- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It’s where the Wright Bros. came to usher in the age of flight, but North Carolina’s Outer Banks offers far more than history — although it certainly has that — for the enterprising traveler. And the crown jewel of its hospitality scene on the spit of land sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound is the Sanderling Resort in the quaint town of Duck.

After a 2013 multimillion-dollar renovation to the AAA-rated Four-Star, Four-Diamond property, the Sanderling has increased the dining and residency options to offer a relaxing and enticing experience no matter the desires of the traveler. The Washington Times recently had an opportunity to experience the stellar property in the mid-fall to wine, dine and enjoy all that the Sanderling and the nearby Outer Banks communities had to offer.

Upon arrival in the later afternoon on a perfect October Friday, this traveler and his companion stepped into a delightful main lobby reminiscent perhaps of a Victorian-style property. A grand staircase ascends to the left with the reception desk immediately to the right and the bar directly ahead (what better way to welcome guests?). One has the impression of entering not a hotel but rather a great old world home. The open atrium was inviting and provided a sense of home before even setting foot into a guest room.

A representative of the resort then provided a tour of the extensive property. Just above the lobby is an open balcony that offers visitors comfortable seats as well as a bevy of available books and boardgames. Common areas give one the feeling that a communal game of Monopoly might spontaneously break out. From the balcony the tour continued outdoors to the great commons. An outdoor Sandbar — far more hopping in the warmer months — allows guests to sidle up for a cocktail or local brew, while to the right is the adult pool and hot tub, both delightfully inviting even as the weather was turning toward the chilly months.

Up a small staircase across the main lawn, the Atlantic comes into view. Sanderling offers hotel beach chairs to take down to the sand front to enjoy views of the ocean with a book or simply a tranquil mind for company. For the brave, the water temperature matched that of the air.

The tour included the outdoor and indoor gathering areas, where weddings and other events are held. The outdoor venue by the pools has hosted many a summertime nuptial, with a raised dais for guests of honor and celebrant alike. (As this reporter learned, the Outer Banks is the third-most popular destination for marriages after Hawaii and Las Vegas.) The property visit then continued across the street to the spa, the second wedding venue with enjoined outdoor gazebo and the crown jewel of the property’s dining, Kimball’s Kitchen, sure to provide an upscale meal for any palate.

The Sanderling has several different hospitality buildings, which include rentable cabin-style communal properties for larger groups — either wedding attendees or those who just wish to enjoy the twin-waterfront property for a long weekend. Indeed, some of the rooms in the main building even offer water-to-water viewing, with windows on both ends of the room to offer incredible views of both ocean and sound within the same abode depending upon which body of water — and your mood — needs to be assuaged at any given moment.

Relaxation and restlessness

This being oceanfront property, the whims of wind typically dictate where the ease of enjoyment of the Sanderling’s out-of-doors areas can best be appreciated. While fall brings gales blowing in from the sea — making reading on the beachfront a bit of a difficulty — the lulling presence of a book can certainly be enjoyed at any of the property’s other various alcoves indoor or out. A drink in hand from the Sandbar or the main watering hole in the lobby pairs nicely with an afternoon of losing oneself among the pages on our room’s balcony.

But for the true resort experience, walk across the street to the the Spa at Sanderling. A menu of treatments awaits, from sunrise yoga class to the more cash-heavy bevy of massage options. This reporter was primed for an hourlong massage courtesy of an extremely friendly specialist, who lulled me into relaxation galore that had me on the verge of gentle sleep. Emerging feeling younger, I met up with my companion, Anna, to sit outside on the outdoor deck in our robes, with proffered water glasses to take in views of the sun reflecting like a diamond off the Currituck.

With my nose for history and taste for barbecue, Anna and I hopped into my Scion to take a short little expedition off-property. Heading south along the Outer Banks, we passed through Duck and Southern Shores before coming to Kitty Hawk, the very town where mankind’s age of aviation was born. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial, visitors can experience firsthand the spot on Kill Devil Hills where Wilbur and Orville Wright became the first humans to successfully attempt powered flight on Dec. 17, 1903, forever changing human commerce, transportation, travel, religious pilgrimage and, unquestionably, warfare. For the entry fee of $4 per adult, the visitor can climb the hill that was once but sand but now hosts a granite monument to those enterprising boys from Ohio who chose the Outer Banks for its sparse population and soft landing earth material to enter history.

With an appetite ready to be satiated, we started back north along NC-12 to the Sanderling staff’s recommendation for North Carolina-style BBQ. High Cotton Barbecue in Kitty Hawk offers more savory options than any human could possibly experience in one sitting, however, with a confederate (and Mississippi native) in tow, together we chose two combo platters encompassing nearly all of the meats and several sides. Every item was a sizzling slam-dunk of taste, texture and perfect preparation, from the pulled pork to the beef brisket and Southern fried chicken — all of which came in incredibly generous portions. For sides, the fried okra was a definite winner, but no less so the greens. With eyes bigger than stomachs, we were barely able to make a dent in our lunch, taking home extras that made the long haul with us back to Washington for not less than three meals apiece.

The dining experience

After a hearty nap and taking in Saturday afternoon’s college football action on our room’s flatscreen TV, the girlfriend and I were ready for our dinner at the Sanderling’s Lifesaving Station, a converted structure that once housed maritime saviors who came to the rescue of sailors and vessels caught in trouble off the North Carolina coast in its notoriously tempestuous waters. (Several such rescuers were even present when the Wright Bros. first took flight.) The Lifesaving Station still houses nautical artifacts from that past that is as much the same as it is different from our present.

Sitting down, our friendly waiter/barkeep offered us a menu of cocktails, wine and beers from as near as the Tar Heel State and as far as the West Coast. While perusing the drinks menu, we also took in the Carolina Coastal offerings on the dinner menu from Chef de Cuisine Dan Grunbeck while nighttime views of the Currituck outside the room-length windows beckoned our eyes.

Heavy on seafood, it wasn’t difficult to plot a course through the smorgasbord. For starters we chose the crab cakes, a delightful entry into suppertime. The yogurt sauce that had mint and honey as part of its brew really made the dish unique, if not stellar. For my entree I selected the scallops, which tantalized the senses thanks to being seared to absolute perfection and topped with a sage butter sauce for an absolute wow. My Southern girlfriend chose the shrimp and grits, which was both very savory and very creamy.

With both creaminess and seafood-heavy plates afore us, together we selected a Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from the vineyards in the vicinity of California’s Napa County. The vintage complemented absolutely every platter that found its way to our table.

With a full afternoon and evening of culinary deliciousness filling our bellies, we opted to split a dessert of bananas foster. It seemed a touch on the dry side, but the caramel ice cream topping the dish was exquisite.

Now absolutely satiated, Anna and I changed into our swim gear and headed out to the adult pool and hot tub to soak up both the sumptuous waters and the delightful evening air punctuated with stars a-plenty. To dry off we sidled up to the communal fire pit nearby, enjoying hearty exchanges and laughter with travelers from far and near here to attend a wedding or simply to enjoy the Outer Banks. We found ourselves with another couple from D.C., trading war stories of living in the nation’s capital.

From there I took a few moments to sit on the outdoor balcony overlooking the shore. Ever since my grandfather took me boating as a kid in New Jersey, the sea has tantalized me into reverie, no less so here a thousand miles south of those tender salad days with Grandpa Fred along the Jersey shore. Missing him greatly, I toasted the departed loved one with a glass of bourbon and enjoyed the perpetual waves lapping at Tar Heel sand before calling it a night.

Sunday morning came all too soon. We packed up our room to make sure we were on the road by 8 a.m. to ensure we got back to Washington in time to tend to our day jobs. The staff member who checked us out smiled kindly as we both assured him we didn’t want to leave. There was still so much to do and see, like surfing, kayaking and more for another time.

Back on NC-12 south and to the bridge across Currituck Sound as we slowly retraced our steps out of North Carolina and to the interstates that aimed us back at the capital and real life. But the memories of the Sanderling and the Outer Banks remain — harking for our eventual return.

The Sanderling is located at 1461 Duck Rd, Duck, North Carolina, 27949. Reservations may be made by calling 866/860-3979 or Sanderling-resort.com. Also, from Nov. 11 through March 11, special rates are on offer for military, fire and rescue, law enforcement and medical personnel. Civilians who join in and donate a minimum of $5 to the Outer Banks Public Safety Auxiliary will receive 20 percent off their nightly room rates as a Heroes Supporter.

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