It feels like a sign of good things to come when, after 40 minutes of gray, overcast skies, the sun bursts through the clouds as our ferry reaches the Greyfield Inn dock on Cumberland Island in south Georgia.
Just a few weeks before our late-January wedding, my husband-to-be and I decide we deserve a pre-honeymoon and make the four-and-a-half hour drive to Fernandina Beach, where we board a private ferry to make our way to Cumberland Island. The island, 56 miles in area, is the largest of Georgia’s barrier islands, and a designated National Seashore. We’re headed to the Greyfield Inn, named one of the 10 Most Romantic Inns in the country by the American Inn Association. As the boat motors away from the mainland, real life starts to fade. Going to an inn with no WiFi, no television and no telephone lines, on an island that only allows 300 visitors per day, seems to do that to you.
We’re greeted by a member of the Greyfield staff, and as we walk up to the inn, he tells us about Greyfield’s history. The white, Colonial-style home with a wide, covered veranda was built in 1901 as a vacation retreat for Margaret Ricketson, the daughter of Lucy and Thomas Carnegie. In the ’60s, Margaret’s daughter, Lucy Ferguson, turned it into an inn; today it’s run by Mitty and Mary Ferguson, also Carnegie descendants. It has retained its elegant, turn-of-the-20th-century roots, and when you walk in, you can feel the history in rooms furnished with family antiques and heirlooms. But the welcoming Fergusons and their staff make everything approachable. They encourage us to help ourselves to homemade sweet tea and lemonade and to raid the communal pantry when we’re hungry.
An elaborate breakfast is served each morning, and picnic baskets are handed out for lunch. Wild horses graze next to us in the front yard while we enjoy our first picnic—chicken Caesar salad, golden beets with marcona almonds and fresh-baked Valhrona chocolate cookies. In the evening, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served in the living room, and dinner, prepared by one-time Top Chef contestant Whitney Otawka’s team, features organic produce from the inn’s gardens and meat and seafood from local farms and fishermen. (Men, take note: You’ll need to wear a jacket.)
Guests—the inn can accommodate 36 but there were only six when we were there—dine at a communal table. (We wondered how we’d feel about that but we soon find ourselves telling the others all about our upcoming wedding, and we’re now Facebook friends with one of the couples.)
Cumberland offers an alluring mix of nature and history. The island is green and lush, with old canopy trees, a few other private estates and campgrounds. You can spend hours walking or biking. On our ride along the trails we spot more wild horses and a bald eagle. We also take a guided nature tour, a several-hours-long excursion that includes a stop at the island’s African settlement, which is home to the tiny First African Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in 1996.
You can also tour other family homes, like George Carnegie’s Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness, the Carnegie family estate, which burned down in 1959. On the day we visit, it’s wrapped in fog, giving it a haunting, somber presence. And if you’re in the mood for shopping, visit Gogo Jewelry, where Lucy Ferguson’s granddaughter Gogo designs island-
inspired pieces in her studio behind the inn.
But the best part—especially on a cold January day—is returning to Greyfield, where fires crackle in the library and sitting room, and oversized couches invite you to cuddle up with a book—perhaps one from the inn’s library, which includes an impressive collection of first editions.
The next day, as we pack our bags to go home, we move slowly, wanting to stretch out the experience as long as we can. Even my fiancé, a homebody who had to be coaxed into the trip, keeps raving about the place. We recap the last few days and pledge to come back for our one-year wedding anniversary. The Greyfield Inn, it seems, makes its way into the heart of anyone who visits. We’re now part of that group.
MORE ROMANTIC TRIPS
A small town just northwest of Orlando, Mount Dora attracts visitors who fall in love with its historic, small-town ambiance. It’s full of interesting little antique shops and beautiful, century-old homes. Book a night at one of the charming inns or B&Bs and splurge on dinner at Pisces Rising, where you can choose between the boisterous atmosphere of the lakeside deck or the more serious vibe inside. After dinner, relax with a glass of wine at the recently expanded Maggie’s Attic.
Looking to splurge on a memorable date weekend? Naples offers luxury shopping, some of the state’s best restaurants and beautiful neighborhoods full of tropical greenery. The beaches—with lots of public access—are gorgeous, too. There are two Ritz-Carltons, one on the beach and one on a golf course, and both offer spectacular service and impeccable dining options. Downtown has a lively after-dark scene with restaurants and watering holes thronged with beautiful people.
Ditch the kids and drop major ducats for total romantic isolation at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, an island destination that you can only get to by boat or seaplane. Peace and quiet reign supreme: No one under 16 is allowed, no telephones or televisions are provided and using a cell phone in public is verboten. Thirty oceanfront suites in thatched roof huts dot the island’s five-and-a-half acres, and the accommodations come appointed with hot tubs, private decks and lush foliage.