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    St. Simons Island’s fabled historic hotel the King and Prince stretches the width of the beach.

    Barrier islands distinguish Georgia’s coast. 

    Their geography’s interesting to know, and to see up close. 

    What’s happening on the one named St. Simons Island is robust, ever changing while holding on to historic charms. The tides here are distinctive; consider them metaphor for beachfront lodging, expansive culinary, bustling downtown  and personal ways to delve into the history. 

    I took a deep dive to figure out how the old is now new, and how a holiday on St. Simons Island means wonderful discoveries. 

    Swings on grassy lawns face the Atlantic Ocean, just steps from the King and Prince Resort on St. Simons Island.

    WHERE TO STAY

    The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort sets the tone: gracious, historic, seaside, luxurious but not pretentious. 

    Reassuring too: how can sunshine-yellow exterior walls topped with terra cotta indicate anything but comfort? 

    The Historic Hotels of America bestowed its prestigeous seal of approval on the King and Prince in 1996, as did the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Think 1935 as the founding year of the hotel. 

    My lodging experience after visiting throughout a decade includes a stand-alone residence to accommodate my big multi-generational family, villa with kitchen overlooking the tennis courts and an oceanfront cabana with a parlor and a patio too. 

    woman with three young girls sits on swing near beach

    Check the King and Prince website and consider talking to reservations staff to find your fit. Options abound. 

    WHAT TO SIP AND WHERE TO EAT 

    Plan to take little tastes of honey and bigger sips of mead and also of olive oil when you’re on St. Simons Island. 

    Golden Isles Olive Oil features a credentialed olive oil sommelier!

    Ask for Donna MacPherson when you pop in the downtown shop because she serves up exquisite oil flavors with lots of information.   

    She’ll teach you skills to discern olive oil flavors and and recipes to feature their best uses. Expect culinary inspiration, and research data for helping your health using fine oils.

    Honey in many hues and the elixir known as mead abound in downtown St. Simons Island.

    Savannah Bee Company is the source for honey tasting and mead sipping. Honey, they believe fervently, is the soul of a flower.  

    Ferment it for six months and turn honey to alcohol. Vikings liked mead, and the Greeks called it the nectar of the gods. Written recipes are available from Sumeria and Egypt and word is that 10,000 years ago mead was available in Africa’s Kalahari Desert. 

    Palmer’s Village Café features five star, five diamond chef John Belechak. He serves comfort food but his background includes haute cuisine.  

    Pre-beach, this chef cooked at the acclaimed Inn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, The Cloister on Sea Island and Atlanta’s Veni Vidi Vici. 

    Shrimp in red sauce on yellow plate

    Foie gras topped my beef burger in the ECHO restaurant at the King and Prince Resort. Memorable juices added to my delight even before meeting Executive Chef James S. Flack and learning of his coastal Georgia lifelong culinary career. 

    For breakfast, overlooking the tides, my ECHO choice involved crab, wild Georgia shrimp and grouper folded in an omelet. 

    olives, celery, peppers and berries on brunch plate with bottle of bloody mary mix
    Bloody Mary brunch, not the fois gras burger of which I write.

    Important history supports the ECHO name: remember the hotel opened in 1935? 

    World War II challenges in 1942 involved the new technology named radar, calling and responding with electromagnetic waves. The King and Prince became a military operations center utilizing those echoes. 

    Military history heads up: Go to the former Coast Guard Station on East Beach. Late October, 2018, it reopens as a World War II homefront museum, presenting specific stories of island history. Many center around the King and Prince history. 

    White former coast guard stationon St. Simons Island

    Dinner lured me back downtown to meet Georgia Sea Grill Chef Tim Lensch.

    Triple tail was my choice, topping a bed of black quinoa with a medley of okra and red and yellow pepper bites. Fresh catch, of course.  

    Chef Lensch speaks in modest ways, saying his culinary skills began as a Boy Scout and a little boy paying attention in the family kitchen. 

    His menu, however, is inventive, with detailed explanations of each dish. Fresh and local feels true with 15 purveyors listed on the menu. 

    WHICH GEOGRAPHY FACTS TO REPEAT 

    Islands do come in a range of shapes and sizes, so some of the facts that distinguish St. Simons Island might add a bit of curiosity as well as perspective.

    ·       Same size as Manhattan

    ·       Largest of 15 Golden Isles barrier islands

    ·       Westernmost island on the east coast surprisingly due south of Akron, Ohio.

    ·       Most diverse ecosystem east of the Mississippi River

    ·       Georgia’s coast contains one-third of all the east coast marshland

    ·       The beach is a bight. That’s means curved coastline.

    ·       Wave energy is low and tide-changing energy robust because of the curve.

    ·       The beach extends the length of the King and Prince Resort

    WHICH TWO WOMEN TO SEEK OUT 

    Surely you’ll find many impressive people during an island stay, but I recommend starting with these two women: one dead and one alive. 

    Amy Roberts is very much alive, filled with good cheer and stories to tell. She is access to dynamic American history. 

    Meet her at Harrington School. This is a Gullah Geechee school she attended, today a cultural center.  The rich history of people known throughout coastal Georgia and South Carolina is Roberts’ history too. 

    Painting of Gulla schoolhouse with teacher and children in front

    I thought Gullah Geechee people were a vanishing culture, freed slaves creating communities that eventually shrank as people forged new opportunities elsewhere. 

    Roberts laughed at that notion and assured me, “Plenty of Gullah Geechee. They just don’t always know it.” 

    Harrington School is filled with art, open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Finding authentic voices adds mightily to discovery as I travel. 

    Might consider a trip in June, too. Roberts also works with the Georgia Sea Islands Festival, happening every June through the St. Simons Island Heritage Coalition. 

    sideview The bust of Nora August, carved in ivory, Front view The bust of Nora August, carved in ivory,

    Nora August lives on in sculpture. 

    Contemplate her life as a slave when you go to the keeper’s house, also with the lighthouse carefully preserved and explained by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. 

    She is elegant, carved in ivory by an unnamed Union soldier who observed her in a contraband slave camp on the island. Nora August’s sculpted ivory neck is carved with tiny letters, telling what was known about her life.  

    I could have climbed the 129 St. Simons Island lighthouse steps, but Nora August’s intense beauty compelled me to stand and stare. She is stunning sculpture. 

    Look for her. The posters and artifacts in this museum could capture your eye and you’d wander through without encountering Nora August. 

    WHAT TO NOTICE WHILE ARRIVING ON THE ISLAND 

    You could fly in with your private jet, but if you drive, prepare for the Highway 17 Sydney Lanier Bridge. Is it engineering or art?  

    For certain it’s majestic -- the gateway to a vast eco system, largest east of the Mississippi River. 

    The bridge is named for Georgia poet Sidney Lanier, so read his “Marshes of Glynn.” Marsh grasses and water suddenly appear over the edge as you reach the top. 

    View over marsh

    Ships with 13 decks pass underneath carrying 8,500 cars from foreign ports to unload at the Port of Brunswick. George Washington started all that, identifying this port 1789. 

    Schooners hauling heart pine lumber used to sail these waters.  

    Big barrier-island turtles wander out of the marsh, heading to the other side. Concrete traffic barriers on the causeway leading to St. Simons Island sport trapezoid openings to let them through. 

    It’s easy to overlook the turtle openings. But when you do -- how good it feels to recognize the engineering kindness. 

    WHY RIDE THE TROLLEY? 

    Why book the trolley when you have your car? 

    Local stories add a lot of depth to any trip and Cap Fending knows great ones. Ride his Lighthouse Trolley and listen up. They reflect many generations. 

    Family history from the late 1860s fuels his trolley adventures on St. Simons Island, and next-door Jekyll. Cap says every generation of his family is “still here, either standing or lying.”  

    And, yes, there’s a cemetery tour too.  

    Cap Fending credits his grandmother with his love of fishing and boating, and all his life’s experiences with his love of the island.  

    Except for time away earning a degree from the University of Georgia – he’s lived his life on St. Simons.  

    “I love the Georgia coast and St. Simons Island,” Cap declares often. Expect lots of reasons why as he maneuvers the trolley through streets canopied with lush live oak trees. Same’s true for his tour boats through waters abundant with wildlife. 

    View over marsh

    One stop on the land tour is the Bloody Marsh battle site. 

    This is a tiny National Park Service site, pretty today with lush vegetation and waters changing with the tides. 

    In 1742, Spanish troops outnumbered Gen. James Oglethorpe’s soldiers, but retreated to St. Augustine. “What if the Spanish had prevailed,” Cap likes to ask. “Would life as we know it here be vastly different?” 

    Confederate reenactor in front of tomb at Simons Island cemetery at Christ Church.

    The trolley tour also stops at the lovely 1736 Christ Church. Cap can arrange a stroll through the cemetery with Col. Robert A. Morris. 

    He plays the part of a Civil War soldier working after the war in Clara Barton’s office seeking missing soldiers. My guarantee: stories are much richer than conclusions I could draw on my own reading headstones. 

    Christ Church on St. Simons Island

     

     

     

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