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The golden isles of Georgia.

The same forces that shaped the Carolina Sea Islands also formed the Golden Isles of Georgia. In many ways, Georgia's coast-tucked far back from the Gulf Stream and tracked by its own mile-wide, estuarine rivers-is an extension of the southernmost South Carolina coast.

There are hundreds of such islands and islets along the state's 137 miles of shoreline, but for the vacationer, only six of the largest are significant. They are, north to south, Tybee Island, near Savannah; Sea Island, the site of The Cloister hotel; historic, golf-pocked St. Simon's Island; secluded Little St. Simons; Jekyll Island and its restored "millionaires' village"; and Cumberland Island, a National Seashore since 1972.

There are also the historic, mainland cities of Savannah and Brunswick, both well worth an extended look-or better yet, a base of operations from which you can day-trip to all the surrounding islands.

The Savannah River forms the southern boundary of South Carolina. And the old port city of Savannah-which sits astride the river ten miles inland-features the largest historic district in the United States. But the best part of Historic Savannah is ballaststone-and-red-brick River Street.

There, quayside cotton warehouses-where once plantation factors tallied hogsheads of tobacco and bales of King Cotton as they were loaded aboard British merchantmen-have been converted into some of the city's best restaurants and choicest shops. The Savannah Hyatt Regency anchors River Street; its river-view guestroom windows are equipped with lights that signal the passing of oceangoing ships.

A number of the largest islands immediately south of Savannah are wildlife refuges--Oatland, Skidaway, Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherines, Blackbeard, and Sapelo-and are great day trips for the vacationer. (Two of them are famous for their organized deer hunts, and Skidaway is the site of an oceanographic institute affiliated with the University of Georgia system.) But just south of them, sitting on the coast near 250-year-old Brunswick, are the cream of the Golden Isles. Collectively, these five islands represent a recreational "afterlife" and an "open book" of American history. There are innumerable holes of golf. Dozens of tennis courts. Eight marinas. Two ocean-fishing piers. Some of the Atlantic coast's greatest seafood restaurants. Try Emmeline and Hessie at Golden Isles Marina. A temperature of 68.4 degrees (annual average). And 450 years of history. The flags of five nations have flown over coastal Georgia.

If you aren't a guest at The Cloister, bypass Sea Island, for the remainder of the island is private and you quite literally can't even park your car. You might, however, go to The Cloister for lunch or dinner and afterward drive down Sea Island Drive for a look at the fabulous oceanfront homes.

In 1736, Georgia's founder, James Oglethorpe, built Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island to protect his fledgling, "English" Georgia from "Spanish" Florida. The Methodists John and Charles Wesley helped develop the original Christ Church there beneath the moss-hung live oaks. Not surprisingly, the bestselling historical novelist Eugenia Price has lived on St. Simons for many years.

Of course, a rich history only bespeaks the enduring popularity of an area, and, in point of fact, Indians wintered on the Golden Isles millennia before the arrival of Europeans-for many of the same reasons we vacation there today. The area is incredibly rich in marine life. There are four seafood-processing plants in Brunswick, the "Seafood Capital of the World."

Today on St. Simons, fishermen have their choice of surf casting, pier fishing, or offshore charters; they can go oystering, go crabbing, or throw the cast net for shrimp. If fishing isn't your thing, the four-star, four-diamond Sea Palms resort has 27 holes of golf-rated among Georgia's "Ten Best"-and a beautiful 12court racquet club.

The privately owned Little St. Simons Island is accessible only by boat or plane. The island's lodges can house a maximum of 24 guests. There are naturalist-led day-trip tours of the 10,000 pristine acres, as well as many recreational activities. The country's largest herd of browsing fallow deer keeps the underbrush well-manicured.

From 1886 to 1942, Jekyll Island was the winter retreat of the great American "robber barons"-Rockefellers, Morgans, Goodyears, Pulitzers, and Vanderbilts. Some of their "cottages" have more than 20 rooms! It is said that when club members dined together-as they did nightly in the clubhouse dining room -one-sixth of the world's wealth was in one room.

The club closed after the 1942 season because of the scarcity of labor and supplies, diverted to the "war effort." Plans to reopen the club after the war as a "Cloister-style resort hotel" never materialized-in large measure due to the expense of building a causeway to the mainland. After the war, the State of Georgia purchased Jekyll Island for $675,000 and turned it into a state park. Finally, December 31, 1986-a century after the club opened-the members' sumptuous lifestyle was recreated when Radisson opened its $17-million, 136room restoration of the original Jekyll Island clubhouse. The members' individual residences surround it and are operated by the state as museums and tour sites.

Elsewhere on Jekyll, there are ten miles of beach (and behind the island are the poet Sydney Lanier's famous "Marshes of Glynn"); a "wharf," a boat launch, and a fishing pier; several tennis clubs, including the "Morgan Court"; and 63 holes of golf-including the club members' original, ninehole, oceanside "links."

At Cumberland Island, you'll see wild ponies roll in the surf and see the "cornerstone" ruins of Dungeness, the great Carnegie mansion that steel built. Further north on the island is Plum Orchard, another Carnegie "cottage." Public access is by ferryboat only (from St. Mary's on the mainland), and only 300 guests are allowed on the island per day. You can day-trip with a picnic or spend the night at wilderness campsites. The Greyfield Inn also has limited accommodations for overnight stays. Be sure to make your reservations far in advance.
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Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1988
Previous Article:The many coasts of South Carolina; the "kingdom by the sea" is diverse enough to satisfy even the most princely of tastes.
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