With air travel being what it is these days, taking off for a weekend to indulge in the wine of Napa Valley or the famed food of Vegas' celebrity chefs is entirely too taxing. Who wants to spend hours at the airport and risk the delays and the security shakedowns? Foodies can find plenty a places to escape to within a quick drive, so forget those AirTran deals, just hop in the car and go. You'll be there sooner than you can say, "Please step to the right and remove your shoes."
The Sanctuary at Kiawah
One Sanctuary Beach Dr.
Kiawah Island, S.C.
Close to home, but a world away for working stiffs, The Sanctuary at Kiawah has been built in the style of a classic coastal mansion replete with portraits of a fictional master and mistress gracing the huge fireplaces in the downstairs parlor and tea room, respectively. The rich walnut floors and sweeping staircases heighten the drama of the setting, making you feel like Scarlett in her scalawag manse. An expansive lawn out the back door perches high above the ocean, an unusual feature in the Lowcountry that was accomplished by bringing in truckloads of dirt. Rooms are stocked with such luxuries as Italian linens, cozy cotton robes, DVD players, and views of the dunes or ocean. If you're really itching to be a player, you can book the 3,000-square-foot presidential suite, which must be where frequent guest Bill Clinton stays when he's in town.
As for food, the Ocean Room is a rich, dark space that overlooks the beach and serves a melt-in-your-mouth Kurobuta pork belly appetizer that is the best start to any dinner, anywhere. The menu spans the world, with Kobe beef, Alaskan halibut, Broken Arrow Ranch antelope, Iranian caviar, and Hawaiian tuna. And the monthly chef's tasting menu presents six courses of delectable culinary creations. The sterling wine list encompasses literally thousands of bottles and has garnered them recognition from Wine Spectator for its excellence. The Sanctuary and its Ocean Room provide enough luxury, taste, and experience to woo even the most well-traveled and well-heeled guest. And even if you're not in that class, you'll feel like you are while you're there.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff
476 Mount Pelia Road
Perched high above the May River in Bluffton, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff is so picture-perfect it must have been designed by the folks at Pottery Barn. Rows of cute, white cottages with metal roofs line the bluff connected by paved bike paths and shaded by huge live oaks. The adorable chapel in the middle of the village is where celebrity chef Tyler Florence tied the knot last year. The chic 1,000-square-foot-plus chanteys prove sinfully luxe with huge beds, sumptuous linens, Bose stereo systems, and fantastic bathrooms with white marble vanities, tiled steam showers, free-standing soaker tubs, and environmentally-conscious bath products. As soon as you drop your bags on the wide plank floors, you'll feel like you're home. Once you throw open the door to the screened-in porch that looks out onto the pristine river, you'll never want to leave (those seduced by the beauty can visit the front sales office and put in an offer on a piece of land — a nearby 22,0000-acre community is in the works).
The River House Restaurant up at the main building is manned by the very capable Chef de Cuisine Scott Pikey, a Napa Valley transplant who has brought his love of fresh, seasonal ingredients to the East Coast, where he's discovered abundant local supplies of oysters, soft shell crabs, and shrimp. "When you're picking ingredients right out of the water, that's pretty special," he says. He changes the menu regularly, always being sure to focus on indigenous fare. He also hosts six wine dinners a year in the intimate wine cellar dining room. Plan a trip around one of those, and you could enjoy an evening with winemakers like Kathleen Heitz of Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley, who recently brought bottles of her vineyard's Grignolino and Martha's Vineyard Cabernet to pair with courses such as Glazed Hudson Valley Duck Breast and Duo of Beef. Not only is the Inn at Palmetto Bluff a great destination for foodies, but entire families will find plenty to occupy them here with tons of outdoor activities like kayaking, biking, boat tours, golfing, tennis, croquet, and a nightly S'mores roast around the fire pits.
Mansion on Forsyth Park
700 Drayton St.
Down in his hometown of Savannah, where Paula Deen reigns supreme, hotelier Richard Kessler has opened a swank boutique hotel that looks out over the majestic Forsyth Park on Drayton Street. The Mansion reflects the priorities of its owner, with an amazingly diverse collection of artwork lining the walls — we saw Charleston artist John Duckworth's work in the lobby the weekend we were there — and a focus on gourmet food — with a full-service restaurant and even a cooking school on the grounds. Groovy lounge music floats out of hidden speakers. The rooms are bejeweled and bedecked in swanky colors like fuschia and chartreuse but still have a faint echo of Victorian style, making you feel as if you've stumbled across Dean Martin's Vegas dressing room.
Next door to the hotel is the renovated 18,000-square-foot Victorian mansion that houses the 700 Drayton Street restaurant and kitchen cooking school. Chef Darin Sehnert runs the cooking school. A former Disney chef, this guy knows how to entertain while teaching everything from basic techniques to more advanced cooking styles. The day we were there, he had an Elderhostel group in stitches as he showed them how to cook fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Downstairs at the restaurant, Chef Michael McGeeney's menu reflects the city well, with specialties like grouper, local shrimp, and braised short ribs. The Mansion provides a prime location for exploring Savannah by foot, and welcomes you back in the evening for drinks on the balcony or in the piano lounge. And if you want to eat at Paula Deen's Lady and Sons, you'll have to get up early in the morning to get a good spot in line. The tourists queue up for hours to get a chance to gorge at her Southern buffet.