Unassuming and nestled along the banks of the May River, which floats away from the toe of Hilton Head Island’s shoe-like edges like an untied lace, lies the historic resort Palmetto Bluff. This month, Palmetto Bluff’s inspired event, Field + Fire, will bring me back where these two elements—earth and flame—combine to create an unforgettable Southern sporting experience.
At Field + Fire, hosted by Montage Palmetto Bluff, the fire on the May River lawn beckons. You will be drawn to the warmth and quickly realize the generous, circular firepit is the heart of the event. Throughout the weekend, when you walk the edge of hunger and thirst, refuel here with hearty food and warming libations. Toasty is the word that comes to mind.
Did someone mention food? The event presents an array of guest chefs to create Lowcountry delicacies with just enough—yes, you guessed it—fire, by way of spice, so that you hardly realize the sun has set and the slight cold nips at you. The chill abides on the fringes of this intimate circle. Food, friends, and tales of sport and adventure both past, present, and possible rise like the sparks from the central fire.
Once enticed by the flame, and your inner desire burning to experience all Field + Fire has to offer, you won’t want to miss a single activity. You will long to venture out into the land of Palmetto Bluff and take in its history, the hunt, the art, and the craft.
In the field next to the original inn, surrounded by Wilson family plantation ruins, you’ll have the chance to observe the prowess of well-trained sporting dogs, learn from experts in training, watch gun-dog demos, try out the best Orvis flyrods with your cast, and learn from a naturalist how to speak to game animals such as turkey, ducks, and bucks.
The sporting life in the field, and in fashion, requires excellent gear and stylish accoutrements. As the world of style meets the practicality and beauty of the land, you will find art, handmade furniture, clothing, and accessories inside the Marketplace at The Montage, which is open all weekend. It’s a warm destination when you want to find that perfect something to take home with you to remember these moments.
Getting farther outside to enjoy the expansive 20,000 acres of Palmetto Bluff is simple and accessible. You need only sign up for the falconry expedition with Steve Hein of Georgia Southern, or take the cemetery tour with Palmetto Bluff’s on-site historian, Mary Socci. For a self-guided adventure, grab a bike and hit the miles of trail, passing tree houses, fauna, mounds of oyster shells, and marshy outcroppings, all the way to Moreland Village at the tip of the property. Once there, you can warm up with coffee or a treat and learn about what wildlife was spotted that week at the community wildlife watch board. But you’ll return to the fire. It will surely call you.
Saturday night’s meal, the highlight of Field + Fire, is the Bourbon + Birds Dinner, which features an elegant game menu by a Michelin-starred chef. Last year, Mark Lundgaard Nielsen of Copenhagen’s elegant Kong Hans Kaelder restaurant prepared the al fresco meal, with pairings of wine and bourbon from Robert Foley Vineyard and Virgil Kaine Whiskey Co. Distillery, respectively. Appetites are keener in the field, and this dining experience satisfies.
The culmination of the field events will be the grand and triumphant Fox Hunt Expo and Tailgate located at Longfield Stables, home to some 80 head of horses. Even the dogs know something special is about to happen before the horn blows.
They sniff the air. They pace in tight circles. Professionals at their natural job, they are equally friendly and in search of a pat or two from a guest or a stray biscuit from the gourmet field lunch. When the Master rides up to the group, handsome in his red jacket, with his lilting Irish accent, he explains the hunt to the captivated participants, many of whom are scratching the ears of a nearby hound. Learning about the majesty of the horses, taking in their twitching muscles and tossing manes, there is palpable excitement in the air. And they’re off. The speed and agility displayed is breathtaking. From the tents atop a perfectly situated knoll you have a 360-degree view of the cross-country route. The landscape is the canvas on which the art of the fox hunt—the dance of human, horse, and hound—is painted.
Many other activities take advantage of the land and the flame, so you just have to attend to comprehend. When you check in at the beautiful Montage Palmetto Bluff, before you do anything else, begin your weekend with a deep breath to let the beauty of this place register. Soak up the fresh marsh air, made brisk by the chilly January temps. Then allow yourself to alight.
Field + Fire, Jan 31–Feb 2; Montage Palmetto Bluff, 477 Mt. Pelia Rd, Bluffton, SC; (843) 706-6500; palmettobluff.com/explore/field-fire