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A weekend in … Cumberland Island/St. Marys/Amelia Island

By Clara Bosonetto - For the AJC



Weekend on Cumberland Island/St. Marys/Amelia Island one of three ways: on a budget, spending a bit more, or when the getaway calls for a splurge.

Trip tips: Cumberland Island, the largest of the Georgia coast’s barrier islands, is home to more than 9,800 acres of congressionally designated wilderness. Watch for the wild horses that roam the dunes, marshes and along the 17 miles of white sandy beaches. Located about 10 miles southeast of Brunswick, Ga., adjacent to Jekyll Island, Cumberland is bordered by Amelia Island to the south and offers easy access to the ports of Fernandina Beach, Fla., and St. Marys, Ga. For more, visit Cumberland Island, http://cumberlandisland.com.

Getting there: The distance from Atlanta is 345 miles, or a drive shy of six hours. Frequent one-way sale rates of $99 to Jacksonville are offered by AirTran and Delta. Amelia Island is about a 40-minute drive north of the airport.

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BUDGET

Stay: All rooms at the Comfort Suites Oceanview Amelia Island feature a seating area with sofa-sleeper, microwave/fridge, desk and wet bar. Amenities include a hot breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotel is steps from Fort Clinch State Park and a mile from historic downtown Fernandina Beach. Rates from $80. 2801 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach. www.comfortsuites.com.

Eat: Start the day with rich Cuban coffee at Hola Cuban Cafe or visit there for a Cuban sandwich (from $7.25) or a pastelitos (flaky puff pastries filled with savory or sweet fillings such as beef, cheese and guava, $1.85) for lunch. 117 Centre St., Fernandina Beach. 904-321-0163, www.holacubancafe.com.

Experience: Enjoy a self-guided walking or driving tour of the 50-block Fernandina Historic District, located at the north end of Amelia Island (maps at www.ameliaisland.com). The Florida Park Service offers living history interpretation of historic Fort Clinch, occupied by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. The park’s 1,100 acres of sand dunes, overwash plains, maritime hammock and tidal marshes are prime locations for bird watching and nature study (look for alligators, deer and bird life along Willow Pond Hiking Trail). Parts of the 6-mile trail for off-road biking or hiking are heavily forested and traverse steep ancient dunes; $6 per vehicle. 2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach. 904-277-7274, www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch.

MODERATE

Stay: The 1,350-acre Omni Amelia Island Plantation recently completed an $85 million renovation. This AAA Four Diamond resort (for 30 consecutive years) features 3.5 miles of unspoiled beaches; nine dining venues; youth and family activities; 54 holes of championship golf; 23 tennis courts; a spa; shopping village; lakes, ponds and marshes for fishing, kayaking or paddle boarding; and a fitness center with an indoor lap pool. A “Resort Sports Spectacular” package, from $198, includes a $50 resort credit (per stay) to use for tennis, golf and bike rentals. 39 Beach Lagoon. 904-261-6161, www.omnihotels.com/AmeliaIsland.

Eat: St. Marys Seafood & More has an extensive lunch and dinner menu with soups, salads, sandwiches from $5, but come for the fresh fisherman’s catch prepared to your liking, $7-$10 lunch; $11-$15 dinner. 1837 Osborne Road, St. Marys, Ga. 912-467-4217, www.stmarysseafoodandmore.com.

Experience: The free “Lands & Legacies” guided tour (5-6 hours) on Cumberland Island operates Thursdays-Mondays through February. A passenger van follows historic locations around the seashore, including Plum Orchard Mansion, the Settlement (including the First African Baptist Church, circa 1893 and the site of the 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette), Cumberland Island Wharf, and other sites along the main road; $4 per person day use fee; www.nps.gov/cuis. Ferry tickets to Cumberland Island National Seashore are $20 adults; $14 children 12 and under. Reserve up to six months in advance (phone only), 1-877-860-6787.

SPLURGE

Stay: Greyfield Inn is a historic 1900s inn decorated throughout with family heirlooms and antiques, giving each room a distinctive character. Nightly rates, $425-$635, are inclusive of round-trip ferry boat transportation, Southern breakfast, picnic lunch and gourmet dinner (jackets required for gents), snacks, hors d’oeuvres during evening cocktail hour, nonalcoholic beverages, tours and use of fishing, beach and bicycle equipment. Private ferry transportation is provided to and from Fernandina Beach on the private Greyfield Ferry. Cumberland Island. 904-261-6408, www.greyfieldinn.com.

Eat: Paellas at Espana are prepared with the freshest fish, shellfish, herbs and spices and made in traditional paella pans from Spain (from $41.95 for two people). Other menu highlights include varied hot and cold tapas, steaks and homemade desserts and sangria. Tapas from $7.95; entrees $19-$32. 22 S. Fourth St., Fernandina Beach. 904-261-7700, www.espanadowntown.com.

Experience: Through March 15, explore the coastal ecosystems of Fort Clinch and Fort George Island state parks on a Segway tour. Guides interpret the park’s history and coastal ecology on an 85-minute tour from Dune Ridge Trail to Point Isabel, $75. A two-hour tour including Kingsley Plantation, $95. 11241 Fort George Road. 904-251-9477, www.ecomotiontours.com. Or, take it slower with a horseback beach walk (minimum age 13 and older); one-hour $70, Amelia Island State Park. 904-491-5166, www.kellyranchinc.net.

Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.

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