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.

The grand and romantic Greyfield Inn was built over a hundred years ago as a family home, but became an inn in the ‘60s, and is still run by descendants of the original residents.

The grand and romantic Greyfield Inn was built over a hundred years ago as a family home, but became an inn in the ‘60s, and is still run by descendants of the original residents.

Guests to the Greyfield drop their luggage off at the dock in Fernandina Beach, Florida, then hop on the 40-minute ferry provided by the inn.

Guests to the Greyfield drop their luggage off at the dock in Fernandina Beach, Florida, then hop on the 40-minute ferry provided by the inn.

To get to the main house, guests meander through groves of live oak trees, known for their massive size and Spanish moss hanging from branches.

To get to the main house, guests meander through groves of live oak trees, known for their massive size and Spanish moss hanging from branches.

Lunchtime is easy and oh-so-civilized. Guests grab their already-prepared picnic baskets from the kitchen and can take them anywhere to eat, such as under this canopy of trees in the front yard.

Lunchtime is easy and oh-so-civilized. Guests grab their already-prepared picnic baskets from the kitchen and can take them anywhere to eat, such as under this canopy of trees in the front yard.

Feral horses (believed to have been originally brought by the Spanish) roam the property and island, doing their thing.

Feral horses (believed to have been originally brought by the Spanish) roam the property and island, doing their thing.

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.

The acres of flowers and vegetables grown at the Greyfield Inn are used not only on the island, but in restaurants in Fernandina Beach.

The acres of flowers and vegetables grown at the Greyfield Inn are used not only on the island, but in restaurants in Fernandina Beach.

The stately grounds of the hotel have all sorts of hidden architectural and botanical treasures.

The stately grounds of the hotel have all sorts of hidden architectural and botanical treasures.

Bicycles are the best way around the island. A path lined with live oaks leads to the beach.

Bicycles are the best way around the island. A path lined with live oaks leads to the beach.

Cumberland Island is only 18 miles long, but its rugged, unpopulated beaches are one reason people like to visit.

Cumberland Island is only 18 miles long, but its rugged, unpopulated beaches are one reason people like to visit.

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.

Guests can sit at communal tables in two dining areas at Greyfield Inn to get to know other visitors, or request a private table.

Guests can sit at communal tables in two dining areas at Greyfield Inn to get to know other visitors, or request a private table.

An evening salad is full of vegetables from the local gardens.

An evening salad is full of vegetables from the local gardens.

Greyfield often feels like summer camp for adults, with naturalist outings taking off from the front door in an open-bed truck.

Greyfield often feels like summer camp for adults, with naturalist outings taking off from the front door in an open-bed truck.

Nearby Plum Orchard, also built for the Carnegie family, has all sorts of architectural treats inside and out.

Nearby Plum Orchard, also built for the Carnegie family, has all sorts of architectural treats inside and out.

What’s old is in again…a lot of the rooms in Plum Orchard feature wallpaper and bright colors.

What’s old is in again … a lot of the rooms in Plum Orchard feature wallpaper and bright colors.

Did you know that fainting couches get their name from women becoming light-headed after removing their corsets, so they often had to lie down? A bedroom in Plum Orchard features fashions from times gone by, as well as a vintage fainting couch.

Did you know that fainting couches get their name from women becoming lightheaded after removing their corsets, so they often had to lie down? A bedroom in Plum Orchard features fashions from times gone by, as well as a vintage fainting couch.

Like something out of a Jane Austin novel, the remains of Dungeness on Cumberland Island are a must-see for visitors.

Like something out of a Jane Austin novel, the remains of Dungeness on Cumberland Island are a must-see for visitors.

Guests at Greyfield Inn often spend a good part of the day on one of the porches.

Guests at Greyfield Inn often spend a good part of the day on one of the porches.

Flowers are switched out often in the summer, since the resort’s gardens feature all sorts of homegrown flora.

Flowers are switched out often in the summer, since the resort’s gardens feature all sorts of homegrown flora.

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.

Jewelry artist and Carnegie descendant Gogo Ferguson (gogojewelry.com) has a studio and store on the property where guests can buy nature-inspired items.

Jewelry artist and Carnegie descendant Gogo Ferguson has a studio and store on the property where guests can buy nature-inspired items.

Fernandina Beach, Florida is the gateway for guests of Cumberland Island, and a charming destination in its own right. The farm-to-table restaurant 29 South (https://www.29southrestaurant.com/ ) in Fernandina features produce from the Greyfield Inn gardens.

Fernandina Beach, Florida is the gateway for guests of Cumberland Island, and it’s a charming destination in its own right. The farm-to-table restaurant 29 South in Fernandina features produce from the Greyfield Inn gardens.

The lively Fernandina Beach restaurant Café Karibo has great sangria and seafood specials in a courtyard setting.

One block away from the dock for Greyfield Inn, the Hampton Inn in Fernandina Beach (http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/florida/hampton-inn-and-suites-amelia-island-historic-harbor-front-AISHSHX/index.html )is a colorful, upscale choice from the hotel chain, and a likely option for anyone wanting to catch the 9:30 a.m. ferry.

One block away from the dock for Greyfield Inn, the Hampton Inn in Fernandina Beach is a colorful, upscale choice from the hotel chain, and a likely option for anyone wanting to catch the 9:30 a.m. ferry.

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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