Field Trip: mixing business with pleasure in Bluffton, SC

One of the small towns located close to where I reside, Beaufort, SC is Bluffton. Actually, Bluffton is not all that small as it ranks as the 5th largest ‘city’ in the state (by area), due to the incorporation of various annexations in the past dozen or so years.

The largest of these was the property known as Palmetto Bluff, previously a hunting property, now a development replete with Jack Nicklaus golf course, a spectacular Auberge Resort, multi-million dollar homes and it’s own little “town”. These fine folks also hold homage to all things deliciously Southern at their annual Music to your Mouth Festival held in November. It’s a literal bacchanalia of food, wine and southern-inspired artisans showcasing their work.

Of course, with the gorgeous setting overlooking the May River and sumptuous, tasty treats prepared by foodie celebrité chefs like Chris Hastings, Sean Brock, Craig Deihl, Steven Satterfield and Hugh Acheson one cannot go wrong just attending the Saturday Culinary Festival. I was lucky to be invited last year and write about the Culinary Festival as part of my other blog, Hilton Head Island Foodie Vibe. Fingers-crossed, I will be invited back this November. Whether I am or not, it remains the finest example of mixing business and pleasure that I have encountered.

There are actually a whole slew of events that make up the festival and one can surely carve a very nice foodie-centric getaway out of the week, if you are so inclined. Note that it is not a free affair – the cost is as they say, somewhat substantial, but where else can you actually strike up a conversation with that many accomplished chefs AND sample their best creations, all on the same day? This year I heard that there will be a bacon forest – are you kidding me? I must see (and nibble?) that!

To say that Palmetto Bluff is a “nice property” is an understatement. To give you an idea, it has received the AAA-5 Diamond award for the last 3 years, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the #1 hotel in the entire U.S. this year, and Conde Nast Traveler named it the #3 best southern golf resort and #15 spa this year. While that is all well and good, I find that the best aspect of this place is that it actually fits into Bluffton.

This could be deemed peculiar since Blufftonians are known – and proud – to flaunt their ‘own state of mind’. Old Town Bluffton itself, is well, old… and rustic with paint peeling, un-manicured yards and even neighborly roosters crowing at dawn… and other, usual times too. The flora and fauna here can be wild and well, quite beautiful in it’s own overgrown and verdant way.

In Bluffton you can find a million-dollar home sitting contently next to a tiny, rusty tin-shingled cottage. When you belly up to the oyster table at the annual Rotary Oyster Roast don’t be surprised to find yourself standing between the CEO of the largest corporate business in the county and your car mechanic – both happily shucking and sucking down some briny May River beauties and discussing fishing for sea trout, college football and/or the stock market. No one really puts on any “airs” here – it’s that kind of town.

Bluffton is one of my favorite places in the Lowcountry. I did live there for a few years and while it has transformed in ways there are still some things that have not changed in literally years (or even decades). I find comfort in this – the positive changes which equate to growth and, hopefully, prosperity – and reassurance that the beautiful aspects of the town, the May River and the quirky, friendly people of Bluffton will remain that way.

Here’s to you Bluffton with my mixed bag of pictures taken over the last 12 months, maybe you’ll be enticed to give her a visit …

Chef Matt Jording of the Sage Room on Hilton Head prepared this dish: Parmesan and Crab Rissoto Cake, Bacon Buerre Blanc, Truffled Shiitake at the Culinary Showcase held during Music to Your Mouth 2011.

Gail Simmons of Food Network fame and local Chef and Food Network Star Contestant Orchid Paulmeier entertain the crowd up on the expansive demonstration stage at the Culinary Showcase.

The Culinary Showcase tent and artisan promenade light up the green lawns of Palmetto Bluff (that’s the May River beyond the live oak trees).

The Store is, well, a store that features vintage household items and real honest-to-goodness antiques. The centuries old building is in Old Town Bluffton on Calhoun Street.

Bluffton is also an art-town with many working artist studios and galleries located in renovated cottages in Old Town.

The May River and salt water estuaries (the marsh) are a place for play and work in Bluffton. Here are shrimp and fishing boat moored to a dock on the May. Also of note are the “pocket parks” the town is creating in the historic Old Town. Open to all, some have awesome views like this one.

There are several festivals in the Bluffton area (including Music to Your Mouth). The Bluffton Village Festival is in May, the Art & Seafood Festival in October and the totally unique Christmas Parade in December. Many merchants (including artists) offer their wares for sale – like this pretty painted furniture.

Live music is almost always on tap for Bluffton festivals . Check out the accordion! There was also a band member playing the wash board but he stepped out of the picture. Even the weekly Bluffton farmers market features live music.

A pretty clematis vine grows among the azalea bushes and honeysuckle at the pocket park.

Seven Oaks was constructed in 1850 and has been carefully restored in a manner typical of antebellum homes. It’s located near the end of Calhoun Street, close to the Church of the Cross and May River.

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