ST SIMONS —
Not necessary to eat peach Melba strudel and collard greens at the same meal. Classic comfort foods repeatedly appear in great abundance in the dining rooms of The King and Prince on Georgia’s St. Simons Island.
Elegant fine dining too. That’s the charm of this beach and golf resort on a barrier island – exquisite amenities in a comfortable way. Not show-offy, just pleasant.
I didn’t crack the code right away in my three-night April visit but I liked the way I fit in from the first five minutes.
Many resorts act like self-important people declaring “Notice me; I’m special.” The King and Prince, instead, exudes the confidence of genuine friendship and mutual respect.
Maybe it’s the yellow walls. Calm color inside and out. Maybe it’s the ocean on this particular stretch of Georgia.
Turns out the St. Simons Island beach is a “bight,” a large inward curve along the coast from North Carolina to Florida with dramatic tidal swings.
Bud St. Pierre says that has something to do with the long sand bars and the long beach view leading to the waves. He also says the sand on The King and Prince beach is here to stay, a good bit of it flowing in from next-door Sea Island.
St. Pierre is the director of sales and marketing for this official Historic Hotels of America property, so I expected he’d have positive things to say.
What I didn’t know to expect was his neighborly personality and easygoing interest in everyone and everything; seems to set a tone for this vacation place.
Don’t think I’ve ever recommended hunting up hotel officials on a holiday, but The King and Prince top brass are a part of the calm confidence and kindness I kept on feeling.
Lots of room styles to choose from, so matching your personality with the views on the Web site virtual tour is a good idea.
I was in the two-story Governor’s Suite, good design if you like to separate sofa time from sleeping space.
If I’m lucky enough to return, I want one of the eight cabana rooms — instant view of the ocean from the front door, comfy big bed plus a parlor overlooking the beach and a private patio.
My many children like it when photographer and husband G. W. Tibbetts and I rent beach houses to sleep them all and King and Prince has the big Meadows House just a block from the beach, next to the tennis courts, and filled with incredible folk art.
Condo-style villas, the decorator-fancy Tabby House, single bedroom freestanding houses and 57 rooms in the main hotel add up to many choices.
Trouble with comfortable digs, especially ocean view, is pulling myself away to experience the rest.
I hadn’t been to St. Simons Island since a job conference in the late 1970s and assumed the island had become a crowded, hectic overgrown place.
Clearly mistaken notion. High-rise building didn’t happen here. In fact, historian Mary Burdell told me, “This is a single-family island.”
Her family has ties to Christ Church here, established in 1808, and to the lovely garden of graceful live oak trees, flowering shrubs and small-pebble walking paths that connects Christ Church with the Wesleyan United Methodist Church.
The little shopping and dining village feels like families in their neighborhood, people greeting each other by name.
A particularly friendly place with a long name in the village makes more sense of tea than any I’ve visited. What Angela Cunningham taught me about tea can keep me pouring, savoring, chewing and creatively cooking for years.
Serenity House Tea Society and Shoppe is the name, not far from the bookstore and enticing enough to spend half a day.
“Ice this,” Cunningham says of her blend of apple, blackberry, eucalyptus leaves, beetroot pieces, hibiscus, lemongrass and freeze-dried tangerine pieces “and you’ve gone to heaven.”
Hated to skip the hotel’s oatmeal raisin muffin my second morning but I ventured into Pier Village to the Sandcastle Café. Easy walk or bike ride from The King and Prince.
Between serving eggs to order and refreshing coffee, owner Melissa Wellford told me she’s living her dream running this breakfast and lunch café with husband Tim since 1989.
“His dream is to cook; mine’s to be a people pleaser,” she said. To me, it all looked like hard work but Melissa said it’s such a pleasure she’s only been late twice in 21 years.
“My office view every day is the sunrise,” she beamed.
Only $8.35 for a breakfast buffet with every morning food you ever heard of. I skipped the omelettes and headed for the carbs: French toast, cinnamon rolls, carrot raisin muffin and cheese grits. Remarkably light texture, each one.
How to get light again myself after all that good taste?
Bike paths and walking trails are wide and abundant, throughout The King and Prince and all across St. Simons Island. I wasn’t hearty enough to bicycle all the way to Christ Church and nearby Fort Frederica, but the paths are paved.
Fort Frederica is a national monument maintained by the Park Service, mostly an archeological site with a film and headphone walking tour. Ninety minutes is plenty of time to experience it all.
A stroll from The King and Prince to the Maritime Center and 1937 Coast Guard Station on East Beach is easy; the $6 admission fee accesses one floor of Coast Guard Island history, an outstanding video about the barrier islands and marshes and a top floor of exhibits about the beaches, maritime forests, marsh ponies, archeology and lots more natural history.
200 million years of history are evident here, and all around this island. A horseshoe crab caught in the net of the Lady Jane shrimping boat “is much the same as his ancestors 200 million years ago,” says Paul Christian, who often joins Capt. Larry Credle to sail the waters and teach people about marine life.
A 5-year-old loggerhead turtle came up in that net on my late April sail, hurriedly admired, measured and photographed to report to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island and gently returned to the water.
Treasures these turtles are, and rarely seen. The Lady Jane’s nets more commonly claim wild Georgia shrimp, blue crabs, stingrays, jellyfish and sea squirts.
Back to the sea is the style after a quick ID and lesson for up to 49 passengers. Shrimp can stay for a tasting on the boat.
The handsome Sydney Lanier Bridge is in sight most of the trip and St. Simons and Jekyll islands are too. Clups Creek is the name of this water and it helped me get some perspective on these barrier islands and their history.
So did Curt Smith who adores Island history and coordinates events for the lighthouse.
The King and Prince is 75 this year, opening as a dance club in 1935. I danced a little myself, but only by myself because dances are not the focus here today.
Historian Smith claims that ancient nature of the Lady Jane’s horseshoe crab too.
“Georgia’s 13 barrier islands are the result of 200 million years of Appalachian mountain forming and eroding,” he says. “People are newer, just 18,000 years of human habitation.”
Big numbers to grasp, and a big reputation too. Smith says Georgia’s tidal marsh is the largest anywhere, and so therefore the abundance of marine life.
I liked knowing that as I was in the midst of it all. Since I’ve loved jumping through big waves since I was a girl on the Jersey shore, I also liked Smith’s fact that “Nowhere else on the East Coast are tides high like these on St. Simons.”
Island archeology got a boost with what Smith calls “fly over” research, imaging techniques that discovered ancient Indian settlements.
Fly-over images would help me here too if I were a golfer.
The King and Prince course designed by Joe Lee is at the northernmost end of the Island at the Hampton Club and 3-D graphics of every hole popped up on their Web site in early April.
Bridges, bunkers, ponds, lagoons, marshes and live oak trees, plus the score card are all pictured in the flyover Web images, says Golf Club Manager Rick Mattox, and each hole is clearly photographed on the detailed score card. Looks to non-golfer me like a pretty photo album of land and waters extensively renovated in 2009.
Grand place to walk if golfers didn’t dislike distractions.