A few weeks ago, Mazda invited me to take a southern escape to Montage Palmetto Bluff — a luxury resort in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. While I was there, I shared a lot on Snapchat, but I also wanted to share a full Montage Palmetto Bluff Review here on the blog, as well as a little about my Mazda experience.
Montage Palmetto Bluff: A Luxury South Carolina Resort
I have a bad habit of not doing much research before going on trips like these. I’ve been to nearby Hilton Head before, so I envisioned Montage Palmetto Bluff as just another resort in the area. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Montage Palmetto Bluff is unlike any other resort I’ve ever experienced. It’s actually part of a much larger development that includes a huge nature preserve as well as permanent residences, walking trails, a charming little village, a marina, six restaurants, and an award-winning golf course. It’s located along the May River, about 23 miles from the Savannah Airport and 15 miles from Hilton Head.
They say Palmetto Bluff was destined to be “a place, not a project,” and they’ve gone to great lengths to preserve the natural beauty of the area. It’s about 2/3 the size of Hilton Head, to give you an idea how large an area it is, but while Hilton Head is crowded and commercialized, Palmetto Bluff is peaceful and serene. They’ve left much of the property untouched so you get a sense for what the area must have been like long ago. You feel like you’re going back to a slower time, before the age of smartphones and the noise of the Internet. It’s definitely off the beaten path — the place to go when you want to relax and get a break from the rat race.
Accommodations: Accommodations include rooms in the newly opened Inn at Palmetto Bluff as well as guest houses, cottages, cottage suites, and village homes. I stayed in a Lagoon Guest House King room, with a small entry foyer, a split bathroom, and a spacious bedroom with a desk and sitting area. I was on the ground level, so I had a private patio with this view of the lagoon.
Here’s the view in the other direction. I could see the Inn from my room. The lagoon winds its way around the property, and it’s so picturesque, lined with huge live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss… I could have sat out here for hours.
Here’s one of the village homes that you can rent. Wouldn’t this be a fabulous place to come and stay with another family??
Dining: There are currently six restaurants on the property. When I arrived on Monday afternoon, I hadn’t had lunch so after getting settled into my room, I wandered over to the Inn to see about getting a bite to eat.
Jessamine is located inside the Inn at Montage Palmetto Bluff, and it has indoor and outdoor dining in a well-appointed but casual setting. In fact, I feel like that sums up the vibe of Montage Palmetto Bluff. While the service is outstanding and the buildings and grounds are impeccably maintained, it isn’t over-the-top with grandeur. Understated elegance is how I’d describe it. It’s luxurious and welcoming without being stuffy.
Jessamine offers all-day dining options, which I found to be classic plates with a creative twist. For example, I ordered this warm kale Caesar salad topped with a quail egg. It was absolutely divine, and as you can see, the presentation was lovely.
The spacious Octagon Bar is located just outside of Jessamine’s, and it’s a great gathering place for groups who aren’t looking for a full meal but want a warm and welcoming spot to hang out and visit and enjoy a libation.
Buffalo’s specializes in Southern cuisine and is located in the village across from the chapel. They also have both indoor and outdoor seating, and they’re known for their Biscuit Bar. I walked over for breakfast on my last morning, and I was delighted to find shrimp and grits on the breakfast menu!
The River House Lounge is located in the village with sweeping views of the May River from the veranda that runs the length of the building. The menu features a wide selection of fine wines, craft beers, and remixed classic cocktails. This is where our Mazda group ate the first night, and it’s the perfect location for a large family gathering, wedding reception, or company dinner.
Montage Palmetto Bluff also offers In-Room Dining. The menu is extensive with plenty of options for every palate. I took advantage of this convenience the first morning I was there, and it was fantastic. Again, the presentation was lovely, and everything tasted divine.
My advice is to order early. The property is large, so it does take a while for delivery, and if they are booked as they were when we were there, it can take 45 minutes or so to get your meal. (But it was definitely worth the wait. I’m just glad I called early enough to have time to enjoy it. Others in our group weren’t as fortunate.)
I didn’t get a chance to experience Fore & Aft, serving light fare and relaxing views of the lagoon, or the Canoe Club, known for its seafood and May River view. I guess that’s a reason to go back, right!?! (As if I needed one…)
The first night of our stay, Mazda hosted us all for dinner on the veranda at River House Lounge. It was too dark to get a picture of my dinner, but I did snap a shot of the menu before we lost all our light. Everything was cooked to perfection and presented beautifully.
I had a great time getting to know some of the other bloggers and journalists attending the event, and the screened-in deck was perfect for the muggy evening when the bugs surely would have eaten us alive had we stayed outside.
The second night of our stay, we were treated to a cocktail cruise over to Moreland Village, a planned community on Palmetto Bluff that is designed to blend in with the landscape. The event photographer caught me shamelessly taking a selfie. Ha!
It was the PERFECT evening to be on the water. Take a look at the view. I took this picture from the boat.
We were greeted on the dock by waitstaff with trays of champagne, and beyond that was a gorgeous outdoor venue with twinkle lights and food stations and live music.
Also there to welcome us was this iconic candy apple red Mazda MX-5 Miata Convertible — my husband’s dream car. When we no longer have kids to haul around, I fully expect to come home one day and find one of these sitting in our driveway.
For dinner, we enjoyed a Lowcountry oyster roast and pig pullin’. There was fried chicken, pulled pork, brisket, and a ton of seafood. I also enjoyed a plate full of collard greens and fried green tomatoes. It was southern cuisine at its best!
Activities: Just exploring the property of Palmetto Bluff can keep you busy for an entire day. Gas-lit walkways weave throughout the property, and because it’s so large, bikes are provided for getting around.
You can take a boat tour to historic Daufuskie Island or to a private beach, and they offer full and half days tubing and skiing. Plus there are dolphin tours, salt-water fishing, fresh-water fishing, and paddleboarding. You can even charter a boat for a wine cruise or a Sunday brunch cruise.
In addition to the water activities, you can visit the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, go horseback riding, make an appointment at the spa, or hang out by the pool. I was hoping to have time for that on my second day, but we got back too late from Hilton Head, and I had to head right over to dinner.
There’s also a gorgeous Fitness Center with floor-to-ceiling windows with cardio and strength-training equipment as well as a movement studio with spinning, yoga, and Pilates classes.
Also, you must visit the village and town dock, and definitely eat breakfast at Buffalo’s!
You can also use Palmetto Bluff as a jumping off point to visit other historic towns and cities in the region such as Savannah, Beaufort, Hilton Head, and nearby Bluffton — a charming coastal town just outside Palmetto Bluff with antebellum homes, historic churches, and unique shops. I really wish I’d had time to explore the town of Beaufort with its eclectic array of shops and art galleries and the Civil War era homes on the outskirts of town.
Hilton Head is about 30 minutes away, making it the perfect day trip. You can visit the shops in Harbour Town, spend the day at the beach, or pedal along their miles of bike trails. Whatever you do, make sure to grab a bite at the iconic Salty Dog Cafe. The hushpuppies are to die for.
We were split into groups of two and provided Mazdas to drive over to the island, where we explored the area on bikes or kayaks. (I chose to bike.)
We started out in Harbour Town, biked over to the Salty Dog Cafe for lunch, and then biked back via a different route, which dropped us off at the Harbour Town Lighthouse. If we’d had more time, I would have gone inside and climbed to the top, which I hear affords an incredible view.
And that’s the perfect segue!
The Mazda Experience
I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with all the latest models in the Mazda line-up, plus I drove both the Mazda CX-9 Crossover SUV and the Mazda6 (their mid-size sedan.) I was happy I got these two driving experiences because those are the two models in the Mazda line-up that are most relevant to my lifestyle, as we currently own a mid-size sedan and a crossover SUV, and most of our friends do as well.
I’m a bit of a car junkie so I was already somewhat familiar with the Mazda brand, but what really impressed me during this event was the passion for the brand that was evident among all Mazda team members. That alone says a lot for a brand.
This is a car brand for people who love to drive, who value style over fashion. I love that they are interested in connecting with my audience because I think this is exactly what we are about — style over fashion, quality over quantity, understated elegance. Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away with myself, but I definitely felt a connection with the brand and what they represent.
Mazda is about selling more than cars. They’re selling an experience. There is an attention to detail that isn’t always present with cars in this class; and every car in the line-up, whether it is a sports car or a family vehicle, has a sporty vibe. Even the CX-9, which is their crossover SUV, is fun to drive, and that’s not easy to achieve. (Trust me, I test drove a LOT of crossovers in my previous car searches!)
I drove this newly redesigned 2016 Mazda CX-9 over to Hilton Head, and the first thing I noticed when I got inside was the premium feel on the interior. I wish I’d gotten more pictures. I did take a few snaps while inside, but they disappear after 24 hours and I didn’t think to download them.
Once I began driving, I immediately noticed how quiet it was inside, and it definitely drives more like a car than a truck. It’s responsive and takes turns in stride. It also accelerates smoothly and powerfully, and I understand that they’ve improved the fuel economy significantly in this most recent redesign. My only complaint is that the center console seems unnecessarily large. It seems to take up more space than necessary and made me feel slightly claustrophobic.
I had the chance to be both passenger and driver, and both the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat are remarkably comfortable. I found the lane-keep assist system to be a little bit freaky, but I’m sure I’d get used to that. If it thinks you’re getting too close to the side of the road, it will actually nudge you back into your lane.
The 3rd row isn’t quite as roomy as some other cars in its class, but it’s usable, depending on the ages and sizes of your kids.
I also drove a brand spankin’ new 2017 Mazda6 back to Bluffton, and I’m telling you what, that is one sweet ride. While it is definitely a mid-size sedan, it has a sporty feel and it’s fun to drive. It’s spacious without feeling clunky, if that makes sense, and I appreciated the simplicity of the console. (It’s the little things!)
I also rode in the backseat of the Mazda6 to and from the airport, and even the backseat is comfortable. It’s quiet and smooth and spacious. If I didn’t need a third row for kids and cargo, it would be a serious contender for my next car. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.
I love it when a brand knows what its about and stays true to its mission, and Mazda is a great example of this. There are no pick-up trucks or large SUVs in their lineup, and it will probably stay that way. The CX-9 is as close as it gets, and even that is built on a car platform and drives more like a car than a truck.
Mazda designs cars for people who have an active lifestyle and a passion for driving, and they set out to give a premium experience without the luxury price tag. They did an incredible job of coordinating an event that is consistent with that mission, and I’m grateful to have been included.
If you have any questions — either about Mazda or Montage Palmetto Bluff, feel free to leave them in the comments. If I don’t know the answer, I can find out for you!
Disclosure: I was not paid for this post or for my attendance at the event, but my travel and accommodations were all covered by Mazda. All text, opinions, images, and editorial decisions are my own and presented without prejudice.