For two confirmed beach bums, what better spot to celebrate a wedding anniversary than a five-star island off the South Carolina coast? Endless swathes of broad white sand, balmy seas, romantic restaurants, a sensual spa, plenty of fitness and sporting options and more wildlife than tourists – the perfect ingredients for a celebration at Kiawah Island.
Packing swimsuits, beach clothes, picnic basket, portable sunloungers and supplies of champagne, we headed off to the coast for a long weekend of languorous leisure at Condé Nast Traveler’s Best American Beach Resort.
As we drove onto Kiawah Island from nearby Charleston, we could sense the salt in the air through the dense foliage of palmetto trees and ancient live oaks garlanded with Spanish moss. Stopping off on neighboring John’s Island at cute and colorful Freshfields Village for picnic supplies, we passed emerald golf courses en route to our apartment in West Village. We could have opted for the ritzy and romantic Sanctuary Hotel but we preferred the privacy – and kitchen facilities – of our own apartment for this trip. Although we intended to dine in some of the island’s eateries, we were keen to have secluded picnic lunches in beautiful spots around the island.
Driving around in our open-top Mini by the beach can be invigorating but it was so relaxing not having to get into a hot car at all over the long weekend. Restaurants, pools, golf clubs and spa were a stroll or a free shuttle bus ride away from our accommodation. And the flat-packed white sand was ideal for long hand-in-hand walks, jogging, bike-riding and impromptu yoga sessions serenaded by sandpipers.
Being surrounded by abundant nature was also conducive to a romantic idyll. With very little development, no highrise and no streetlights to disturb the natural habitat, the island is simply teeming with seabirds, herons, eagles, turtles, dolphins, deer as well as several, somewhat less alluring alligators.
Although we made our own breakfasts and gourmet picnics, we did indulge in Kiawah’s top-notch dining. There are 12 different restaurants spread over the resort, incorporating everything from lobster largesse to casual pizzas. For upmarket and dressy, there’s The Ocean Room with gourmet steaks and sushi. Tomasso’s at Turtle Point golf club serves mid-priced munchies in the formal dining room and bar snacks in the more laid-back lounge. The Lobby bar in The Sanctuary has comfy Adirondack chairs overlooking its verdant lawns, ideal for viewing the pelican-patrolled horizon. The Cherrywood BBQ and Ale House serves gastro-pub nosh and local beers with fan-cooled tables on the golf-gazing patio. And The Ryder Cup terrace at the celebrated Ocean Course is ideal for sunset sipping – especially after a rigorous round of golf.
Spa It Out
Although tempted to veg out the rest of the trip, our other sporting challenge for the weekend was paddleboarding. Having tried this successfully on the calm waters of Lake Las Vegas, we had decided to try the salty version. Launching was the first obstacle but once we got across the wavy shallows we managed to do quite well scudding backwards and forwards beyond the shoreline swells. It’s great exercise as well as providing a perfect vantage point for appreciating the plummeting pelicans.
Although there are plenty of organized dolphin-spotting excursions, we managed to find our own during out beach strolls when we relentlessly scanned the sea. We were rewarded one early morning by a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins herding a shoal of herring into the shallows for a frolicking feeding frenzy.
Apart from the seagulls, there’s nothing raucous on Kiawah Island. Everything is refined and calm, with visitors and residents more likely to save their energy for sunrise strolls, golf, tennis and watersports than to carouse into the early hours. But it’s not all quiet couples like us doing their own thing. There’s a vast program of family activities ranging from arts and crafts and nature tours to kitesurfing, kayaking, and even shark-fishing. And there are live music early evening parties held by various pools.
Needless to say, we didn’t join in much of the communal revelry but we got plenty of envious looks when the occasional passerby noticed us in an isolated enclave reclining on our portable sunloungers with our midday picnic or saluting the sunset with champagne and savories.