Like Coming Home
Arriving here feels like coming home. This is Lowcountry perfection and the ideal place to slip away to a seasonal treat.
Woodlands Resort & Inn is a special spot that indulges guests with world-class amenities. Mobil Travel Guide and AAA have consistently bestowed five-star and five-diamond ratings upon the lodging and dining here (one of only three such highly ranked destinations in the U.S.). So I wanted to visit and see what the rave is about.
Five Stars of the Woodlands
We enter the foyer to a warm staff greeting beside a cheerful Christmas tree. "Hospitality is personal here," says Noreen Pailes, the assistant general manager of the small inn. She and her colleagues collaborate to anticipate our needs before we voice them. "We're a family because we're so small. It's what makes Woodlands unique. We invite you into our home."
The property is the ideal place to ease into the pace of coastal Carolina, where tall, straight pines; leather-leafed magnolias; and wide-armed live oaks dripping with Spanish moss surround the historic redbrick estate.
Eighteen elegantly appointed guest rooms and a guest cottage provide comfort and privacy. The decor--West Indies touches and English antiques--doesn't feel at all stuffy. Chairs form cozy seating areas by working fireplaces across from four-poster king-size beds. Large baths include showers, soaking tubs, and heated towel racks. The staff spoils our pets as well by setting up a doggy bed and supplying fresh-baked goodies.
The 1906 classic Revival house features ornate millwork under 16-foot ceilings. The public areas, a living room and salon plus a winter porch, offer intimate corners for tête-à-têtes. Fresh poinsettias and amaryllis cheer up tabletops, while wood-burning fireplaces create merry backdrops.
The staff pampers us with tea--all we have to do is decide where to relax. We opt for the rocking chairs on the sunny veranda. The chef adorns trays with flavorful and light blueberry-and-lemon scones in the British tradition. We can't resist the petite chocolate meringue pies and brownies with gold and silver leaf while sipping a soothing bergamot tea.
Afterward we set out for a leisurely walk around the 42-acre grounds. A heated pool, tennis courts, and bicycles invite activity. Instead we scoot into Charleston (25 minutes away) to shop the boutiques and antiques stores along King Street. We've planned another full day to explore the plantations along the Ashley River, wander along Catfish Row, or maybe even venture out to the coastal islands for a golf or beach excursion.
We dress up for the evening's big event--dinner. Crystal chandeliers glow golden over our quiet corner table in the double-tiered dining room. The prix fixe three-, four-, and five-course dinners include plenty of options--such as seasonal vegetable tasting menus (perhaps truffles), a highfalutin pork-and-beans dish, and oysters served cold to hot (five different ways).
I start with the oyster appetizers, savoring each bite. The first is cold--an oyster in a tomato reduction and horseradish crème fraîche. It's followed by a pickled oyster with shiitakes. The third bite warms my palate as I pause to enjoy the oyster poached in butter sauce with tomato caviar and basil. The last two morsels end richly--a tempura-fried oyster followed by one broiled with truffle hollandaise.
Unobtrusively the sommelier, Stephane Peltier, suggests pairings from the 900-label collection. He pours just enough wine to match the length of each course.
Our tasting extravaganza continues with hay-smoked swordfish and roasted Manchester Farms quail and ends with a pear soufflé and a smoked chocolate mousse. A pianist plays jazz and classical standards as we linger. We've just tasted culinary heaven. It's the best meal of our year.
Toddling back upstairs to our cozy room, we tuck in between the fine Italian linens and indulge in a long winter's nap. Now that's peace on Earth.
On December 9 and 16, sommelier Stephane Peltier hosts a Champagne-and-sparkling wine gala for guests. He'll pour 12 effervescent wines during a tasting reception, followed by a festive four-course dinner ($108). Can't make it during December? Stephane holds wine-and-dinner events on the third Tuesday of every month. If you're staying at the resort during these times, the casual dining room remains open for non-participating guests.
Woodlands Resort & Inn: 125 Parsons Road, Summerville, SC 29483; www.woodlandsinn.com or 1-800-774-9999. Rates from $325. Three-course dinners range from $62, four-course dinners from $75, and five-course dinners from $98.
"Dreamy Getaway" is from the December 2008 issue of Southern Living.