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The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island

Itís golf that brings most people to The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, a super-deluxe seaside resort overlooking 10 miles of beautiful barrier island beach near Charleston, S.C.

But I had other diversions in mind, namely exploring the barrier island and its oyster-laden waterways by kayak. By November, my native New England and Bay of Fundy were too cold for kayaking, and I headed south to paddle in a different environment.

I found a lot more there to love. An alligator-spotting walk with the resort naturalist took us around a pond in the nearby residential area, where gators sunned in peopleís back yards. The beach offered miles of walking Ė or cycling, since the sand at waterís edge is solid enough to support the tires. Two outdoor pools, and indoor pool and a spa Ė in addition to lounge chairs on the beach offered plenty of options.

Kayaking was superb, with a guide to describe the islandsí ecosystem and history, and show us the mud banks encrusted with oysters, and identify the birds that shared the grassy banks. Miles of grass-lined channels wind and weave through the inner island, and a lagoon is protected by a line of sand. We could have gone shrimping and had the hotel grill our catch for supper.

And, of course, there was a lot to love about the hotel and grounds. The building, although opened in 2004 and replete with modern conveniences, has the spacious grandeur of a resort hotel that has been there for a century. Broad staircases descend into wide carpeted lobbies, lined with 8-foot potted plants and decorated by stunning murals of local landscapes. A few fine antiques carry out the aura, but the many sitting areas in the large bright lobby offered more comfortable contemporary chairs and sofas. The mood is elegant, but not so formal that I wondered if I should be wearing a flowered hat and white gloves to have a cup of tea there.

Rooms are furnished in the same stylish blend of contemporary and classic, and are equipped with all the expected little luxuries and conveniences: designer soaps and toiletries, balconies overlooking the sea (as ours did) or the green interior of the island. Wi-fi extends to the pool area and beach, although I was not tempted to take my laptop to my beach chair.

What I didnít like? The $15 per person resort fee added to the room bill, whether guests used any of the resort amenities or opted to spend their days peacefully reading on their balconies or sipping juleps in the bar. I think that a resort that charges between $275 and $625 a day can throw in the activities that donít involve equipment rental. Especially since generous tips are expected whenever the resort staff is involved.

Money, of course, is not a consideration to the typical Sanctuary guest, whether they come for a weekend getaway or to spend a family week at the beach.

The golfers that returned to The Sanctuary each afternoon seemed pleased with their days, so I can only believe that the resort deserves its accolades as a golf destination. But they canít have enjoyed Kiawah Island any more than I did.

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