Miles from Naples: 369 + 45 minute ferry to the island
The largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia is a captivating blend of unspoiled wilderness and rich history. The Carnegie family, pioneers in the steel industry, settled on Cumberland Island (cumberlandisland.com) in the late 1800s, with Thomas and Lucy Carnegie first seeking it out as a summer retreat. The 18-mile stretch of beach, sand dunes, marsh, and forest has long attracted those seeking a secluded getaway, a place to dance with nature. Today, the only way in is by boat. The moment the ferry reaches the dock, guests are transported back in time—where wild horses roam free, beaches are undeveloped, and the only way to get around is by bicycle, kayak, or your own two feet.
Stay: Greyfield Inn (greyfieldinn.com), was built as a mansion for one of the Carnegie children in 1900. It was converted to an inn in 1962, but remains in the family as the only commercial property on the island. Prepare to unplug: There is no television, no internet, and you won’t miss either. One of the simple evening pleasures at this charming property is enjoying cocktail hour on the veranda (complete with porch swings and rocking chairs) until a bell gently summons you for a gourmet feast. While dinner is not quite a formal affair, jackets are required for men and ladies dress accordingly.
Eat: Meals on the island are delicious beyond measure, thanks to the inn’s inventive culinary director and chef Whitney Otawka, who runs the kitchen with husband and fellow chef, Ben Wheatley. Otawka (whitneyotawka.com) first gained notoriety in 2011 as a contestant on season nine of Bravo’s Top Chef. Her dishes reflect a sustainable spin on southern cuisine. The three-course dinners are based on what’s in season at the inn’s 1.5-acre organic garden, which grows everything from produce and herbs to fruit trees and fresh flowers. Greyfield also operates beehives to produce its own honey. You can pick up a jar from the gift shop to savor the memories of your trip long after returning home.
See + Do: Take part in the naturalist tours offered by the inn, which range from birding to kayak adventures to hunting for shark’s teeth. Prefer to explore on your own schedule? Hop on a complimentary bicycle and take a 20-minute ride down a dirt path (look for wild turkeys and armadillos along the way) to Dungeness ruins, a Carnegie family mansion built in the nineteenth century and burned in 1959. When it’s time for a respite, kick off your shoes, and find a nook to sit under one of the many majestic, moss-draped live oaks.
Shop: Jewelry designer Janet (Gogo) Ferguson’s studio (gogojewelry.com) is just steps from the Greyfield Inn and a must-visit for one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Ferguson, a descendant of the Carnegies, designs exquisite pieces that are considered wearable art—inspired by nature and based on everything from seashells to tiny animal bones. There’s a cuff resembling a rattlesnake rib, earrings cast from shark vertebrae, cuff links reminiscent of the shell of an armadillo, and many more stunning items with a story to tell.
Don’t Miss: The Greyfield Inn’s cultural history tour explores the northern part of the island. Due to the distance and terrain, guests are transported by pickup truck; it’s one of the rare times you’ll see a vehicle here. Yes, it’s a bumpy ride through the wilderness, but one worth every jostling moment. A particularly memorable sight is the First African Baptist Church, founded by freed slaves in 1893, then rebuilt in the 1930s. John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette tied the knot in an elegant ceremony inside that tiny chapel in 1996—successfully eluding the paparazzi. Gogo Ferguson, who was a friend of JFK Jr., designed the wedding rings.