28 DEC 2017: In the summer of 1994 the good folks at Georgia Tourism invited me to visit south-east Georgia. John Berendt's bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, depicting the goings on in a Savannah that outsiders don't see, had shot to the top of the best-seller lists and the Georgia Tourism was exploiting the free publicity for all it was worth.  

I wasn't officially in the travel industry yet. I was more of an occasional freelance travel-writer, and I jumped at the opportunity.

They put me up at the historic Gastonian Inn, near Forsyth Park. At the time it was a really good B&B. Nowadays it's a great one, with all sorts of awards.

They sent me for family-style lunch at Mrs Wilke's Boarding House, where southern cooking is the star.

They gave me a ticket for a trolley-tour ride. We trundled through the oak-shaded, moss-hung squares and the driver pointed out the various houses that were mentioned in The Book; he showed us the bench on Chippewa Square where Tom Hanks, a.k.a Forrest Gump, did his "My Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get" routine. (Interestingly, the bench never stood there before Clint Eastwood had it brought to where it's been ever since, and every trolley- and tour-bus driver points it out)

But it was only when I walked the squares that were laid out by city planners in England who had never seen the site where Savannah was to be built, it was only after I had shared buckets of oysters in local bars, it was only when I had explored the back streets of the historic district that I got to know the Savannah that oozed Southern charm, decadence, good food and generosity.

Savannah demands a 15-mile detour from the I-95. You have to go there specifically - it's not a place you can stop off as you drive through. I've been back half a dozen times, and it's always been worth the detour.

The real highlight of that trip, though, followed: they gave me directions down highway 17 through the Low Country to a dock at the end of St Simons Island. "Be there at 10.30am" they said. "And park your car in the marina parking lot"

"Where am I going?" I asked

"One of our Georgia secrets" was all they said.

At 10.30am sharp I was standing on the dock, and an aluminium boat arrived to take me to the Lodge at Little St Simons Island.

I've been fortunate in my life - I've experienced a lot in far-off places. Little St Simons island is one of the standouts.

At the beginning of the 1900's (I think it was) a manufacturer in Syracuse bought the island, planning to cut down all the trees and turn them into pencils. He hadn't planned on the Atlantic winds. Those offshore winds bent and twisted the trees - and he needed straight lumber. So he built a hunting lodge for friends and family, with a dozen cabins for accommodation. Then in the 1970's his descendants opened the lodge and Little St Simons Island to the public, gradually upgrading and improving, and today it's a charming, relaxed, welcoming place to visit, where comfort and good food are important. They have a team of naturalists on staff to guide guests so it's a paradise for nature lovers. There's birding, fishing and a serene stretch of undisturbed beach - when there's only space for maximum 32 guests you can be sure that you're not going to be competing for space!

The best time to go there is spring and fall, avoiding the heavy-duty holiday weekends - when the Lodge is not full the naturalists have less guests to look after, and attention is more personal. Cheap, it's not - rates start atUS$600-odd per day, but Little St Simons is all-inclusive, from the moment you step into the boat (and remember, that's the only way to get there) - accommodation, meals, soft drinks, wine and beer, and all activities that they offer, so it's actually good value for the right people. And as a tip of the hat to our community they pay commission (gasp!), though that's only on accommodation.

The key at The Lodge at Little Simons Island is that it's not for everyone. It's not flashy, there is no spa, there is no golf-course, meals are served family style.

But if you have the right people for this place, fly them into Brunswick GA (or Jacksonville or Savannah), rent them a car, and tell them to go to the Lodge at Little St Simons Island and take a break from the world.

Your clients will thank you

 

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Derrick Bloch

A regular contributer to Travel Industry Today, Derrick has been recognized by National Geographic Traveler as one of the top 80 travel agents in North America. 

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