There aren’t many places where natural beauty and Downton Abbey-type luxury come together, but Greyfield Inn is a magical, unique spot for so many reasons. This turn-of-the-century mansion is the only hotel on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, and it’s accessible only by boat. From the minute you step off the dock, you’ll be surrounded by sprawling live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and this peaceful setting alone will immediately start the relaxation process. There are more wild horses on the island than people, as a matter of fact, and with only 20-30 or so guests at the inn at any one time, just about all you’ll ever hear is an occasional horse walking by or someone on a bicycle pedaling off to the beach.
Greyfield Inn was built by the Carnegie family in 1900, primarily as a winter home for members of the Pittsburgh-based steel dynasty. Although the inn has modern comforts such as air conditioning and luxurious showers, genteel remnants of that era remain everywhere: a cozy library filled with vintage books and leather furniture, antique rugs and vintage wallpaper. The evening meal is announced by a dinner bell, but usually guests are nearby anyway, since cocktail hour is a civilized, anticipated part of the day. Meals feature whatever is fresh from the Greyfield gardens (fun to find on property and see in person), and although men wear jackets and ladies get a bit dressed up, too, the vibe is friendly and relaxed.
Days on Cumberland Island can be spent in a number of ways. The inn offers two different tours a day led by naturalists. One tour might be to nearby Plum Orchard, another historic Carnegie home reminiscent of the Biltmore Estate on a smaller scale (complete with indoor swimming pool and some of the original furnishings). The north end of the island has remains of an African-American settlement as another destination, including the small Baptist church where John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in 1996. A lot of Cumberland Island adventures are of the DIY variety, since the bicycle barn is help-yourself. It’s easy to ride a half-mile to the uncrowded beach or the fascinating Dungeness ruins, yet another Carnegie home — although this one burned down, leaving only brick-and-tabby remains. Kayaks can be taken out to explore the island, as well.
If there’s a catch, it’s that Greyfield Inn is pricey. The only other way to spend the night on picturesque Cumberland Island is by camping (with a limited number of slots for that), and of course that doesn’t capture the luxurious parts of the visit, anyway. Greyfield prices include three meals a day for one or two people, plus snacks and all the activities, and start at around $425 a night, with a two-night minimum. The good news is that only two nights there will stay in your memories forever, one terrific experience to check off on your bucket list — but most likely you’ll be thinking of a return visit soon.
Logistical info: Although Greyfield Inn is in Georgia, the resort’s ferry leaves from Amelia Island, Florida, specifically a dock in historic downtown Fernandina Beach (a great place to extend a trip before or after the Greyfield Inn). You can choose from three departure times, and parking is free in town with a pass from the inn. The island has decent cell phone service but no WiFi or televisions. There are no stores on the island, per se, but the hotel anticipates creature comforts, such as baskets of bug spray and sunscreen scattered about, or beverage stations located here and there.
Learn more about Greyfield Inn, view specials and more at greyfieldinn.com.
All photography by Lisa Mowry
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