After a long summer, indulge yourself with a few days to recharge at one of the South's luxurious inns. We chose three of our favorites, each quite different in appearance, but all perfect for an easy weekend retreat. Revel in the stately hospitality and romance of a Natchez mansion. Explore 200 wooded acres at an ultra-lux ranch resort in Texas. Enjoy the long evenings of August in a cool garden in Delaware. Whichever you choose, be careful: A yearly end-of-summer trip to these seductive places may become habit forming.
Sleeping Inn in Natchez
No Southern city provides respite from a steamy August night quite like Natchez, Mississippi. In an area rich with enchanting inns and award-winning accommodations, Dunleith Plantation encompasses all that's pleasurable about the region. Here, lodging isn't merely a place to lay your head but rather a truly stylish, truly Southern experience.
A grand porch with whitewashed columns welcomes guests to the structure's front entrance. Acres of green grass beckon visitors for a barefoot stroll among the wispy blades. And live oaks stand at attention as their branches bow in the breeze. Soaked in charm and romance, this Greek Revival-style mansion underwent a massive renovation in 1999 to restore the property to its original luster.
Twenty-one guestrooms reside on the 40-acre property. Guests may choose from rooms in the main house or the courtyard wing. Individually decorated, most are outfitted with whirlpools, gas-burning fireplaces, period antique furnishings, and even claw-foot tubs. Because August is a slow month, less expensive rates start at $89 for the courtyard rooms and $175 for the main house.
Antique beds make sleep an event all to itself. In the morning, guests look forward to a complimentary full breakfast at the property's on-site restaurant, The Castle. With choices such as eggs Benedict, country ham, and buttermilk biscuits, it's hard to leave the table.
The Castle shines brightest at dinner (entrées range $12 to $25). Exposed brick, Elizabethan tapestries, and a large fireplace add a touch of medieval elegance. The menu changes regularly, but you can't go wrong with the Pan-Seared Sea Bass and Godchaux Salad, a delicious blend of fresh greens, bacon, and sprinkles of blue cheese.
Later, a tour of the home showcases fine antiques and lore about its past residents. Pay special attention when the guide talks about brides of Dunleith families who would etch their initials in the windowpanes. Visitors can still see their handiwork today.
Dunleith Plantation: 84 Homochitto Street, Natchez, MS 39120; 1-800-433-2445 or www.dunleithplantation.com.
Hill Country Haven
The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio might as well claim its own zip code. With an 18-hole championship golf course, a 950-foot Ramblin' River for tubing, multiple swimming pools (one in the shape of Texas), trails for hiking, a manmade beach, a relaxing spa, plus divine dining, this oasis masters the all-inclusive moniker. Throw in the staff's warm Southern hospitality, and what else could a vacationer want?
Sure, with 500 guestrooms (rates range $140 to $360), this place deserves the label of "large hotel" rather than "small inn." Yet wildflowers and lush hills surround it--creating a private refuge. With 200 acres of rolling land, you'll never feel like just another tourist in the latest popular lodging, even though the resort sits mere minutes from SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
What you will sense are the comforts of home. Decorated with washed pine furnishings and a quilt coverlet on the bed, each guestroom combines country coziness with sophisticated style. When hunger arrives, choose from endless buffets at the Springhouse Café, or enjoy sandwiches at poolside Papa Ed's. And plan at least one meal at wilderness-themed Antlers Lodge, where the Southwest flavors the cuisine.
Windflower--The Hill Country Spa is the newest addition to this 10-year-old getaway. Covered in old barn siding gathered from all across the state, the building looks like a weathered and well-worn 1880s barn from a Texas ranch house. Inside, the Yellow Rose facial, Peach Pecan body scrub, The Last Armadillo body mask, and Texas Tea wrap add a little Lone Star to indulgence. And you'll fall head over cowboy boots for the handmade quilts in every treatment room.
Wherever you roam on this spacious resort, the essence of the Hill Country unfolds--and you'll never want to leave.
Jennifer L. Mckenzie
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa: 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, San Antonio, TX 78251; (210) 647-1234, 1-800-554-9288, or www.hillcountry.hyatt.com.
A Village Unto Itself
Just minutes from Wilmington, Delaware, and about an hour and a half from Baltimore/Washington International Airport lies a rural retreat named The Inn at Montchanin Village. Once a working community for 19th-century laborers, Montchanin has been restored and transformed into a world-class resort.
A trip to this pastoral hamlet will reveal winding pathways that curl between 11 quaint buildings constructed in the mid-1800s, 9 of which now house guestrooms. Lush gardens surround the property, where visitors can relax amid the blooms. The atmosphere is elegant but informal, as evidenced by the owner's favorite quotes, sprinkled about the property, our favorite of which is "Dance like no one is watching."
Room rates begin at $150 for a cozy retreat decorated in period furniture and top out at $375 for either a two-bedroom suite or superior room. The latter may be one of the most gorgeous rentals in the South--an enormous fireplace and a marble bathtub complement a huge bed and stone walls. Of the 28 rooms on the property, none share the same floor plan or furniture.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Montchanin take place in the old blacksmith's shop, now dubbed Krazy Kats. The hilarious portraits of dogs and cats that grace the main dining room are outdone only by the superior food, wine list, and service. Kats is pricey for dinner--a three-course meal costs about $50 per person. But the superb menu features such delights as pan-seared foie gras in a port wine reduction ($14) and a bread pudding dessert topped with ice cream that, in the words of one waiter, "will make you want to jump up and slap somebody!" One last tip: Absolutely don't miss the French toast on the weekends--it's a treat that will make you want to stay another week.
The Inn at Montchanin Village: State 100 and Kirk Road, Montchanin, Delaware; (302) 888-2133, 1-800-269-2473, or www.montchanin.com.
For a fun activity for the whole family, read "Chill Out at Seaworld" on page 24 of the August 2003 issue of Southern Living.