“Just get through Orlando as fast as you can,” said Mark, as we left Sarasota to begin our road trip. We needed to travel from Florida’s Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast to be on course for our first stop at Georgia’s Sea Island.
Mark suggested St. Augustine as a place to stop to stretch our legs, have lunch and take a look around. I’d made a reservation at The Reef restaurant on the coast north of St. Augustine thinking we would enjoy the ocean view and then go into town to see the oldest settlement in the US. But the skies turned ominous north of Orlando and by the time we arrived at the Reef, the wind was up and rain had started. The weather has not been our friend on this trip.
We did drive along the narrow spit of land at Ponte Vedra where trusting souls have built beach homes that appear to be daring a hurricane to sweep them away. But the rain deterred us from going back into St. Augustine and we continued north.
What is your image of the state of Georgia? Mine was of red clay dirt and weathered rural houses viewed from the back seat as we wound down narrow “highways” back in the late 50’s during family driving trips to Florida. But as we crossed the border from Florida into Georgia last week, everything we saw was lush and green. Maybe because of all the rain we’ve encountered…
I initially booked us at The Cloister at Sea Island because it seemed like Savannah was too long a day drive from Sarasota. I wasn’t expecting all that much since I knew the resort dated back to the late 1920’s. So you can imagine my surprise when we stepped inside The Cloister’s main building and saw this:
It turns out that the Sea Island Company initiated an extensive renovation in 2003 and held so carefully to re-creating founder Harold Coffin’s vision of “restfulness” before hosting the G8 summit in 2004 that the resort actually went bankrupt when the economy went south in 2008.
Sea Island is not the easiest place to get to if you live on the West Coast or even from many places on the East Coast, but it is worth however many miles or plane changes you have to make to get there. We got the impression that (wealthy!) families return to The Cloister for summer vacations not just year after year but generation after generation.
As we wandered through the main building, we realized that our first stop might be the best of the trip. At every turn we noticed thoughtful attention to the guests’ comfort; from lemonade and cookies in the Conservatory to the chocolate “gold sovereigns” left on our bedside tables at turndown.
We felt like we had been transported to Wonderland, and indeed, as we explored the 1200+ acre resort, we discovered an old fashioned soda fountain at the beach club that is actually named Wonderland, and for good reason!
And it’s not just Wonderland for kids. The 65,000 square foot spa looks like an idyllic destination for adults.
The Mediterranean design of the resort hearkens back to the time when Spanish conquistadores established missions and settlements along the chain of more than one hundred barrier islands dotting the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
As we reluctantly left Sea Island to continue our travels, we stopped off at St. Simons Island to see Christ Church. Still hosting an active Episcopalian congregation, the lovely church dates back to 1808 and is the second oldest parish in the state of Georgia. It is especially notable for the fact that John Wesley preached there as an Episcopalian priest before returning to England and founding Methodism.
Next stop: the road to Savannah