Coming from the Big City, one can never quite prepare themselves for the multi-stage transition to the lowcountry of South Carolina. After following a straight concrete line into Charleston, the highway sling shots you south for 20 miles. Big roads becomes little roads. Mammoth live oaks sprawl from the sides of the road, mangling sidewalks and dangling Spanish moss like marionettes from their long, outstretched arms. The trees soon begin to thin out and you crawl closer and closer to the coast. The air noticably feels thicker and tastes salty and pterodactyl-sized seabirds whoosh by. Soon you're driving over a bridge and the divide between land and water melds into the living marshes of flowing grasses and wetlands. It's there, on the terra firma just beyond: the 10,000 acre barrier island of Kiawah Island and The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Practically every hospitality award and accolade has been heaped upon The Sanctuary--from the Five Diamond Award from AAA to the Five Star Award from Forbes Travel Guide. Golf World Magazine named the golf at Kiawah the Top U.S. Resort and Travel and Leisure Family put it at the top of its Top Family Resorts in America list. It's even rumored that Mobile bestowed it's coveted 5-Diamond award upon the Sanctuary but the resort declines to publicize the honor so as not to appear too elite. If anything, one almost gets the feeling that while the awards are appreciated (and heaven knows they are well-deserved), the property would just assume take care of its guests without all the hoopla. If anything, all the attention feels a bit embarassing. It's just not the southern way.
And if Sanctuary does anything, it honors it's its roots--both the natural and the manmade ones. Challenged with simultaneously preserving the delicate environmental balance of the island with its multitude of ecosystems and natural beaches and fulfilling the promises of southern, gentile luxury, The Sanctuary admirably accomplishes both tasks. Built on a hill created for the project, the main building blends into its
beachscape among indigenous sweet grasses, sea oats and natural dunes all the while exuding the luxe finishes you'd expect from such a decorated property. And while it still in some ways feels opening-day new, it simultaneously maintains the mystique of a nineteenth century dwelling. I even overheard one guest tell another in disbelief that the resort is only 7 years old. "It feels so much older," they remarked in astonishment. A compliment to be sure and precisely the goal.
The Sanctuary main areas and rooms admirably recreate the feel of an antebellum lowcountry mansion. HIgh ceilings with fans, hard woods, rich fabrics and supple leather--all arranged among antiques and oil paintings. Some travel writers have described The Sanctuary as everything from a "super-sized Tara," to a "Xanadu among the dunes" to an "obscenely large seaside mansion." But despite it's size (255 rooms, 60 villas), the Sanctuary feels relaxed, not stuffy or formal. As its name suggest, The Sanctuary draws relaxation seekers. And worry not,there's plenty (not) to do. The Kiawah Island Spa At The Sanctuary, like the overall resort itself, bears a constellation of stars and other awards from global travel critics and offers a hearty choice of southern infused treatments including the Mint Julep Facial, the Lowcountry Verbena Body Polish as well as their signature Body Wraptures.
The beach at Kiawah, all 10 unspoiled miles of it, also beckons for relaxation. The Travel Channel's own "Beachologist," Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, named Kiawah one of the top 10 beaches in the country. There are many quiet, natural pockets throughout the property to reconnect with nature and oneself from an Adirondack chair on the perfectly manicured lawn, at one of the three pools or with some solitude by the sea. But not everyone feels content sitting idyll and sipping sweet tea and for them, The Sanctuary provides as well. Activities abound on the property. The outdoorsy types can choose from marsh creek canoeing, ocean kayaking, back-river excursions and biking on the 30 miles of trails around the island. There's even a nature center with guides offering walking tours and workshops for observing local snakes, lizards turtles and gators--if you are into that sort of thing. And unlike the beaches of the Florida panhandle, there is a hard-packed ribbon of sand at the top of the beach available at low tide which enables blissful beach running, biking and other activities that are not possible on all soft sand beaches. Golf and tennis naturally stand center stage on the island. Tennis Magazine rated The Sanctuary's facilities as top five in the U.S. and have hosted a number of major tennis events. Its 23 clay courts and five hard courts allow for all the play you could ask for. And the golf at Kiawah, quite simply, cannot be matched for choices of courses, the quality of play and convenience. Five championship course snake throughout the island with resorts undisputed crown jewel, The Ocean Course, one of the most challenging and aesthetically gorgeous golf courses in the world which will also serve as the home of the 2012 PGA Championship next summer.
As you would expect with any highly decorated resort, The Sanctuary has a little something for everyone--families with kids, sports enthusiasts, couples seeking romance and the requisite unisex group travel of "guys golf trips" and "girls weekends." And it's only 20 miles away from the delights of Charleston to boot. The drive off of the island, out of the lowcountry and back to the city feels much
different than journey in. After a few days on Kiawah there's a certain attachment to the air and the breeze and the pace of life. And that attachment leads to longing and it is that longing that only ensures that visitors to the Sanctuary will be coming back for generations to come. If You Go Kiawah Island lies 341 miles from Atlanta but might take close to six hours to drive due to the slow trek on country roads in the 20 miles between itself and Charleston
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