Detour to Discovery: Making the Most of Your Return North
Driving home after season? With a few strategic turns,you can revel in the historic, the beautiful, the tasty- and a whole lot of Southern charm.
Karen T. Bartlett
We year-rounders have been saying our goodbyes these last couple of weeks to friends returning north for the summer. The good news—have you noticed?— they’re lingering longer each year, so now, at least, the parting is a sweeter sorrow.
With prospects of a longer stay in Southwest Florida, our winter residents can also take a bit more time coming and going. Instead of barreling up I-95 or I-75 this year, stopping only to grab some sleep in a highway motel and a quick meal, why not take a detour and spend a couple of days discovering the ambiance and regional charm to be found just the other side of the Interstate? Here are some delicious options. Best idea: Try one of them on the way north, and another one on the way back.
Secluded Cumberland Island
Accessible only by ferry, this unspoiled sea island lies just off the coast at the Florida/Georgia boundary. Its landscape includes breathtaking expanses of sea oat-covered dunes and the Dungeness Trail traversing dense maritime forests and the ruins of the tabby castle where Robert E. Lee’s father, Light Horse Harry, is buried.
Also on the island are the tiny white chapel where John Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette were married, and Greyfield Inn, the stately Southern mansion that hosted their wedding reception. In the 1800s, the island belonged to Thomas and Lucy Carnegie, who built Greyfield as a private retreat. The home is still in the family, operating as one of the most secluded and gracious inns in the South. The island’s famous wild horses, which have run free on the island for 500 years, graze on the lawn beneath the moss-draped oaks.
Cumberland Island is managed by the National Park Service, which offers ferry service for day-trippers only. Greyfield Inn’s private ferry picks up its overnight guests on the mainland at Fernandina Beach.
More information: greyfieldinn.com
The detour: Fernandina Beach is 15 miles off I-95, just north of Jacksonville.
Southern Plantation on the Salt Marshes of Georgia
Just 30 minutes south of Savannah is Dunham Farms, a secret collection of eight plantations dating back to the 1700s—the oldest in Georgia still owned by the original family. It encompasses 9,400 acres of salt marsh, black-water swamp, hardwood forest and stunning gardens, including a rare camellia plantation. There are hiking and horseback riding trails, and most stunning of all, a romantic entry drive embraced by a wall of six-foot-tall azaleas, and shaded by a canopy of centuries-old cathedral oaks.
Stay at Palmyra Plantation, in the historic restored horse barn, or the romantic honeymoon cottage overlooking the river bluff .
Your hosts are mother-daughter owners Laura and Meredith Devendorf, the fifth and sixth great granddaughters of Thomas Jefferson, respectively. Meredith, a gourmet chef, prepares sumptuous and artful breakfasts and dinners from fresh, locally farmed ingredients. The privacy of this lovely retreat is so protected that directions are given only to registered guests.
More information: dunhamfarms.com
The detour: Six miles off I-95.
A Sensuous Savannah Inn
The choice is not whether to stay in a drenched-in-elegance historic Savannah inn on one of the city’s beautiful squares, where you’ll be pampered with sherry at bedside, made-to-order breakfasts, lovely afternoon teas and a concierge at your beck and call. No, it’s which inn to choose. The 18th and 19th century historic district, stretching from the deep-port riverfront to the stunning fountain at Forsyth Park, is best savored at a leisurely cadence on foot or by horse and carriage.
Each Savannah square has its own charm. The centerpiece of one may be a magnificent granite statue, while the focal point of another is a bronze fountain or acurlicued Victorian gazebo. All, of course, have park benches, centuries-old live oaks and masses of azaleas. In Savannah, even the cemeteries are objets d’art, proven by the number of artists busy at their easels among the crumbling gravestones.
Try one of the following inns, each just a minute or two from world-class cuisine, charming boutiques, bookstores, museums, galleries and historic River Street:
The Kehoe House, an 1892 Renaissance Revival mansion-turned-inn, with 13 original guest rooms. Its grand columned entry, balustrade balconies, turrets and gables make it one of the city’s most popular wedding inns. www.kehoehouse.com
The Gastonian, an 1868 Regency-Italianate mansion near Forsyth Park, with stunning formal gardens, on one of the most exclusive streets in the Historic District. All of its 17 guest rooms have working fireplaces. www.gastonian.com
If Queen Ann Victorian is more your style, you’ll adore the Forsyth Park Inn, circa 1893, with its wide rocking chair verandahs overlooking private gardens and gorgeous views of Forsyth Park. It’s light, airy and elegantly appointed, featuring a grand staircase, parquet floors and ornate window and roof pediments. www.forsythparkinn.com
The detour: Just eight miles east of I-95 on I-16.
Kiawah Island, Golfer’s Fantasy
If you’re a passionate golfer and you haven’t played the Ocean Course, this is the detour of your dreams. This Pete Dye course has the most ocean-front holes in the Western Hemisphere. A movie location for The Legend of Bagger Vance and site of many prestigious world and U.S. tournaments, the course is a sensational blend of rolling fairways, lush greens, golden sea grasses and windswept trees.
Besides the otherworldly experience of playing this course, there are extraordinarily wide golden Atlantic beaches, picture-perfect bicycle trails, and one of the world’s top-ranked resort tennis facilities.
Stay in a golf or tennis villa, a private home or the gorgeous beachfront hotel, The Sanctuary, which also houses the full-service spa.
More information: kiawahresort.com
The detour: Forty-three miles off I-95 near Charleston, S.C.
The Inn at Little Washington
One might be tempted to say this restaurant-with-accommodations in Washington, Va., is all about the food. It is. Zagat, James Beard Foundation, Wine Spectator, Gourmet and others have given it their highest accolades. So don’t bother taking the detour if you don’t enjoy a superbly prepared meal, (up to 10 courses) paired with excellent wines and presented as fine art.
But when you feel like splurging, there’s so much more. As respite from a long drive, one could not conjure up a more elegant detour than an overnight at The Inn at Little Washington. The estate, with its 12-room main inn, three-bedroom guest building and three charming cottages, dates back to the 1700s. Décor is tasteful and refined, with impeccable thrice-daily maid service, posh amenities, complimentary continental breakfast and gourmet afternoon tea. Beyond the stunningly landscaped grounds is the historic town of Washington (surveyed by President George himself), as well as several other quaint villages and exceptional wineries, all in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
More information: theinnatlittlewashington.com
The detour: Fifty-six miles northwest of Fredericksburg, Va., off I-95.
Atlanta: City Posh to Country Estate
Bet you’ve hardly noticed the exit to Adairsville, Ga., just off I-75 about 10 hours into your journey north. What a shame, because it’s home to Barnsley Gardens, a magnificent 3,300-acre resort in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The original property, developed by Sir Godfrey Barnsley of Derbyshire, England, in the late 1840s, is part English country estate and part hunting lodge, with the manners of a Southern plantation. World-class dining, a top-ranked Jim Fazio-designed golf course, horseback riding, fly-fishing and a spa, among other pleasures, provide everything you need to rest up from the first leg of your trip.
Best idea: Barnsley Gardens recently paired up with the luxurious Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta hotel for the perfect town-and-country getaway. You can indulge in the glam shopping, dining and nightlife of Atlanta’s elite Buckhead district and then continue north about 60 miles to decompress like English royalty at Barnsley Gardens.
More information: barnsleyresort.com, mandarinoriental.com
The detour: I-75 goes straight through Atlanta. Barnsley Gardens is 10 miles west of I-75.
Louisville: Sluggers, Bourbon and a Hot Brown
You’re breezing through Lexington on I-75, with a wistful glance toward the Louisville exit. You know you’ve always wanted to take that exit, to spend some time at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. In case you miss Derby Day (May 4 this year), The Derby Museum’s 360 degree wraparound theater captures the exhilaration of the most recent race. There’s also the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory, a must-do for any self-respecting baseball fan. Boxing fans will head straight to the Muhammad Ali Center, a tribute to the revered boxing champ and philanthropist, and the horsey set will love touring the bluegrass horse farms. And of course there’s the Bourbon Trail: 12 Kentucky distilleries open to the public, including Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses and Wild Turkey. Jim Beam is the closest to town.
All this is worth at least three days’ indulgence.
A divine headquarters for your stay is the landmark Brown Hotel, Louisville’s lavishly restored 1920s-era grande dame at the core of the theater district.
Inside tip: Don’t check out of The Brown Hotel without indulging in the legendary Hot Brown, the ultimate Kentucky comfort food. The open-faced turkey sandwich, piled high with bacon and tomatoes and drenched in Mornay sauce, was invented by the hotel’s chef in the Roaring ’20s as an alternative to bacon and eggs after the hotel’s famous all-night ballroom dances.
More information: gotolouisville.com, kybourbontrail.com, brownhotel.com
The detour: Eighty miles west of Lexington off I-75. Safe travels. Welcome home! See you next season.
ROAD TRIP TIPS
Addicted to historic cemeteries? Love those quirky food factory tours? There’s an app for that. As long as you’re taking it slow and easy, what’s another couple of hours to see how Moon Pies are made? Yes, the Moon Pie factory is just nine miles off I-75 in Chattanooga, Tenn. One app worth having is roadsideamerica.com.
Rather hold a book in your hand? Pick up an Off the Beaten Path book for each state on your route. My Georgia favorites are Georgia Off the Beaten Path and Georgia Curiosities, both fun reads by William Schemmel. See the rest at globepequot.com.
Savvy airline travelers know to stroll the aisles every couple of hours to avoid a serious circulation problem called deep vein thrombosis, but we often forget that it applies to road trips, too. Detour stops help, and so will compression hosiery. Rejuvahealth has just introduced a glamorous, lightweight line fashionable enough for your next black tie gala. Feeling particularly sassy? Check out the lavish leopard thigh-highs with the lace-top trim, or maybe the purple paisley pantyhose. Check out the men’s and women’s socks, leggings and pantyhose at rejuvahealth.com.
Save the environment (and tons of lunch money) by switching from bottled water to an awesome new Brita squeeze bottle for each of you. The built-in filter cleans 40 gallons of road-trip tap water before replacing. Pretty colors, too.