Your Winter Escape

Old Florida: Fernandina & Sapelo Island

  • Bath Gardens (outside Augusta, Georgia)
  • Fernandina Beach & Amelia Island
  • Jekyll Island
  • Sapelo Island


February 16 - 21, 2024


  • Lovely backroads drives through South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
  • Multi-night stays at two exquisite inns: the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn and the Reynolds Mansion
  • Up close looks at island life: then and now; Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility.
  • Opportunities to bird-watch, walk, beach-comb, and explore on your own in beautiful island and state park settings

Trip Description

It’s February – time for us Carolina birds to migrate for warmer weather for our annual trip to Old Florida—among our most popular trips.  “Old Florida”: places within reasonable driving reach, that became known in the nascent automobile ages of the 1930’s, and then in the 1950’s as tourism hubs. For non-Floridians, these places were nothing but exotic – tropical flowers, palm trees… a sun-splashed playground.  So, all aboard our comfortable Mercedes Sprinter, and let’s sing camp songs as we drive South!

This year’s trip will dip a foot into south Georgia, as usual (one night), then will alight in Fernandina, Florida for two nights. We’ll then track up the Georgia coast to (car-free) Sapelo Island, Georgia – home of the fabulous Reynolds Mansion, our home for the next two nights. Join us for an experience that’s rich in beaches, rich in pristine nature, rich in history, and loaded with the unique.  Are you a nature lover?  Discover Little Talbot Island, Fort Clinch and Fort George Island State Parks, and the isolation of Sapelo. This is an off-the-beaten track adventure at the perfect time of year!


Friday, February 16

We depart the western Carolinas, and begin a lovely backroads drive almost due south. Our route will take us to Edgefield, SC, in time for lunch; then we’ll enjoy a stop at fascinating Bath Gardens, in the sand hills outside of Augusta, Georgia. Bath Gardens fits easily into our theme of “Old Florida”: It’s story has its beginnings as an antebellum oasis from the heat and mosquitos of the Georgia coastal plain; by the 1950’s, it was renowned as one of Georgia’s finest gardens. And more recently, family long-associated with the oasis is energetically restoring the springs to their former glory. We’ll hear the full story on location.

Our drive continues into the heart of south Georgia for dinner and our overnight.

Saturday, February 17

After breakfast, our descent to the Sunshine State will continue. En route we’ll enjoy a stop (and lunch) in the interesting railroad village of Folkston, near the Great Okefenokee Swamp. By mid-afternoon, we’ll arrive on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach (known simply as Fernandina across its early history).

We’ll spend two nights in the lovely Amelia Schoolhouse Inn – the perfect location for walks in downtown neighborhoods, and the quaint shopping district. Enjoy the hospitality served up by the staff at the inn; raise a glass in tribute to our arrival in Old Florida!

Dinner and overnight in Old Fernandina.

Sunday, February 18

Awaken to the smell of…sizzling bacon (or do you prefer granola and mango?).

This morning, we’ll explore Amelia Island. We’ll make our way to the northern tip of Amelia (the island home of Fernandina), where we’ll enter Fort Clinch State Park. Birders, bring your “glasses.” We’ll also learn about the massive casemate-style fort, constructed along the main water approach to Fernandina in the mid-1840’s – when Florida became a state in the American Union.

We’ll drive south on Amelia Island, noting the story of American Beach – one of the significant “Green Book” beach havens for African-Americans in the mid-20th century – as we approach Fishing Bridge and Little Talbot Island. Our drive is absolutely scenic: the state of Florida owns the entire southern end of Amelia, plus a string of smaller islands to the south, connected by wispy Highway A1A. Lovely water, foliage, beach… a look at the more natural side of “Old Florida.”

And yes – it is the perfect day for a picnic at the beach! (No worries, there is a back-up plan.) Little Talbot Island is one of the Atlantic Coast’s prettiest, and most pristine beaches. Dip your feet in the water; have a stroll on the white sand.

We’ll return to Fernandina Beach by the mid-afternoon. Enjoy the historic grid: visit the Amelia Island Museum; go in search of ice cream; relax at our inn.

Dinner and overnight, Fernandina Beach.

Monday, February 19

This morning, after another delicious breakfast, we’ll say goodbye to our kind hosts.

Our drive will take us north to Jekyll Island, Georgia, where we’ll stop to learn about the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and the important sea-going reptiles in its care. We’ll also make our own brief driving tour, showcasing a few of Jekyll’s mansions… and we’ll have lunch in the area.

In the afternoon, we’ll drive to the Sapelo Island Ferry. We’ll cross the inlet into a traffic-free world (… yes, golf carts do thrive on Sapelo), spending our last two nights at the lovely Reynolds Mansion. It will be a taste of the life of the Rockefellers, the Carnegies… Jay Gatsby.

At the Reynolds Mansion, we’ll enjoy all meals prepared on site by the attentive staff. Settle into that billowy armchair that needs tamping down; enjoy the inspiring and nostalgic décor; have a walk to the beach (or the marsh)… billiards, anyone?

Dinner and overnight, the Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island.

Tuesday, February 20

Rise when you wish, breathe in the morning island air. So refreshing.

Breakfast served in the dining room. Our agenda for the day? (Join the activities you want to join; feel free to make your own “itinerary.”) Options will include a guided tour of Hog Hammock – the local community descended from enslaved people, who represent the longest continuous community on the island; immersion in the natural world of the island: birding, boardwalk and beach walks; kayaking; enjoying the comforts of the mansion.

Meals, overnight, at the Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo.

Wednesday, February 21

We’ll enjoy one more slow breakfast (and was that one more 7:00 am walk on a deserted tide-washed beach?… well…).

We depart lovely Sapelo this morning; recrossing the channel by ferry boat; then boarding our high-roofed van for the journey home. (I may smile to myself… I think I still have sand in my shoes.)

Featured Experiences

Amelia Schoolhouse Inn

A Unique Boutique Hotel Experience
Located in a prime location in downtown Fernandina Beach on historic Amelia Island, the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn was originally built as the first school on the island in 1886. Designed by acclaimed architect Robert Sands Schuyler and known to all as "Schoolhouse No. 1", it ceased being a school later in the 20th century. After languishing around being a mix-used property for many decades, the dream was cast in 2017 to turn the "Old Schoolhouse" back into something the island could be proud of. By doing a complete restoration of much of the original items such as the windows, heart of pine floors, and brick, the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn brought back the original luster of the past and combined it with the modern amenities of today.

The Reynolds Mansion

Step off the ferry onto Sapelo Island and step back in time to The Reynolds Mansion, a place where impeccable service and classic architecture greet every guest. Where squadrons of brown pelicans fly into an endless horizon, and the sand dunes hold stories of pirate treasure long buried.

The original Mansion was designed and built from tabby, a mixture of lime, shells and water, by Thomas Spalding, an architect, statesman and plantation owner who purchased the south end of the island in 1802. The Mansion served as the Spalding Plantation Manor from 1810 until the Civil War. It fell into ruin after being damaged by Union attack during the Civil War and was later purchased and rebuilt by Detroit automotive engineer Howard Coffin in 1912. Tobacco heir Richard Reynolds purchased the property in 1934 and allowed the University of Georgia to use the facilities for marine research. Following Reynolds' death in 1964 the Mansion and most of the island was obtained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in 1975. Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and University of Georgia Marine Research Facilities are still located on the island.

Guests can spend an entire visit to the island just exploring Reynolds Mansion and the expansive grounds, where sculptures entertain and engage visitors in the filtered light beneath massive live oaks. The Mansion's unique architecture creates many interesting and memorable spaces, as well as private spots to read or reflect. The library is a bibliophile's dream, complete with the original nameplates in many volumes from Mr. Reynolds' private collection. The Game Room's billiards and table tennis are available for our guest's enjoyment. The Mansion’s grounds are linked by pathways to the Atlantic Ocean where a beachfront pavilion awaits your picnic plans.

Today, it's a place where guests can explore Georgia’s fourth largest barrier island on foot, bicycle or ocean kayaks. The lush forest surrounds guests in a sea of green almost year-round, and exploring the island's 12-mile length and four-mile width is certain to produce sightings of whitetail deer, raccoon, opossum, wild turkey, armadillo and other animals. The rare Guatemalan Chacalaca, imported as a gamebird, now runs wild in the forest, as do wild hogs and feral cattle, descendants escaped from the farms of Sapelo's early settlers. Sapelo is a birders paradise, with many different shorebird and indigenous species calling the island home permanently or seasonally.

What's Included

  • Price includes comfortable high-roofed van transportation (with convenient pick-ups)
  • Accommodation for 5 nights
  • Breakfast, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners
  • All activities / admissions per the itinerary
  • Guide and concierge service throughout the trip

Trip Price

$2,973 / person (double occupancy; single supplement, $765)

What's Not Included

Price does not include 1 lunch, 1 dinner, optional activities, alcohol, or trip insurance (recommended).

I’ve traveled extensively and have never had a trip that felt as intimate and custom-tailored as this. The planning, flexibility and attention to detail were second to none.

Trip insurance safeguards your travel investment, your belongings, and most importantly, you. Though trip insurance is optional, we strongly encourage travelers to purchase trip insurance in the event you have to cancel or leave a trip for any reason. Please note, all trip participants should wait for confirmation from Explore Up Close that the trip has the minimum sign-up required to be a “go” before purchasing travel insurance. Please confirm with Explore Up Close before making any additional travel arrangements.

Once you have received confirmation from Explore Up Close, we recommend contacting a travel insurance provider directly to request a quote and compare pricing and features. You can find other providers that may fit your needs at, or we can gladly connect you with our travel agent.

This trip departs from Greenville / Spartanburg, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina. If you live elsewhere, please contact us to discuss travel arrangements, and we will look forward to assisting you!

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