On our way to the annual W3 Festival – Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife at Jekyll Island, we crossed the border from Florida into Georgia where a billboard advertised Peach Wine, Moonshine Pickles and Moonshine Jelly. We were clear on the first two Ws but wondered about the wildlife. Was it referring to the sea turtle refuge center or people gone wild after whiskey and wine? We’re delighted to report that the event was wonderfully tasteful, very fun and educational. We would add another W for Wow and highly recommend it for any island loving foodies.
Jekyll Island has but 10 miles of shoreline for easy exploration and yet it is uncrowded, delivering a secluded retreat. JI was the diplomatic meeting ground for English, Spanish and Creek Indians in the early days and purchased in 1886 to establish the Jekyll Island Club, an elite retreat for one sixth of the world’s wealthiest to play, hunt and bond. Millionaire families like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts and Pulitzers built their second homes for an exclusive island escape. Tuxedos and gowns were required for fine dinners in the grand salon of the clubhouse back in the day.
Today Jekyll Island is designated as a state park, yes, the whole island but still delivers an uncrowded experience. Outdoor activities for the whole family on JI include 22 miles of biking trails, paddle boarding, tennis, golf, boating and fishing.
Jekyll Island Club is now a National Historic Landmark. Tours of the original Jekyll Island Hotel and “cottages” disguised as mansions are available daily. Rock on the porch of the gift center listening to the beginning tales and get more details from the guide driving the shuttle carts around the grounds. Charter boats and dolphin tours depart from the marina.
Jekyll Island Golf Club begins with 9 holes at Great Dunes, the first golf course built in 1926 by Walter “Old Man” Travis for the club members. According to one historian Todd Lincoln, son of President Abe wouldn’t join the club because he didn’t like the course. Honesty apparently ran in the family. Luckily other members loved it and today players have 54 more holes of low country woodland adventure. Pine Lakes is the longest walk in the woods designed by Clyde Johnson adjoining Indian Mound, the shortest by architect Joe Lee. The Oleander has the tightest design with more shot shaping required to miss short grasses and water ways as the ocean breeze blows through. All are part of the Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries which means prime bird watching habitat and the occasional opportunity to watch out for gators as deer fancy prancing in and out of the forest.
Two more little 18-hole designs are fun for all at Jekyll Island Mini Golf while the world class championship golf on nearby St. Simon’s Island includes the home of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, several public facilities and Golf Performance Center.
The Westin Jekyll Island is perfectly situated to be the presenting sponsor and host hotel for W3. Watch the waves lap in from the deep-seated wicker chairs on the balcony of your room or stroll the long stretch of beach and inhale and exhale the fresh ocean air. The frequency of the sand beneath your feet is believed to penetrate the human system for physical and spiritual wellness. As some southerners say, “the lower the latitude, the better the attitude.” To that we add gratitude. The Westin Jekyll Island has all the vacation amenities, a pool for lounging, workout room for indoor exercise with an ocean view, shuttle service to area spots and a superb culinary team led by Executive Chef Skipp Walden. The Beach Village is adjacent to the hotel for convenient shopping and more chow and the Convention Center is also next door.
The W3 Festival In its second year, this 4-day event hosted at the Westin Jekyll Island starred renowned chefs from the area and even Nova Scotia. It kicked off Thursday evening with the Paisley Magazine Partini in the courtyard facing the sea followed by a 4 course Wine Dinner in The Reserve restaurant by Ferrari-Carano wine pairings with cuisine by Chef Tom Gray, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails and Town Hall Restaurants, Jacksonville, FL; guest Chef Raj Gupta, The Westin Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Skipp of course. Friday morning some set sail on a Wine Cruise with Captain Phillip while the afternoon W3 Master Pours Wine and Spirt Educational Classes surpassed all expectations from Blind Tasting Techniques by the world’s Master Sommelier Michael McNeill to the scotch and whiskey distinctions of Louisville’s Woodford Reserve and The BenRiach Speyside. A comical and delicious pairing of brews by Kevin Ryan, Service Brewing Co., and burgers from Chef David Carrier, Certified Burgers & Beverage was topped off by a presentation of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates with sips of course accompanying Skipp’s scrumptious bites. A snooze was in order before the Whiskey Inspired Reception in the Westin Lobby and Courtyard. Here guests checked in for a souvenir glass for filling with any sample elixirs from moonshine to fine wine. Nibbles from the renowned chefs satisfied every palate. Inside and out entertainment abounded with musicians and artists such as the Gypsea Glass gal creating her hand-blown designs above the blazing fire pit where stogies were enjoyed. A live auction benefited (as does the entire W3 Festival), the Jekyll Island Foundation. Samples of the work at The Georgia Sea Turtle Center sauntered through the crowd in the arms of caretakers from the center. Some carried snakes (courteous of those with phobias), turtles and even a baby gator. Yeah, we held it. We also noticed an absence of gator bites on the menus. The rehabilitation center has released over 1600 animals back into the wild and educates and inspires over 100,000 people per year.
As if this weren’t enough, Saturday, the main festival event went from 1-4 at the Beach Village with a bbq and whiskey contest, more samplings of all things good and tempting plus a VIP buffet set up on the veranda of the Westin with optimal views of the ocean, festival and dance floor from the rooftop. But wait, that’s not all. An after party continued poolside and then there was the evening’s grand finale – the Sea Glass Wine Pairing and Station Dinner in The Reserve. Of course, every evening at the Westin might conclude at Harry’s Lounge with live entertainment next to the courtyard fire pit. Come and go, in and out, smoke a cigar and laugh with new and old friends. It is the Westin Way. All W3 events are priced separately to pick and choose your own pace of festivities. Sunday Brunch at the Reserve and throughout the lobby and courtyard from 12-4 concluded one of the nation’s grandest food and spirit festivals.
The Wildlife Although Georgia has only 100 miles of shoreline it holds approximately one-third of the entire marshland of the Atlantic seaboard. Loggerhead Sea Turtles, bald eagles, the fascinating endangered wood stork and many more aviary species flock here. The Roseate Spoonbill is perhaps the only species that gets prettier with age in that the older the bird, the pinker the feathers. Four legged varieties include deer and even bobcats. Jekyll boasts the best in class biologists and researchers for extraordinary eco experiences.
The Beaches While beaches obviously comprise the circumference of the island, drifting on Driftwood Beach is other-worldly. Massive uprooted trees lie as nature’s monumental art reflecting or instilling one’s desire to uproot and move to Jekyll Island. On a rare foggy morning, the art in the mist is at the same time eerie and inspiring. Great Dunes is a popular family beachfront park as is South Dunes with its elevated boardwalk crossing 20-foot sand dunes. Glory Beach was so named for the movie filmed here and St. Andrews beach serves as an observation platform for migratory birds and dolphins.
They say that once your feet touch the sand on Jekyll Island you are bound to return. We can attest to that! You don’t have to wait until February for the next W3 Festival though we encourage you to attend it. The Shrimp and Grits Festival will be held September 15-17 in the National Historic District and The Westin is a prime destination year-round. Fresh seafood, ocean breezes and beach strolls – ready, set, relax on Jekyll Island.