Island in Time

Escape to nature at this inn on Georgia's Cumberland Island.
Cassandra M. Vanhooser

Sitting on a swath of deserted beach, I pull on a sweater and wait. Ribbons of salmon, mauve, and lavender swirl across the sky, heralding the arrival of the morning sun. I revel in the warmth and beauty of the sunrise but settle in to wait anew.

Just as I am about to give up hope, my companions arrive. Two wild horses and a spotted foal pick their way across the dunes. They gallop across the sand to frolic in the pounding surf.

Magical moments like these have long brought visitors to Cumberland Island. It was once a private retreat for Thomas and Lucy Carnegie, who bought land here in 1881. Today, the National Park Service owns most of the island. Only Greyfield, the house Lucy built for her daughter, and the surrounding 1,000 acres still belong to Carnegie descendants.

Though it now operates as an inn, Greyfield retains the feel of a well-used family home. The rambling white house features 14 rooms, only 3 of which have private baths, plus 6 rooms in 2 newer cottages. Many of the furnishings are treasured heirlooms, and family portraits and photographs hang on the walls. Breakfast is casual, and lunch comes in a picnic basket. Dinner is more formal, and guests are expected to dress for the occasion.

Still, it's the wild remoteness of Cumberland that defines the Greyfield experience. The sea island cotton, rice, and indigo plantations and farms long ago reverted to maritime forests. In addition to the feral horses, there are hogs, wild turkeys, alligators, and more.

When visitors arrive at the inn, they're encouraged to unwind and unplug themselves from the workaday world. Guests are welcome to borrow the inn's bikes and explore the island's 18 miles of unpopulated beach.

Peace and tranquillity are just what guests Jeremy and Heather Nadeau of Exeter, New Hampshire, had in mind when they traveled to Cumberland Island for a weeklong honeymoon. "It's exactly what we wanted," says Heather. "There are no decisions to make about what you're going to eat or what you're going to do for the day. It's completely laid-back."

As we talk, a light wind blows in from the west, caressing the island and rattling the fronds of nearby palmettos. Soon the newlyweds uncurl from the front porch swing and move indoors for an afternoon nap.

As the screen door slams, Heather looks back. "This is what every Northerner thinks the South should be like--a big old house, live oaks in the front yard, completely charming," she says with a smile. "It's very nice to be catered to like this."

Greyfield Inn: P.O. Box 900, Fernandina Beach, FL 32035; (904) 261-6408, 1-888-842-8763, or Rates: range $395-$450 a night for one person or two, plus an additional 18% service charge and a 7% Georgia state tax.

This article is from the March 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.