Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St., Charleston, S.C. "Unveiled: Wedding Fashion and Traditions in the South" is on view through July 10. 843-722-2996, charlestonmuseum.org.
Freshfields Village, 165 Village Green Lane, Kiawah Island, S.C. 843-768-6491, freshfieldsvillage.com.
Mira Winery Napa Valley Education Center & Tasting Room, 68 ½ Queen St., Charleston, S.C. 1-888-819-4668, miranapa.com.
The top was down on our silver Mercedes-Benz, and my sister Wendy and I were belting out a pop song as we zipped along the Kiawah Island Parkway, as carefree as a couple of teenagers surreptitiously joy riding in our parents’ car.
Our carefully styled hair was now as tangled as the Spanish moss that hangs from the centuries-old oak trees shading us from the blazing Southern sun, but no matter; they would fix us up when we got to the spa at the Sanctuary, a 255-room oceanfront hotel at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The Girls Getaway package includes two spa treatments each, and we planned to thoroughly enjoy the ritual of getting exfoliated, hydrated and detoxified.
Shopping bags filled with treasures from Freshfields Village, a shopping and dining complex just minutes from the hotel, rustled in the back seat. It didn’t occur to either of us until later that they could have sailed away into the cloudless sky like colorful kites.
The truth is, we were not joy-riding teenagers, but a couple of middle-aged women with families and jobs, and we did have permission to drive this sleek, shiny sports car. The Mercedes-Benz program at the Sanctuary allows guests to tool around the island in one of three luxury cars for up to four hours.
At the spa, our mood shifted from noisy giddiness to quiet tranquility. The pummeling bass of “Uptown Funk” had been replaced with soothing spa music punctuated by trilling flutes. In the women’s solarium, we lounged in fluffy robes and comfy slippers, chatting and drinking orchid tea until it was time for our treatments. I’d been looking forward to the signature massage for days.
As my therapist gently placed heated, grain-filled wraps across my shoulders and lower back, I caught a faint whiff of something pleasant, perhaps cloves or cinnamon, which conjured a happy memory associated with the scent. The heat melted away the tension that comes from too much time at a desk. I was in a warm cocoon, protected from the stressors that put those knots in my body.
When the wraps were removed, firm, but not painful, pressure gradually released tight muscles, and I didn’t realize I had dozed off until my therapist gently woke me and told me it was time to turn over.
I flopped over as gracefully as a freshly caught flounder squirming on a boat deck and let my therapist continue her magic.
I emerged from the treatment room in a cloud of citrusy scents and headed over to the large, inviting whirlpool tub to meet up with Wendy. We soaked, chatted and giggled. Back home, we each have our problems and responsibilities, but this weekend, our only problem was chipped toenail polish from walking along an endless stretch of beautiful beach (easily remedied with a spa pedicure), and our only responsibility was to show up on time to our morning yoga class at the Sanctuary fitness center.
Following our afternoon of relaxation and beautification rituals, we craved admiration, so we dressed to the nines and showcased our exquisite selves at the Ocean Room, the resort’s luxury steakhouse.
You know you are dining in a fancy place when a special seat is brought for your purse. Our handbags were treated with such courtesy, I thought they might be offered a cocktail and asked if they preferred a white or black napkin.
The wet-aged filet mignon smothered in creamy béarnaise sauce and topped with a lobster tail satisfied the carnivore and the seafood lover in me. It was the most decadent thing I’ve had on a plate in years.
It would have taken the whole weekend to get through the tome of a wine list that features some of the world’s best varietals, so I let my server, also a trained sommelier, be my guide. He did not disappoint.
When he inquired what the ladies would like for dessert, we adamantly protested that we couldn’t eat another bite, then we ordered the black forest chocolate dome and all but licked the plate.
Kiawah Island feels remote, but it’s only about 20 miles from Charleston, so one day Wendy and I headed into this well-preserved city that practically drips Southern charm, especially in the spring when flowers bloom among the palmetto palms and pleasant temps make walking a pleasure.
Our first stop was the Charleston Museum. We donned Civil War-era costumes, complete with hoop skirts, fanned ourselves and quoted Scarlett O’Hara. Hey, nobody knows us in Charleston, and the docents have seen it before.
We weren’t really there to play dress-up, but to view “Unveiled: Wedding Fashion and Traditions in the South.” This temporary exhibit in the Historic Textiles Gallery showcases wedding gowns worn by Lowcountry brides from the early 1800s through the mid-20th century.
Delicate white and ivory garments in a wide array of styles and fabrics have been yellowed by time, but I had no trouble imagining how elegant they were when the handmade lace and intricate embroidery were in perfect condition and every tiny bead sparkled and glowed like the bride herself.
Antebellum dresses engulfed the wearer in billowing clouds of gauzy material, while later styles were form-fitting, designed to emphasize a slim figure. Perhaps “slim” doesn’t quite capture the tiny waist circumference of some of these late 19th-century gowns. The wearer had to be trussed up in a rib-crushing corset to obtain the desired silhouette. No wonder women were always fainting back then.
As cocktail hour approached, Wendy and I stopped in at Mira Winery Napa Valley Education Center & Tasting Room, which opened in the historic heart of downtown last May. You can’t miss the place. A sprawling mural that reflects a local artist’s take on Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” marks the spot.
Founded by wine enthusiast Jim “Bear” Dyke Jr. and Gustavo Gonzalez, formerly the head red winemaker at Robert Mondavi, Mira produces limited quantities of single vineyard wines from Napa Valley, and now they can be sampled in foodcentric Charleston.
We swirled and sipped wines from some of Napa Valley’s leading vineyards, including Schweizer, one of the oldest in the region, while enjoying the light jazz playing in the background. A white zinfandel was as demure as a blushing bride, while a cabernet sauvignon was so sassy and bold, I thought about giving it a piece of my mind.
There’s no pretentiousness or wine snobbery here, so even if you don’t know terroir from tannins, take a seat at the bar and consider yourself enrolled in Wine Tasting 101.
The whole idea of the education center is to demystify some of the heady wine concepts and terminology. As a result, wine drinkers leave with a better understanding of why they like the wines they do. Even savvy oenophiles are sure to learn a thing or two.
As our time in coastal South Carolina came to a close, Wendy and I had a realization. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort is famous for its five championship golf courses. We never went near one and still had the time of our lives.