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Southern comfort at The Cloister on Sea Island.

ROYALTY, POLITICAL GIANTS AND other pleasure seekers flee to The Cloister, on Sea Island, Georgia, for its blend of high-style Southern living and the ultra-relaxed ambience of an oceanfront resort.

The setting: Overlooking the vast, beautiful marshlands that separate Sea Island from St. Simons Island, the posh resort (winner of five stars from Mobil and named one of America's best tennis and golf resorts by sporting magazines) carries the signature look of famed architect Addison Mizner. It's a lavish Spanish Mediterranean edifice crowned by a glowing red-tile roof, with lots of patios, terraces, high-beamed ceilings and clerestory windows.

Outside, majestic Georgian oaks draped in long Spanish moss shade colorful flower beds. Be sure to wander through a special cluster of impressive oaks commemorating visits of such world leaders as Queen Julianna of the Netherlands, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George Bush.

Tee up! Golf is synonymous with The Cloister. Courses include the 36 holes at the Sea Island Club and 18 at the St. Simons Island Club (now a Cloister operation). Once the site of the fabled Retreat Plantation of Sea Island cotton fame, the course is sculpted around ruins of plantation buildings and a cemetery dating from 1780 to Civil War times.

The Golf Learning Center, a joint venture with Golf Digest, offers indoor and outdoor practice areas, target greens, recovery shot areas and indoor studios with driving nets. Clinics, junior sessions, golf fitness programs and, of course, the Golf Digest instructional schools lure golf lovers from all parts of the world.

Tennis, anyone? If that special "whomp" of the ball hitting the racquet gets your adrenalin going, head for the 18 clay courts. Sign up for clinics, round robins, tournaments or private instruction as soon as you arrive. Youngsters love the junior clinics, and the teen mixers are a great way to make new friends.

Horseback heaven. Here's where dreams of riding high upon a swift steed down a wide stretch of beach come true. It's not the run-of-the-mill trail ride. There's plenty of trotting and cantering in the open areas, as thousands of fiddler crabs scatter on the edges of the marsh. Tip: You need to be at least a bit experienced, as the horses do take off. It's popular, especially the combination beach ride/picnic, so reserve ahead.

Exploring marshes. The boat tour takes four to six people aboard a pontoon with a naturalist, who shares his knowledge of this unique ecosystem. You'll cruise by the magnificent estate R.J. Reynolds built earlier this century. Highly recommended.

Etc. Activities abound. Sea turtle walks, birding expeditions, garden walks, beach supper parties, ballroom dancing, bike tours, jeep train safaris -- and then you can get puffed and fluffed at the spa and work out 'til you drop. Kids' activities range from etiquette classes to crabbing parties to a highly touted summer camp.

Day trip. Drive around the beautiful isle of St. Simons for glimpses of Tara-type architecture. The "pier" area was a disappointment as far as shopping and restaurants go. (It's no St. Armands!) But Fort Frederica, on the opposite end of the island, was fascinating. Explore the ruins of the thriving colonial town that once stood in support of the British fort. Here's where Oglethorpe made a name for himself.

Dining. Three meals a day are included in the rates. The Beach Club's buffets, both for breakfast and lunch, were casual, served under large white umbrellas seaside. A wonderful touch of romance came when room service set up an early morning breakfast on our patio, complete with highly polished silver, pure white linens and fresh flowers.

We enjoyed our dinner at the St. Simons Island Club, but the outstanding meal was in the main dining room, where six fabulous courses included lobster bayou on grits gnocchi, black bean and crab soup, blackened yellowfin tuna and tiramisu with mocha cream sauce (too tasty to be true). Reserve early.

Accommodations. The 264 guest rooms span the main building, the River House, guest houses and beach houses. We stayed in the Cannon House, right across from the Beach Club. It was one of the most beautiful accommodations we've ever experienced, with a lovely living room, oversize bedroom and large patio looking out over a flowering landscape. That's hard to beat.

Through Nov. 30, rates range from $135/night/per person to $344/night/per person, full American plan. Golf, tennis and honeymoon packages available. 800-SEA-ISLAND.

Getting there. I-75 north to Gainesville. Take Highway 24 to 301 north. East on I-10 to 295 north. Then I-95 north into Georgia. Take exit 6 onto U.S. 17 and follow the signs to St. Simons/Sea Island.
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Title Annotation:oceanfront resort in Georgia
Author:Holler, Janis Frawley
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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