The Golden Isles: A Five-Star Escape
Tucked privately and seamlessly under the canopy of oaks and in the midst of marshlands, the Golden Isles offer five-star amenities worthy of worldly travelers.
The Cloister at Sea IslandThis Forbes 5-Star relaxing escape on the privately owned Sea Island comes with all the amenities—even the ones you didn’t think of (Fish dissection for the kids! Spice-based exfoliation for Mom!). No wonder The Cloister has seen its share of Rockefellers, Fords and Bushes over the years. The original hotel opened in 1928 and it quickly became a retreat for the rich and famous. Today, the Mediterranean style main building sits on a veritable compound that includes a Beach Club, three 18-hole championship courses, a 65,000 square-foot spa, shooting school, stables and 5 miles of private beach. Throw in six top-rated restaurants and it’s easy to see why U.S. News rated The Cloister one of the best hotels in the U.S. in 2015. 960 1280
The Cloister: Kids’ editionJust as easily as The Cloister can be a quiet escape for overworked business men and women looking to recharge, it can also be a destination vacation for families of theme-park proportions. Families can embark on day adventures like kayak tours, horseback riding and eco tours. Or, kids can enroll in the tennis and golf academies, take archery lessons, etiquette classes, or sign-up for the day camp where staff lead kids in discoveries, games, crafts and other outdoor adventures. And if the young ones get too weary they can always find their way to the kids’ spa. 960 1280
World-Class CoursesWith 180-holes of golf and accommodating year-round weather, the Golden Isles have become a golf Mecca worthy of a pilgrimage. Stunning marsh and ocean views compliment the spectacularly designed and meticulously maintained courses, one of which was designed by PGA TOUR professional and Sea Island resident, Davis Love III (Sea Island’s Retreat Course). The Seaside Scottish-links style course at the Sea Island Golf Club is one of several such courses in the area; it is also the site of the RSM Classic. One of the PGA TOUR’s premier stops, the RSM Classic draws the world’s elite golfers to the Southeast and has raised millions of dollars for charities. 960 1280
The King and Prince ResortAfter six years as a seaside dance club, the space was converted into a modern hotel in 1941. Several additional renovations and updates over the years have transformed The King and Prince Resort into St. Simons Island’s most luxurious resort, and its rich history even earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. The resort rests directly on the Atlantic coastline and includes guest rooms, beach villas, resort residencies and breathtaking ocean-front pools. The sensationally designed golf course rests on the former site of the Hampton Plantation, an 18th-century antebellum plantation that produced cotton, indigo and rice. Today, in stark contrast, it simply produces play. 960 1280
Jekyll Island ClubWhat has been rated as one of the top 500 resorts in the world by Travel + Leisure, the Jekyll Island Club also had opulent beginnings. The club was developed post-Civil War as a hunting club to draw affluent Northerners. In 1888 the Queen-Anne style club was built, and the wealthy followed. The Rockefellers, Astors, Vanderbilts and Pulitzers were among the illustrious membership that enjoyed lawn parties and stately dinners. At the time, Munsey’s Magazine described the resort as the “richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, Jekyll Island Club continues to play homage to its exclusive and historic roots; the 4-star resort has earned a place among the Historic Hotels of America. 960 1280
MauiWith more than 120 miles of coastline, Maui tops Mandy Ingber's list. Channel your inner roar, and strike a warrior pose, as you take in the sights and sounds of the deep blue Pacific splashing against the island’s rocky headlands. 960 1280
Viceroy Bali“I have wanted to travel to Bali, and have seen the pictures of the Viceroy -- luxury resort!” says Ingber. Luxury, indeed: The family-owned-and-operated property on the Indonesian island of Bali is home to 25 villas, nestled on a hill overlooking the “Valley of the Kings.” 960 1280
Harbour Island, BahamasThis island, located off the northeast coast of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, may be a trek to get to, but it’s worth it for the “quaint, sweet town [vibe] and casual, beachy feel,” says Ingber. We’re betting you’ll agree as you stroll past colorful rows of homes and “om” away on the island’s pink sand beaches. 960 1280
GaneshpuriThis small village, about 50 miles north of Mumbai, is “very poor, but soulful and where many gurus have lived and died,” says Ingber. Explore the village’s Siddha yoga tradition at the local ashram, then while away the hours in one of the hot springs near the area’s Tansa River. 960 1280
Kauai“Incredible setting!” says Ingber of this Hawaiian island. “Not only were we in a gorgeous, Bali-style house but the boat ride up the Na Pali Coast is dreamy. Waterfalls and beautiful hikes. So much wild nature here. One of the most bountiful and beautiful places I have been to and taught in.” 960 1280
One & Only Palmilla, MexicoIngber gives this Los Cabos resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez high marks. “I have been here twice, and have had some lovely yoga sessions in this beautiful setting,” says Ingber. “Many of my clients love Mexico because it’s sandy and close -- and we love the sunny weather!” 960 1280
Sha Wellness ClinicThis medical and luxury spa, overlooking Spain’s Costa Blanca coastline, also makes Ingber’s shortlist. A big draw is the surrounding natural beauty; the resort is situated in the Sierra Helada Natural Park, home to protected areas of plants as well as vibrant marine wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins. 960 1280
Aix-en-ProvenceThis region in southern France is another personal favorite; Ingber stayed at a private estate in the country. “We had fresh eggs from the chickens on the property and practiced yoga daily,” she says. “A little sweaty in the summer, but with a farmers’ market and incredible architecture!” 960 1280
Pranamar Villas and Yoga RetreatThis posh oceanfront hotel, built on a stretch of sand near the Costa Rican town of Santa Teresa, came recommended by a friend. “It’s on my wish list,” says Ingber. With 2-story villas built around a saltwater pool, a restaurant with organic fruits and veggies, and tropical gardens, we can see why. 960 1280
Best Places to Go "Om" 12 Photos
Southern Soul BarbequeThis BBQ joint has put St. Simons on the culinary map, not only earning noteworthy applause from Garden and Gun Magazine and Southern Living, but also landing spots on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Fame hasn’t changed the way owners Giffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp have always made good food: slow, steady, and in full southern style. Their rubs are made from scratch daily, they bottle their own sauces and they cook in an outdoor pit using only wood. Pulled pork and sweet ribs coated in brown sugar and tupelo honey rank among the favorites, but the Brunswick stew, homemade pimento cheese and smoked chicken salad can’t be overlooked. Meat and three? Yes, please. 960 1280
HalyardsThis restaurant seamlessly blends laid-back island environment with upscale food. Owner and Executive Chef Dave Snyder consistently impresses guests with creative dishes thoughtfully—and locally—sourced. Chef Snyder recognizes that Georgia is home to some of the best family-owned farms and dairies, and with an entire ocean at his front door, his food brings new meaning to fresh and farm-to-table. The wild Georgia shrimp and grits is a must-have, and there’s a good reason why the recipe for the creamy blue crab bisque has remained the same for decades: if it ain’t broke... 960 1280
Palmer’s Village Café“The place” for breakfast, this local hot-spot, inconspicuously nestled in the The Village and tucked behind unassuming wooden doors, is home to five-star Chef John “JB” Belechak and his mind-blowing culinary creations. But it’s entirely without pretension. The playful menu features everything from poached eggs over collard greens and house-made tomato jam to what’s known as The Local (aka “The Islander”), an artistically designed egg white tri-fold with avocado, cheese and bacon served with seared tomatoes and arugula topped with cucumber ribbons. Yes, ribbons. Breakfast is so popular here, it’s served all day. But Chef JB—whose resume includes Blackberry Farm and The Cloister at Sea Island—offers an entirely new dinner menu every week based on what’s in season from local and regional farmers. You know, to keep things fresh. 960 1280
Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and PubAs the name indicates, this unassuming little yellow house has it all. In addition to being an authentic island coffee house offering homemade sweets and an open mic, Palm Coast transforms every weekend into one of the island’s most popular outdoor music venues for local and regional talent. The outdoor patio and courtyard is pet-friendly and home to a few Palm Coast fur babies itself. An affordable menu (the most expensive being the popular seared Ahi tuna wrap for a mere $13) and an extensive and constantly evolving craft-brew menu keeps customers coming back for more. 960 1280
4-Hour Music FestFor four years running, Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and Pub has played host to four hours of non-stop rocking revelry at this intimate musical celebration on Labor Day weekend. From 8 p.m. until midnight, audiences fill the outdoor courtyard and patio, tossing back craft brews and cocktails, and keeping time with the tunes from local and regional talent. Seven bands play everything from Celtic folk to acoustic rock, delighting concert goers with an authentic, grassroots music festival—for nothing more than a cover charge. 960 1280
A Little Light MusicEach year the Coastal Georgia Historical Society releases the lineup for its summer concert series, A Little Light Music. The season runs May-September, so it’s easy to catch any one of the concerts that fall on select Sundays each month. Taking place on the seaside lawn of the historic St. Simons Lighthouse, musicians from around country entertain crowds from the outdoor gazebo with classic rock, Motown, blues and more, depending on the day. Concert goers are encouraged to bring their own beach chairs and blankets to beat the evening breeze, as well as pack picnics and libations for an easy-going experience for the whole family. 960 1280
Sounds by the SeaRounding out the calendar of summertime music-going experiences is this summer concert series presented by the Golden Isles Arts & Humanities. On alternate Sundays of A Little Light Music, Sounds by the Sea takes place on the expansive lawn (the “casino”) of St. Simons’ most popular ocean-side park, Neptune Park. Concert goers spread out their beach chairs and coolers under the live oaks to enjoy any one of the five concerts specifically scheduled during high tide for a bug-free evening of music with a welcoming ocean breeze. 960 1280
Local Talent Phil MorrisonA bevy of skilled musicians continue to breathe life into the Island’s live-music scene. These talents include none other than bassist/songwriter Phil Morrison. Known best as a member of the late ‘60s and ‘70s electric jazz group Stark Reality, Morrison has also played with the great Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole (Nat’s youngest brother). As both a world-class musician and a Golden Isles resident, he and his jazz ensemble are a crowd favorite and often headline the island’s summer concerts. Morrison even wrote the official song of the Golden Isles, “Take me to the coast of Georgia.” 960 1280
St. Simons Food and Spirits FestivalFor five days during the first week of October, the Food and Spirits Festival transforms the island into a non-stop drinking and dining extravaganza that showcases the area’s top culinary talents. The main event, Tastings Under the Oak, which offers hundreds of food and drink tastings, takes place in the historic—and breathtakingly scenic—Gascoigne Bluff Park. Festival goers enjoy dozens of additional events across the Golden Isles like the Chef Showdown, Farmers and Artisans Market, oyster roast and even a Kids Zone. In its fourth year, the festival is quickly becoming a culinary destination event. 960 1280
Cassina Garden Club Slave CabinsA significant piece of African-American history resides on a former working plantation at Casciogne Bluff on the western side of the island. There, in the late 18th century, James Hamilton built four slave quarters made of tabby—a mixture of lime, sand, water and oyster shells—as part of a planned community of slave dwellings to work the 500 acres of the antebellum plantation that harvested Sea Island cotton and logged timbers. British troops later raided and looted the Hamilton Plantation during the War of 1812, liberating many of Hamilton’s slaves.
The Cassina Garden Club were deeded the property in 1950 and proudly took on the role of land stewards, restoring the two remaining cabins with as much historic accuracy as possible. Their work earned the cabins a place on the National Register of Historic places in 1988. 960 1280
Fort Frederica National Monument
James Oglethorpe built the fort in 1736 to protect the southern border of Georgia from the encroaching Spanish. Overlooking the Frederica River, the military outpost gave the British an important vantage point from which they could control the inland passage up the coastline and operated as a hub of military operations for more than a decade. Most notably, the fortified walls proved impenetrable by the Spanish during the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742. Shortly after that British victory, the fort disbanded.
Today, visitors walk among the fort’s archaeological remnants that include the ruins of the palisade walls, the magazine where gun power was stored and a soldiers’ barrack. The property, which is managed by the National Parks Service, also includes burial grounds from the 1700s, with ancient tombs emerging from layers of natural overgrowth.
Built in 1820, Christ Church is the second oldest Diocese in Georgia and regarded as one of America’s most beautiful churches—and most photographed. The quaint chapel not only serves as a memorial to John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church who delivered sermons there under a magnificent oak, but also to a young man’s lost love.
After Union forces nearly destroyed the church during the Civil War, 24-year-old Rev. Anson Dodge, Jr. financed its reconstruction in honor of his wife, Ellen, who died unexpectedly on their honeymoon. Anson had her buried beneath the altar. The peaceful and pristine grounds also bear one of the oldest cemeteries in the state, where a number of well-known Georgians rest, including novelist Eugenia Price.
Avenue of OaksMany a country club boasts a grand entrance, replete with auspicious waterfalls and Roman statues, but few can compare to the natural, breathtaking beauty encountered upon the approach to the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons. Formerly the entrance to the most prosperous antebellum plantation in the Golden Isles, double rows of majestic 160-year-old live oaks form an expansive canopy. It’s said that at one time the property boasted so many flowers that sailors could smell their alluring fragrance before ever stepping foot on land. 960 1280
St. Simons LighthouseThe white statuesque lighthouse is a signature of St. Simons—as is the ghost rumored to roam its spiral staircase. After the original lighthouse was destroyed by retreating Confederate troops during the Civil War, the U.S. Government built the current 104-foot structure in 1872. Eight years later, the keeper at the time, Frederick Osborn, was killed in a duel on the grounds by his assistant keeper. Reports of hearing mysterious footsteps along the staircase have been made ever since.
The keepers’ brick cottage at the base of the lighthouse has been converted into a popular museum, but the 129-step to the top of the tower is well worth the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Golden Isles. 960 1280
Rooted in the SouthThe South is well-known for its cotton and rice production in the 1800s, but few realize that timber was also a thriving industry. St. Simons began exporting lumber in the late 1700s. The timber harvested from Gasciogne Bluff was sent up north to build the USS Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides,” as the hardy oak planks helped prevent cannonballs from penetrating the ship. Nearly a century later, lumber from St. Simons was also used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. 960 1280
In 1803, a slave ship made the harrowing trek through the Middle Passage and landed in Savannah, Georgia, to be sold at the slave market. There, some of the African people known as the “Igbo” (also spelled Ebo or Ibo) were purchased and sent by boat to a plantation on St. Simons Island. En route, the Africans united and rebelled, sending their captors overboard. From there, the story of the Igbo’s landing on Dunbar Creek diverges along several paths.
One written account claims that the Africans immediately walked into the creek, proudly singing, “The Water Spirit brought us, the Water Spirit will take us home,” and drowned themselves. Other stories claim only a few drowned, and the survivors were re-enslaved or relocated. But another account, handed down by African American oral tradition, is known as the “Myth of the Flying Africans,” and has been immortalized by notable writers like Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Jamaica Kincaid, to name a few. According to the legend, the Africans transformed into buzzards and flew back to Africa. While a historical marker does not yet officially designate the private property on which Ebo Landing exists, it will forever be an important piece of African America.
Wesley Memorial and GardensOn the grounds of Christ Church, one can enter the venerate scape of the Wesley Gardens. The 2-acre garden is adorned with 4,000 azaleas and shrubs of 60 varieties, of particular interest to visitors with green thumbs. But the garden’s centerpiece remains the 18-foot Celtic cross made of Georgia stone to honor the early ministries of John and Charles Wesley.
The brothers came to Georgia in 1736. And while Charles was revered as a poet and writer who penned well-known hymns like “Hark the Herald,” and served as Oglethorpe’s secretary of Indian Affairs, John would be remembered as the founder of American Methodism. 960 1280
Tree SpiritsAs the legend goes, back in 1982, local resident and artist Keith Jennings first carved a face into the truck of an oak behind the local haunt Murray’s Tavern in an attempt to settle a bar tab. The intricate weathered face then inspired Jennings to carve more than 16 in the trunks and severed branches of trees across the island. Many of the faces allegedly pay homage to the sailors who lost their lives at sea, but it’s more likely that the trees themselves determine the spirit that emerges from their skin. Either way, the artistically rendered faces perpetually serve as a reminder of the creative talent literally carved into the island’s roots. 960 1280
“The Marshes of Glynn”“Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!”
These lyrics make up part of an 1878 poem titled “The Marshes of Glynn,” by the renowned poet and former Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier. The poem, which pays tribute to Lanier’s beloved South, reveres the breathtaking expanse of grasslands in Glynn County, Georgia, that extend toward the mainland. The piece was part of an unfinished compilation titled, “Songs of the Marshes,” yet it succeeded in unveiling the beauty of the coastal marshes to the rest of the world. 960 1280