COVID changed us all. Our social lives moved online, our work is from makeshift living room offices and we grocery shop wearing masks like ninja warriors on the dairy aisle. But in our land of social distancing, there is a need to get away, relax, and travel to a time when Corona meant Mexican beer.
Here are eight such nearby places that fill travel needs: close to home, COVID compliant and offering a great experience in a pandemic world.
Dana Maloney defines “jubilee” as “bountiful, fresh starts and rejuvenation.” Thus, Jubilee Suites, co-owned by Dana and husband Jim Maloney, is well named. In Fairhope, overlooking Mobile Bay, the seven-suites boutique hotel is all things jubilee and more. You should see the sunsets.
Dana describes the view: “Fish jumping and birds singing as the sun sets over Mobile Bay is like looking into the gates of heaven.” You cannot equal nature but Jubilee Suites comes awfully close.
The complex was built in the 1940s as a Brookley military base convalescent center. After World War II, it became Fairhope Apartments and then a bed and breakfast. The Maloneys purchased the potential paradise in 2018, refurbishing, remodeling and rebranding it into a destination 30 minutes from Mobile.
Each family-size suite offers a full kitchen, dining and living areas, bathrooms, linens, toiletries, washer and dryer, smart TV and Wi-Fi. Dana’s treats, “baked according to the seasons,” are served daily.
One can be as social or as isolated as they wish. “Some guests come in with a sack of groceries and we don’t see them for three days,” Dana laughs. “But when we do see them, they are so relaxed that they look much younger.”
All have access to Mobile Bay beaches and the surrounding area. Kayaking, birdwatching and exploring are popular. Others take another trail, in pursuit of downtown Fairhope. It’s within walking distance.
Spending a few hours or a few days shopping, exploring and experiencing one of Alabama’s prettiest cities and returning to Jubilee Suites could be a Hallmark movie setting, but it’s real. And it’s real good.
Don’t Miss It
Jubilee Suites partners with local food blogger Kristin Alpine of Wildflowers and Fresh Food for private cooking classes overlooking the Bay. With an emphasis on healthy eating and local ingredients, the classes will leave you perfectly full, yet hungry for more.
There are those who find it enjoyable to be pampered in an opulent Southern mansion rivaling antebellum castles of “Gone with the Wind.” Go figure.
One such dwelling of splendor is The Venue at Lakewood in Livingston, Alabama. Built in 1832, the two-and-a-half story Greek revival estate speaks of the grandeur, charm and elegance of a bygone era, yet back again. And this time, it is yours.
Guests can rent the entire estate — 6,700 square feet, seven bedrooms, three baths, 14-foot ceilings and a stunning wood-railed staircase brides descend to proclaim, “I do.”
Or you can rent a room that offers access to a bath, kitchen and living space in the house where “Gone with the Wind” meets modern-day conveniences.
“I was raised here,” says Sidney Freeman who, at age 22 with now-husband Jake, painstakingly restored the home handed down through generations. “I knew its historical significance,” she adds about the house she and Jake were married in.
The property, featured in Southern Living, is a short walk to The University of West Alabama. School President Julia Tutwiler resided here from 1881 to 1910, when UWA was Livingston Normal College.
Guests able to peel themselves away from the house (which isn’t easy) enjoy nature trails abundant with birds, deer, fishing and adventure. Nearby Ft. Tombecbe has been recently excavated and is a popular exploration spot. The Sumter County garrison was constructed in 1736 under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, a founder of Mobile — small world.
Lakewood, and the opportunity for individuals or an entire family to rent a Southern Mansion, is, to say the least, wonderfully unique.
“This is a great getaway place for vacationers, honeymooners, wedding parties or entire families,” Sidney adds. “I think the trend in travel during COVID is small towns with local hospitality venues. That is what we pride ourselves in offering.”
St. Francisville Inn
St. Franscisville, LA
One does not merely check in at the St. Francisville Inn; one absorbs it. One melds with the pre-COVID era of Old Louisiana’s splendor. Laissez les bons temps rouler — let the good times roll, and sign me up.
A cornerstone of the town, the boutique hotel offers five-star dining at its signature eatery, The Saint Restaurant and Bar. Modeled after European pubs and bars of New Orleans, the Saint is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat in. Gourmet meals of Louisiana / New Orleans-style cooking prepared by master chefs is beautiful, too. Poolside service is available as well, or enjoy cocktails in rocking chairs on the porch.
The Inn’s lodging includes 11 rooms, each unique with architectural features and furnishings. Great attention is paid to details, such as custom plush linens, L’Occitane soaps and lotions in bathrooms, and marble showers. If reading this made you mellow, know that the best of Louisiana awaits.
In the Neighborhood
St. Francisville is the perfect homebase for exploring the breathtaking plantations alongside Louisiana’s River Road. Grand architecture, historic sights and fascinating museums bring to life the complicated history of the South and its sugar barons.
The Grand Hotel
Point Clear, AL
The problem most people have with the Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa Autograph Collection is leaving it. Nobody wants to, and why would they? “The Queen of Southern Resorts” in Point Clear has it all. Just ask Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, Dolly Parton, Fannie Flagg and Patti Labelle. They’ve all stayed here.
Unlike most, The Grand is more than lodging. It is a destination. “As one of Marriott’s ‘Autograph Hotels,’ this is a unique stand-alone property,” says The Grand’s Marketing and Sales Director, Kevin Hellmich.
Championship golf courses, a 20,000-square-foot spa, 10 tennis courts, stunning pool complex and much more of all things grand await. Hungry? Not for long.
Nine eateries, including restaurants, cafes, and bars offer soup to nuts — and a whole lot of seafood and steaks in between.
Sandy beaches and wonderful views of Mobile Bay from the Eastern Shore accentuate outdoor activities. Or grab a lawn chair and just sit, smile and do absolutely nothing until your heart’s content.
Over the past five years, the Grand has received extensive transformations and upgrades,” Hellmich adds. “We have modernized, but at the same time, kept its historic aspects in place.” The revisions enhance, not change, the resort complex built in 1847 and having once served as a Confederate hospital.
But one change now in effect is the Grand’s COVID policies and practices. Hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the grounds and facilities. Poolside seating is arranged in small family-size clusters. Employees and guests don masks as appropriate. All areas and features of The Grand are continuously monitored for COVID compliance.
In entertainment, lodging, fine dining, sports and recreation, the sprawling bayside resort is just that — grand.
Little Point Clear Suites and Space
Fairhope’s Scenic Highway 98 is well named. The word “scenic,” like a road running parallel to a seascape painting, certainly comes to mind. Fairhope’s scenic highway does not compete with the beauty of Mobile Bay; it complements it.
Take Little Point Clear Suites and Space, for example. Each suite is secluded, spacious, and combines Eastern Shore charm with 2021 conveniences and more. How much more? A private chef more. Yes, your own Emeril Lagasse facsimile can be arranged for personal dinning pleasure.
Private cruises and fishing adventures are also available aboard Little Point Clear’s 33-foot and 21-foot charter boats. Voyages are open to families, children of all ages, and private parties for day cruising or to behold the famous Mobile sunsets.
“We also feature complementary bikes, kayaks, paddle boards and a large common area with a fireplace,” notes owner-operator Tricia Niemeyer. “We take extensive sanitation measures for COVID compliance. All suites have private entrances and separate HVAC systems.”
Little Point Clear is known for its service and hospitality. Guest testimonials rave about attentive staff, whether it was a short stay or entire wedding party weekend. Within a few hours of settling in, the experience resembles days on a tropical bayside plantation. Yet gazing across the water with binoculars, you can probably see where you work in Mobile. Maybe put the binoculars down.
Weeks Bay Plantation
The year was pre-COVID 1971. Masks were worn by surgeons, bank robbers, the Lone Ranger and that’s about it. But the Airstream, a silver bullet forerunner of the modern RV, ruled the road and still does. You cannot drive it, nor would you want to, because off-road nostalgic lodging is perfect right where it is — down on the farm at Weeks Bay Plantation.
Billed as a step above tent camping, the unit features one bed (sleeps one or two people), one couch, a full kitchen, air-conditioning, shower and toilet. A deck is attached for outdoor dining, great conversation and lakeside access. “Everybody loves it,” says Heather Rothstein of Weeks Bay Plantation. “We have people from nearby, around the state, across the country and other countries enjoying the stay.” What’s not to like?
The vintage Airstream has been refurbished to its former glory with added modern conveniences. Weeks Bay Plantation owner Tynes Stringfellow notes, “The Airstream was so well made, most of the lighting, electrical and mechanical devices are original and still work.”
Tynes found the Airstream by the side of the road near Foley. He obtained, restored and repurposed it into the stationary RV about five years ago. In addition to being lakeside, the unit is within walking distance to Weeks Bay’s blueberry picking fields.
“We are about 30 minutes from Mobile,” Heather adds. “The Airstream is the perfect COVID-friendly place. Everything is spread out in fresh air and clean water.”
In addition to the Airstream, for lodging just as cute but less metallic, Weeks Bay Plantation offers the Bungalow. Features include a twin bed, shower, fridge, microwave and deck overlooking a 10-acre lake. Also on the lake is the Bunkhouse. The two bedroom elevated cabin under massive trees is the perfect start for a quiet walk around the farm for a secluded experience. Fish are jumping and cocktails are stirring as the sun is setting — it’s a good place to be.
Time your visit just right and your stay can coincide with blueberry harvest on the farm! Savoring the most succulent, organic berries, picked just moments ago, can’t be beat.
What is more relaxing than pitching a tent in the great outdoors? Having the tent pitched for you by Fancy Camps, an outdoor adventure offering everything except rustic.
Don’t be fooled by the word “tent.” Think of a canvas palace with a real bed, fresh linens, central heat and cooling and gourmet cupcakes in outdoor luxury. Think of Daniel Boone camping with Martha Stewart.
Based in Florida, Fancy Camps is working with several of the Sunshine State’s recreational spots, including Topsail Hill Preserve State Park near Destin. Basically, visitors book the campsite and move in on the appointed day. Awaiting you is a spacious 16-foot Bell Tent with area rugs, end table and lamps, electrical outlets, fresh wildflower bouquets and other such essentials for “roughing it.”
Fancy Camp tents are also available for weddings, retreats, music festivals, birthday parties, showers and other events that surely helped pioneers settle the Great Frontier.
While Fancy Camps may help you get off the beaten path, their locations are just a stone’s throw from some of the best the Florida Panhandle has to offer. When you get tired of s’mores and hot dogs, head into Seaside for some upscale fare.
Ocean Springs, MS
Mississippi’s “Secret Coast” is a secret no more; South Alabama is finding the Magnolia State’s beaches. Leading our neighbor to the west’s staycation destinations is the new kid in town, Ocean Spring’s Beatnik Hotel.
Ted and Roxy Condrey’s hotel experience is like few others. Four modern cabins, featuring wet bars, private gardens and outdoor showers invite guests to — as its website says — “experience a new way to stay.”
“We have only been open for a few months but have been well received,” Roxy says. “Visitors enjoy the amenities and appreciate the COVID compliance. Social distancing is built into the model.”
Each cabin has keyless private entries and porches. Roxy adds, “If you do not want to see anybody the entire time you’re here, you can do that. Visitors enjoy meals by the fire pit, lush gardens and the freedom to do as much or as little as they want.”
The property is steps away from the beach, and Ocean Springs’s vibrant restaurants, arts, museums and shopping district. The spectacular new Mississippi Aquarium is 19 miles away. “Golf cart rentals, biking and walking are popular modes of transportation here,” Roxy notes. “You can leave your car for the entire stay.”
The name was chosen deliberately. “Beatnik resonated with us,” Roxy recalls. During the 1950s and ‘60s, beatniks rejected material things and waste. In the Beatnik Hotel, everything is purposeful — functional. Rooms are clean, relaxing, of simple design and perfect lodging for individuals or families looking to discover Mississippi’s “Secret Coast.” Now revealed to everyone.
Take a Piece Home
Weave your way down a small dirt road to Shearwater Pottery, where Peter Anderson (brother to famed artist Walter Anderson) and his descendants have been molding clay since 1920.