Flying south from Norfolk, Virginia, and heading for North Carolina's Outer Banks in an alarmingly tiny plane, I finally spot a narrow spit of land far below us. On one side of it is a long stretch of beach whipped by whitecaps; on the other, a calm, glittering estuary. Buffeted by the Outer Banks' trademark winds, the plane descends with a bump and rolls down an airstrip lined by gnarled live oak trees.
My first thought: Where's the masseuse? The flight was only 20 minutes long, but I'm ready for some serious pampering. Dazed by a procession of 12-hour workdays and longing for a shot of my native culture, I've escaped from New York City to come south againthis time, to a resort that caters to free-spending sybarites with a love for the outdoors. For weeks, I've sustained myself with thoughts of The Sanderling's haute-rustic pleasures: massages and nature trails, kayaking and martinis. And with fantasies of food created by an inventive young chef who went to my alma mater, the University of Georgia, then worked his way to the French Laundry, where he trained with Thomas Keller before taking the helm at The Sanderling's Left Bank restaurant last year.
Walking off the plane with my brother Brian, who's joined me for the weekend, I spy the long white limo that The Sanderling often sends to ferry guests to the hotel from the local airstrip (or from the airport in Norfolk, 75 miles away, when Sea Air shuttles are grounded by moody weather). Brian, who lives in Atlanta but owns land in North Carolina's Beaufort County, where our Scottish ancestors settled, snorts happily when we climb inside.