Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Admittedly, it was with some trepidation that Judy and I accepted an invitation to visit Horse Stamp Inn, a new luxury bed-and-breakfast about three and one-half hours south of the Lowcountry.
Judy’s equestrian experience is pretty much limited to a few minutes on a docile horse at a Wisconsin summer camp, back in the days when girls still wore poodle skirts and circle pins. As for me, the last time I’d been close to galloping horseflesh was while tearing up my losing tickets along the rail at Santa Anita. Roy and Dale, we’re not.
Nonetheless, we directed our trusty GPS to get us to Waverly, Ga., which, it turns out, is roughly equidistant from Savannah and Jacksonville. Although it’s only a few miles off I-95, the Horse Stamp at first glance looks like an ante-bellum mansion, set as it is down a quiet state road at the end of a long, straight driveway bordered by wood-fenced pastureland and fronted by an impressive, multi-tiered fountain.
Pulling up to the long, cool verandah and the inn’s front door, it became immediately apparent that the Horse Stamp is hardly a historic renovation. In fact, the building – once a very large private home – is only a decade old. However, within and without, innkeepers Tom and Kris Hutcherson have created an ambiance that harkens back to a slower, earlier time when getting away to a country hostelry really did mean peace, quiet and contentment. While the inn has every modern convenience available at most classy hotels – and then some – modernity is not the first word that comes to mind when stepping into the Horse Stamp’s handsomely-appointed great hall.
The Hutchersons, an attractive couple who moved to Georgia from Colorado, make no bones about what their inn means to them and to their guests - a warm welcome, outstanding accommodations, excellent home-cooked food and the sense of being on vacation but still in a friend’s gracious home.
All of the rooms are named for famous race horses. Ours was the Seabiscuit, fitted with a tall king bed, a spacious bath/dressing room and a wide verandah overlooking the property.
Attention to detail was evident throughout. And, there’s a comfortable interior elevator for guests to reach their second floor rooms.
Not long after our arrival, we enjoyed our fist cocktail hour with the Hutchersons and the other guests. Each evening, the inn offers wine, cheese and dips and the innkeepers like to join in the relaxation and conversation.
Breakfasts at the Horse Stamp are authentic and ample, including such specialties as an egg casserole – the eggs freshly laid by the inn’s resident hens - with veggies, three cheeses and sausage or Kris’ Georgia Peach French Toast topped with hot peach sauce and served with applewood smoked bacon. As was true of happy hour, the innkeepers are lively participants. They cook in their enormous eat-in kitchen while guests watch and chat.
While the Horse Stamp Inn is its own rustic world, there’s plenty of other local attractions a short drive away. Golfers will enjoy the Love Design/Fred Couples Signature course at Sanctuary Cove. Relaxing exploration along the nearby Satila River is afforded by the inn’s 21-foot pleasure boat, helmed by Capt. Tim. And, the beaches at St. Simon’s Island and Jekyll Island are only about 30 minutes away.
As for dining opportunities outside the inn, the Hutcherson’s will be happy to steer you to Cap’n Stan’s Smokehouse in Wyndham.
A legitimate downhome joint with mostly outdoor dining on well-worn picnic tables, this place provides ribs, oysters, brisket, smoked chicken, smoked Boston Butt and more, plus atmosphere. Cap’n Stan was once a top men’s fashion model, whose portfolio included shots in which he’s a dead ringer for “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm. Still a striking man, these days he’s more comfortable in faded bib overalls genially working the enthusiastic crowd or pulling his own chair right up to the little bandstand where excellent local musicians offer continuous country, bluegrass and country pop selections.
At the other end of the spectrum, at least in terms of elegant presentation and cuisine is Halyards of St. Simon’s Island. A full-service restaurant in its own right, Halyards has successfully catered numerous weddings and special events at the inn, so we were treated to a dinner of their fare which included one of the best shrimp and grits we’ve ever tasted, served in a martini glass, fork tender filet mignon in a Bernaise reduction and a chocolate dessert more deliciously rich than any mere mortal deserves.
Quite a few of those weddings and special events at the inn also included the services of Emily Burton a warm but no-nonsense young women who dropped by to share with us some examples of her top-quality work in fashions, flowers, couture and stylings for memorable weddings and other gala events.
Obviously, we were not alone in being impressed by the inn, its ambiance and services. Just a few of the comments in their guest book from visitors as far away as Massachusetts and Kansas included: “What an amazing place” “Our stay was magical” and “You gave us the best wedding we could have asked for.”
So, if thundering hoofbeats aren’t readily apparent at the inn, what’s with the name? Legend has it that cavalrymen during the War of 1812 would have their steeds stamp down the high grass so that they’d have a nice clearing in which to hold their Sunday church services.
That’s not to say that horseplay is totally absent at the inn. There is a beautiful resident horse roaming the pastures. Her name is Belle Fleur, a mahogany Morgan/quarterhorse mare standing more than 16 hands with a background that includes dressage training. She’s not ridden much these days, but she’s a delight to watch. And, for the price of a nice, fresh carrot or half a bright, red apple, she’ll be your new best friend, at least as long as the treats don’t run out.
No question. Belle Fleur definitely puts the “horse” in the Horse Stamp Inn, Now, if she only could have given us a tip on this season’s Kentucky Derby. For rates, reservations and other details go to www.horsestampinn.com.
Bill Farley is a freelance writer.