Mepkin Abbey & Woodlands Inn… A Day to Savor

Published in Bluffton Breeze - September, 2006 (blufftonbreeze . com)

by Scottie Davis

Back roads trips in this area can be fascinating. One of my favorites combines the serenity of an abbey with the elegance a Mobile 5 star, AAA five diamond Relais & Chateaux inn. What a memorable day trip this makes!

Two and a half hours from Bluffton (1-95 to 17A) is Mepkin Abbey near Moncks Corner, SC. Mepkin is certainly not your usual monastery. The site was originally a plantation and you are greeted by a breathtakingly beautiful allee of oaks that dates back to the 1700s. Clare Boothe and Henry Luce bought the plantation in 1936 and entertained political and publishing friends here. After the tragic death of young Ann Clare, the couple donated the property to the Catholic Church in 1949.

Today, Mepkin Abbey is home to 24 Trappist monks. Prayer is the major focus of their monastic day. They rise at 3 am, pray seven times a day and observe a grand silence from 8 pm until 8:15 am. The Brothers sustain themselves by raising chickens and selling eggs and fertilizer (Piggly Wiggly in Shelter Cove on Hilton Head carries Mepkin Abbey eggs).

Guests may visit the grounds of the abbey between 9 am and 4:30 pm (closed on Mondays), but it is only on the guided tours that you experience what a special place it is. These tours are offered in the morning and at 3 pm. My preference is to begin at 10 am with a tour of the Luce Memorial Gardens on the Ashley River where you learn about the history of Mepkin and the lifestyle of the Trappist, followed by a guided tour of the grounds which includes observing a noonday service in the lovely chapel (The afternoon tour does not include a service). Before departing, a visit to the Gift Shop at Mepkin is a must. Religious artifacts are sold along with exquisite works produced by regional and national artisans.

Feeling spiritually renewed, take 17A to the charming town of Summerville, SC where a culinary treat awaits you at Woodlands Inn & Resort. Receiving accolade after accolade, Woodlands is one of three inns in the country to hold five stars for dining and five stars for lodging.

Woodlands combines the ambiance of a small grand hotel with the charm of a southern plantation home. Everything about it is perfection from the exquisite antiques and oriental rugs to the sparkling crystal chandeliers and oil paintings. There are 19 guest rooms in the Inn, along with parlors, a sunroom, and spacious dining room that seats 75.

Woodlands is a great place to celebrate a special occasion or get away for a night or two. Events such as The "Wines of the World" series held on the third Tuesday of the month (Wines of Napa Valley will be featured in October) and the Chef Cooking Demonstration and Dinner on the second Tuesday of the month are very popular and special room rates are offered on these occasions.

Lunch at Woodlands in the light, airy dining room overlooking the wooded grounds is an event to savor (and one that requires reservations). The butternut squash soup and pecan crusted chicken are among my favorite dishes. The peach tea is divine, cheese biscuits, out of this world and desserts, as sinful as they get.

Travel and Leisure readers were right on target when they voted Woodlands Inn and Resort as number one in service in the North America and 5th in the world. The staff could write the book on how to make people feel welcome. The impeccable service in the dining room makes you want to sit for a spell and enjoy the surroundings.

After lunch, a walk around the grounds of the 42-acre complex will let the elegance and beauty of Woodlands Inn linger as you reluctantly depart for home.

And all of this is right here on the back roads of South Carolina. In one day you can experience serenity and peace, elegance and beauty. And be home by dark!

Contact information:
Mepkin Abbey
1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner, SC, 29461
Woodlands Inn & Resort
125 Parsons Road, Summerville, SC 29483
800-774-9999; 843-875-2600


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