid, people are quicker with a smile and it's easier to let go, relax and connect during your vacation.
I'm a Type A, on-the-go kind of girl, so when I found myself pulling over to the side of the road in order to drink in the beautiful, tree-lined drive into the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, I knew a profound change had taken place. I was truly relaxed, unhurried and enjoying the simple things I usually speed past.
Porching. After arriving at the Five Diamond Inn, I learn just how seriously people here take relaxation when I inquire about an odd activity called 'porching'. Its meaning is exactly what it sounds like - sitting on your cottage porch (or with other guests around the Inn's fire pits) with a beverage, a snack and some good company. I decide my souvenir from this trip will be to incorporate the concept of porching into my daily life.
Following my new resolution, I make sure to continue the tranquility at the Auberge Spa. At the reception desk, I'm asked to choose what kind of health-boosting elixir I would like added to my post-treatment beverage, and in the lounge a hot neck pillow is draped around me as I await my service.
A bath on the veranda. I'm trying a sampling of some of the spa's top treatments by starting with a wild rice and mulberry leaf scrub that is created using ingredients harvested on the property. The spa is known for its array of "Baths on the Bluff" - a blissful soak in a claw-footed tub on a private veranda off the treatment room. Your choice of a wide array of herbs, oils and salts can be added to the water, in order to complete your experience.
After the soak I'm relaxed and ready for The Deep South treatment, a full body massage that fuses Western convention with Eastern techniques to craft a service designed for bodies sore from golf and other activities. Golfers will also appreciate the Out of the Rough pedicure and the 20th Hole treatment combining steam, Vichy shower and a deep tissue massage.
Following my treatment, I relax by the fire and peruse a book of comments from past guests. It's Gigi who best summarises my thoughts, proclaiming, "This is so much better than the Betty Ford Clinic!"
The Canoe Club. Lest you get too relaxed, the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature May River Golf Course beckons, with sweeping views of the May River, wide fairways, strategic bunkers and natural waste areas. The course is unique because it was designed to enhance the land and fit in with the natural topography of the area. All tee boxes and fairways feature Paspalum, the latest in eco-friendly turf.
Whether you work up an appetite from spa-ing or golfing, a dinner at the Canoe Club is sure to satisfy. The room is designed to make you feel as if you are in a canoe, with a wooden, hull-shaped ceiling and maritime décor. The menu puts a spin on the classic American grill, featuring meats and seafood with an array of sauces and sides. Save room for the build-it-yourself desserts or roasting s'mores (marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched between two graham crackers) by the fire pits.
After your action-packed day, you'll sleep like a baby, wrapped in down bedding and Italian linens. The private cottage suite, decorated in beach chic, also features a private bedroom, living room, fireplace and a screened in porch.
The first golf club. Just 30 minutes from Palmetto Bluff lies Hilton Head Island, known for its 24 top golf courses and over 350 tennis courts tucked away into the quiet marshland and surrounded by oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Scottish immigrants organized America's first golf club here in 1786. Today Condé Nastreaders put Hilton Head on the Top 10 U.S. Island List. It's no wonder, with 50 miles of bike trails, top beaches and over 250 restaurants to choose from.
Like Palmetto Bluff, Hilton Head exudes a luxurious, laid-back feel. What sets the island apart is that it is broken into gated plantations, each with its own personality. While there are top hotels on the island, like the Westin and the Inn at Harbour Town, the best way to experience plantation living is to rent one of the thousands of private homes and villas for your stay.
A home of your own. Through Wyndham Vacation Rentals and ResortQuest, I reserved a spacious home on the golf course in Sea Pines Plantation that slept up to 20 - perfect for a family trip or an escape with a few golfing buddies. The size of the home allows everyone to have their own space while enjoying the "great room" (living room), professional kitchen, game room and outdoor pool. But what I enjoyed most was the peace and quiet, which can be rather elusive when staying at a hotel.
The serenity was a perfect backdrop for the in-home massage, booked through the Island's top day spa, Faces. It's the ultimate in decadence to have the masseuse come to you, especially after a long day on the links. However, the non-golfer will enjoy going to the spa for the Golf Widow's Revenge package that pampers with a facial, massage, scrub and Peppermint Pedi.
Golf and tennis. In the summer, Hilton Head beaches are the perfect respite from the sticky days, but even if it's too cold for a dip, there is plenty to do. For golfers, Hilton Head is as close to nirvana as it gets. Harbour Town at Sea Pines was ranked second by PGA players in 2012 and hosts the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event every April. Other must try courses include the Robert Trent Jones course in Palmetto Dunes Plantation and the Arthur Hills course in Palmetto Hall Plantation. If you're looking for a challenge, the George Fazio course in Palmetto Dunes is regarded as the toughest links on the island.
As a former college tennis player, I was thrilled to book a private tennis lesson at the Van Der Meer Tennis Center with its resident pro, Marcos Ondruska, a former top 30 ATP player. Tennis buffs will also relish the fact that the island has grass, clay and hard courts to enjoy.
Cycling is also popular here, and pedal power is an excellent way to explore the island, which was named a Silver-Level Bike-Friendly community in 2011.
Traditional food. With all the activity during the day, you'll easily work up an appetite, and there are plenty of dining options to choose from. For an iconic Lowcountry experience, try the historic Old Oyster Factory. It's the antithesis of trendy, serving Southern specialties like hushpuppies, grits and, of course, oysters.
For a modern spin on the area's cuisine, head to Red Fish, which employs a farm-to-table philosophy and boasts a wine list that is recognized by Wine Spectator magazine.
While golf isn't known for producing calm in its players, the South Carolina Lowcountry will lull even the most competitive golfer into a Zen-like state with its quiet charm, friendly people and tranquil landscape. The area is a perfect North American spa and golf escape for anyone looking to enjoy the finer things in life and experience a true slice of wholesome Americana.