We’d been tossing around dozens of destinations for a quick weekend trip in the past month or so, and finally settled on the Fairhope and Point Clear area on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, which is in the middle of the little foot sticking out of the bottom of Alabama. We’d never been before, and I am so glad we went before we move away from this region. It was a relaxing, luxurious, picturesque getaway, the kind of vacation that makes it hard to return home.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, which was a real treat. The hotel was originally built in 1847, and served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. The Army Air Corps also used the Grand as a training base during World War II (but none of the soldiers wore their combat boots indoors, to protect the hardwood floors). Each afternoon, a cannon is fired on the grounds following a short historical presentation that salutes today’s military as well as those members who have passed through the Grand over the centuries.
Today, the resort is nestled on 550 secluded acres in Point Clear on the shores of Mobile Bay. It includes a 20,000-square-foot spa, is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America.
The Fairhope/Point Clear area reminded me of Charleston and Savannah in that it has a distinctly genteel, Old South feel to it. I honestly believe that if you were dropped out of a plane into these cities, you would know you were in the Deep South as soon as you opened your eyes. Bear with me as I try to put my finger on what exactly gives it that natural charm, that something. Is it the reverence for tradition and formality tempered by the casualness incredible heat and humidity demands? The way you can effortlessly imagine this place in the 1950′s or 1800′s, without changing much around you? The sense that modern life is anchored in a context of continuity and respect for the past? Wooden homes overflowing with a comfortable, lived-in, old-fashioned character, lined up at the edge of the bay behind porches, hydrangeas, and lawns? Huge leafy tree branches draped with Spanish moss? Locals gathered in a circle for hours, neck-deep in the water, pulling drinks down from a cooler set up on the boat dock next to them? The delightfully slower-paced, uncomplicated speed of life? Bow ties? Cocktails featuring bourbon, maple syrup, and pecan-smoked bacon? The curious blend of quiet sophistication and down-homeness? Whatever it is, I was happy to find it only a 4-hour drive from Tuscaloosa. (Charleston and Savannah are much farther.)
The resort runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine, and was completely focused on guest comfort down to the tiniest details. Everything was easy, and it seemed like no matter what question you asked, the answer was always yes. The restaurants had health-conscious, vegetarian options and were more than happy to work around requests for non-dairy, gluten-free, or other food allergies/preferences. The chef’s extensive herb garden was unfenced and inviting, situated along the paths meandering through the resort. There were huge shade trees at both the beach and pool, as well as hammocks and bench swings around the property.
They provided towels at the pool so you didn’t have to drag around the ones you brought and wash them when you got home. And there was an adult pool, perfect for those of us more into quiet lounging than water slide splashing. The fitness center had the fanciest cardio machines I’ve ever seen, overlooked the marina, thoughtfully provided disposable headphones for husbands who forgot theirs, and had a huge self-serve container of yummy citrus spa water right there next to the weights. I could go on, but in short I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that a hotel or resort was this attentive to detail, or anticipated guests’ needs so well.
One of our favorite parts was the bikes you could borrow to ride around the resort, along the strip of homes that face the bay, or through shady, grassy parks and a walking/biking trail on US 98 leading toward tree-lined Fairhope.
Since it was Memorial Day weekend, there were all kinds of special events at the Grand: afternoon tea and cookies, bingo, a watermelon-eating contest, s’more-making on the beach, a “dive-in” movie one evening at the pool, and a whole slew of other family-friendly activities. The closest thing I can think to compare it to is Mackinac Island, Michigan: an All-American, simple, idyllic, fun-in-the-sun summer vacation setting.
We had big plans to go to a Bay Bears baseball game, see the battleship, and visit the Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile. We made a list of restaurants that looked good in both Mobile and Fairhope. But we ended up not touching our car until it was time to check out, instead of leaving the hotel to venture into towns or cities. Below are a portabello mushroom sandwich served at lunch in The Dining Room, and veggie sushi we had for dinner at the Saltwater Grill.
In case you do decide to leave the grounds, here is a list of restaurants that looked particularly interesting to us. I have not spent any time in Mobile personally, but the area around the downtown location of the Mediterranean Sandwich Company seemed a little rough when we drove through on Monday on our way home. You may want to visit their other location, or research the vibe of the historic area a bit more before you go. :)
Thyme by the Bay (Fairhope)
Panini Pete’s (Fairhope)
Mediterranean Sandwich Company (Mobile)
I thought I’d include some ideas of what to pack and what not to. I guessed pretty well, but would have loaded up my bag a bit differently in hindsight.
What To Bring:
- swimsuits, cover-ups, sandals, sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses, beach/pool bag, magazines, books (swimsuits and cover-ups were probably what I saw women wearing most often)
- plenty of casual beach/pool clothes and athletic/biking/walking clothes and shoes
- your iPod and headphones for the fitness center (the gym is so nice, working out still feels like a vacation)
- sundresses or slightly nicer attire and basic make-up/hair supplies for dinner or evenings at the bar/lounge
- snacks and bottled water for your room and beach/pool bag- the breakfast and lunch options are great and there are sandwiches available right at the pool, but some days you may want to stake an early claim on a chaise lounge or spend more time outside without breaking for a full meal
- a credit card with plenty of available funds on it- you can charge most everything to your room and pay for it all in one big charge when you check out
What Not To Bring:
- a beach towel (unless you’re partial to your own)- you can borrow them in the pool/beach area
- a cooler to bring to the beach (I saw a sign saying they are not allowed)
- I personally didn’t think I needed really snazzy clothing or accessories- most everyone is outdoors or at the spa all day, and many women seemed to let their hair air-dry and dress sort of “resort casual,” even for dinner. I brought my hair straightener but never used it, and felt comfortable wearing a ponytail and no make-up one night for dinner at the Saltwater Grill. Certainly the restaurants are very nice and you will not be out of place if you want to get dolled up for lunch or dinner, but in general the clientele and vibe was more casual and laidback than I expected, so you don’t have to dress up if that is not your style or you feel like taking a break from it.
- you don’t need to carry cash or even your wallet during your stay- it is convenient to charge anything to your room
All in all, it was a restful, peaceful weekend and we loved soaking up the Southern charm and comfort of the Grand. If you’re within driving distance and looking for a romantic, enjoyable, or relaxing weekend trip, I encourage you to look into it!