Those who venture down to Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island know their stay won't be a typical getaway. Though the isle is just a 40-minute lobster boat ride off the coast of Fernandina Beach, Florida, its untouched 18-mile stretch of white-sand seashore, roaming wild horses and-make sure you're sitting down for this one-lack of Wi-Fi truly make it a world apart.
According to Greyfield Inn Manager Mary Ferguson, that initial boat ride to the island is integral in obtaining the feeling of separation from a hectic life. "I think the experience of getting on a boat is kind of special. It starts that feeling that you are getting away from the world," she says. And once guests dock, they are welcomed by the beauty of an untouched island as well as giant oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. "People just walk up and have to catch their breath because it's so lovely. The live oaks are just magical," she says.
The magic continues throughout the entire island with bike rides and guided history and nature tours through the ecosystem made up of beach, marsh and forest. Ferguson calls the island's birding opportunities "amazing," saying two ornithologists spotted 279 different bird species during a recent stay. "A visit here is an experience where you are stepping back in time-no phones, no computers and no Wi-Fi," she says. "Once people don't have all that taking their attention, they have the opportunity to explore." Of course, the beach is definitely not to be forgotten. "People say they've traveled all over the world and they've never seen a beach like Cumberland," says Ferguson.
Much of the beach, as well as the island, is actually a national seashore, managed by the National Park Service, which provides most of the island tours. "The beach is undeveloped; you don't have the high rises or condos or cabana clubs," says National Park Service Public Information Officer Maggie Tyler. According to Tyler, the park service only allows 300 visitors per day by its ferry that docks in St. Marys, Georgia, (not including guests who stay at Greyfield Inn) so the island never feels overrun with tourists. "Think about 40,000 acres and 300 people-you never feel crowded," she says.
Guests are able to explore Greyfield Inn as well. Built by the famously rich Carnegie family in 1900, the retreat was created for a Carnegie daughter named Margaret, and she left the home to her daughter, Lucy. In 1962, Lucy converted the grand house into the Greyfield Inn, and today Ferguson is married to Lucy's grandson. Needless to say, the business-and the home-has stayed in the family. "The house does not feel generic; it feels like you are really visiting someone's home," says Ferguson. "It's a wonderful lifestyle; we've raised our daughter here. Luckily I love the water and I love the island, though it's a challenge because we have lots of buildings getting into the 100-plus years."
The main house maintains the charm that was likely there more than a century ago. "Each bedroom is different," Ferguson says. "We're really lucky because we were left with everything that was in the house originally, though we've updated the beds in the guest rooms." A sense of community pervades the inn, including in the dining room, where breakfast and dinner are served each day. A big communal table helps guests get to know each other and serves as the perfect place to share traveling stories. "People typically sit together and they love getting to know other guests-that's an unusual thing today," explains Ferguson.
"We have an amazing garden where we grow lots of produce," she adds. "We've been serving salad greens probably all the way through winter." The inn also receives fresh shrimp from local fishermen and holds an oyster roast once or twice a week. "A lot of people couldn't believe Georgia has good oysters," laughs Ferguson. Though the inn does not serve lunch to guests in the dining room, the staff provides lunchtime picnic baskets for guests to take while they explore the island, or while they rock peacefully on the expansive front porch.
Two cottages make for extra space outside the inn, but these aren't the only other buildings on the island. Remnants of history are scattered throughout, including the ruins of the large Carnegie mansion named Dungeness located just two miles away from Greyfield. The mansion burned down in June 1959, according to Tyler. Another original Carnegie development remaining on the island for tours is Plum Orchard.
Staying at the Greyfield Inn and visiting Cumberland Island through the National Park Service are two very different, experiences, says Tyler, though each make for a perfect summer getaway. Find out more information at greyfieldinn.com and at nps.gov.