Believe it or not, we're sending you near Charleston, but not to Charleston. I recently snuck away to three inns beyond the city that fed and pampered me so well, I never made it to town. (You don't have to stay overnight to dine, but it sure makes an evening more relaxing.)
If I could go back to only one, I'd choose Woodlands Resort & Inn, 40 minutes from downtown. It's the priciest (ouch), but for a milestone occasion, this remote Relais & Châteaux (association of luxury lodgings) escape soothes and celebrates. There's little to do but linger over breakfast in your rambling, luxurious room; play tennis or croquet; splash in the pool; and surrender to a massage. Then you can glide into an evening in the formal dining room, blessed with suave service, a serene setting, an accomplished but approachable wine list, and the misleadingly quiet talent of chef Ken Vedrinski.
Menus of 4 to 10 courses bring an impressive parade of precise plates that rival some of Charleston's best. A dainty eggshell cradles garlicky, buttery custard and (surprisingly) Georgia caviar. Soup is a ceremony: The liquid is poured tableside over diced butternut squash and a single wild boar tortellini. Asian flavors delight here and there. Dessert was much prettier than it tasted, but I'd try again. 125 Parsons Road, Summerville; (843) 875-2600 or www.woodlandsinn.com. Dinner, 4-10 courses: $64 - $120; rooms: $295-$425.
I'd toured the gardens and house of this plantation on Charleston's edge before and lunched on fried chicken. But dinner and the hidden inn eluded me, so I returned. Built in 1985, the inn's architecture (a modern, boxy nod to nature) feels a bit like a fancy tree house, so rooms from $200-plus seem a little lofty. But dinner is a bargain and an unpretentious treat. I adored the moonlit stroll from my room in the woods. On the menu, the Old South reigns beautifully: a pile of crispy, fluffy fried oysters with lively rémoulade sauce; creamy, not-too-thick she-crab soup; and excellent shrimp and grits. Leave room for fabulous strawberry shortcake on a big, sweet biscuit. Wine is very limited. 4290 Ashley River Road, Charleston; (843) 556-0500, 1-800-543-4774, or www.middletonplace.org. Dinner entrées: $20-$27; rooms: $199-$275.
The Beaufort Inn
Don't overlook sweet, sleepy Beaufort--an hour or so away from Charleston. Although its offerings aren't quite as grand as the others, it too is a relaxing, walking waterfront town. We found fine fare and hospitality at The Beaufort Inn, an 1897 home. Here, breakfast makes you almost as happy as dinner.
A before-dinner crab-crawfish timbale cake wooed most. No breaded patty here: Tremendous lumps of crab and plump crawfish are suspended in lemon-parsley mayonnaise, dusted in pecans, and served with spunky green tomato chowchow. A refined version of local Frogmore stew leans nicely toward bouillabaisse. General manager David Boyd takes good care of wine lovers. In the morning, savor eggs Benedict with Creole mustard hollandaise, biscuits, marmalade, preserves, creamy grits, great sausage patties, and service that is nearly as indulgent as at dinner. 809 Port Republic Street, Beaufort; (843) 521-9000 or www.beaufortinn.com. Dinner entrées: $18-$28; rooms: $145-$350.
[For two very different takes on Southern treats, read "Sweets by the Sea" on page 30 and "Eat Your Greens" on page 57 of the August 2002 issue of Southern Living.]
This article is from the August 2002 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.