THAN TO VISIT CAROLINA.....
Picture cobbled streets lined with flowering trees that weave between pastel coloured mansions dating back to the 18th century. A place where church steeples – not skyscrapers dot the skyline – picture Charleston.
Charleston, South Carolina has been one of North America’s best kept secrets until recently when British Airways started direct flights from Heathrow making this picture postcard city a hot ticket holiday destination from the UK.
From the moment you arrive in Charleston it’s easy to understand why Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara he wanted to return to Charleston where “there was still a little grace and courtesy left in the world”. A quote that more than sums up this historic city.
Charleston was founded in the 1670’s by English colonists who named it after Charles II and since then its been a key player in American history.
Here on 12 April 1861 the first shots of the Civil War were fired from Fort Sumter. Now a national monument and only accessible by boat it’s well worth taking a cruise to the well preserved Fort to learn the story of the Civil War and see the exact place where the first shots were fired.
Charleston has everything that anyone could possibly want from a holiday from fact to fiction, culture, art history, beaches and golf.
But the jewel in its crown is its plethora of plantations, many with chequered histories, but places where old romantics like myself can still sit on verandas sipping mint julips and imagine Rhett’s carriage is about to draw up and whisk me away.
Middleton Place, is such a plantation and can trace its history back to the 18th century. Ravaged by troops in the Civil War,parts survived only to be further destroyed by devastating hurricanes and an earthquake.
After decades of painstaking restoration the gardens, the oldest in America, the family museum and living history projects now give an insight into its past and a relaxing stroll round the grounds recaptures the plantation’s elegant past.
Once smitten by Charleston you will want to see every little bit of it and there’s some great ways to explore the city.
Discover hidden alleyways, draped in Jasmine and the lore behind them on a historic walking tour or rent a bicycle and pedal your way through the city streets viewing the unique architecture that doesn’t exist anywhere else and the hidden gardens behind.
Pedal or stroll down The Battery, lined with lovingly restored stately mansions dating back to before the Civil War, overlooking the harbour that are now secret hideaways for the rich and famous and then venture down Rainbow Row with its confection coloured homes.
But by far the most enduring way to see Charleston is to clip-clop your way down its 300 year old cobbled streets in a horse-drawn carriage which you can catch in the down-town area near the Charleston City Market.
The present market was built in 1871 when the previous one was destroyed and is one of the oldest in the country. It’s a fascinating place to visit with antiques,jewellery,artisan goods and sweet grass baskets ,an indigenous art form.
Charleston has a reputation of being first in many things. The first golf course in the USA was built in Charleston, which now boasts over 20 golf courses and will host the PGA in 2021.
It’s also home to the first theatre built in the colonies – yes America’s oldest theatre – The Dock Street Theatre is in Charleston.
There has been a theatre on the site since 1736 and over the time it has been destroyed and rebuilt re-opening for the third time in 2010. The Theatre is an integral part of Charleston’s late Spring Spoleto Festival USA there’s opera,jazz, theatre and dance performed by artists from all over the world..
Charleston has many fine hotels The Bennett, a family run luxury hotel, opened earlier this year and according to Michael Bennett “ has been 22 years in the making” including going all the way to the Supreme Court for permission to erect the nine storey hotel.
Situated on King Street and Marion Square the hotel has been created from two magnificent old historic buildings. There is an abundance of marble, glass and glitz and here opulence rules supreme with a chandeliered entrance, sweeping staircase and a Rotunda with hand painted 18th century views of Charleston. There’s also a roof top pool that is just so inviting and bar that serves the most amazing cocktails.
My de luxe king room was the last word in comfort with everything including lights and blinds operated from the T.V. remote. There were gilt edged pillows, sinkable sofas, glass lamps, a huge wardrobe and even books from the old Charleston library.
Mirrored French Doors opened up on to one of the largest opulent bathroom you could ever imagine with a deep bath tub, large glass enclosed shower, separate toilet, dozens of fluffy towels that nestled in the marble vanity unit. And if you didn’t want to open the glass mirrored doors there was a departe entrance.
The Bennett and its restaurant and bars is a firm favourite with locals. The bars are large and spacious and very Hollywood style. The restaurant is very traditional and serves upmarket cuisine. Breakfast here in the mornings was a total treat with great service and the most delicious pastries and eggs Benedict I have had for a long time.
Charleston has a multitude of museums and galleries and historic houses to view and boasts having the first museum in the states. The Charleston Museum is a good place to visit to get an overview of the place as it details everything from early Southern Culture to early decorative arts and military and naval history.
Charleston offers a multitude of eclectic dining experiences. Pure indulgence for me was Blossoms on East Bay Street is an upbeat restaurant, where every kind of fish you could ever imagine is on the menu including fried oysters. It’s a wonderfully laid back atmosphere here and the menu is full of South Carolina specialities such as grits, boiled cornmeal that soaks up of the flavour of the food you are eating, hush puppies the name for wheat balls, fried green tomatoes and Moose Track Ice Cream – ice-cream with chocolate.
Good pit stops for lunch whilst exploring Charleston will give you three entirely different eating experiences. Millers – All Day in King Street is easy to find with the old fashioned grain mill frames in the window. Its farm to fork here with the chef and the farmer coming together. Do try their chicken and waffles dish with a succulent chicken breast, hot honey topped off with a fresh farm egg .
For a more sophisticated dining experience Tradds on historic East Bay Street is a traditional American eaterie with its own champagne bar plus a menu of old school favourites.
But if it’s the unusual you are after then pop into the High Wire Distillery located in a rustic warehouse in Upper King Street for a Rodney Scott’s Lunch with pit roasted pork, chicken and turkey on offer with delicious salads, vegetables and other accompaniments.
On King Street you’ll find loads to interest the serious shopper. There’s a diversity of shops from Goorin Brothers hat shop – where as a Yorkshire lass I was thrilled to find flat caps to designer boutiques and even a store where you can purchase everything for your pet from dog goggles to cat wipes.
There’s a plethora of art galleries and museum from the Gibbes Museum of Art, where one can spend nearly a whole day to the Charleston Museum that details so much local history.
A must to visit is one of Charleston’s historic houses that have been restored as they once were. Two in particular are well worth a visit The Nathaniel Russell House Museum constructed by a wealthy merchant with its grand interiors and a free flying staircase whilst the Aiken Rhett House Museum gives a great idea what life was like in times gone by.
If you happen to be in Charleston in the spring for the Festival of Houses and Gardens you can get the rare chance to get a glimpse into private houses and gardens on specially organised tours. A how the other half lives experience this is well worth participating in.
Beaches are not far away from the hub of Charleston – a thirty minute journey will see you dipping your toes in the ocean or watching the sun go down on a boardwalk.
Folly Beach is the closest to downtown Charleston. Dubbed as the edge of America its quirky, laid back, eclectic with a beautiful beach, country park and an iconic pier. It has shops, restaurants and bars in fact a little bit of everything – in fact a beach lovers paradise.
When the sun goes down Charleston doesn’t sleep – flickering lights from moonlight carriage rides fill the streets whilst downtown there’s every kind of bar you can imagine including the famous Stars rooftop bar with unforgettable views over the city.
And one thing is certain after you’ve visited Carolina – next time you hear that song Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be In Carolina you will agree with it whole heartedly.
Liz Coggins was hosted by Explore Charleston
British Airways flies direct to Charleston twice a week from Heathrow
Hotel Bennett: hotelbennett.com
For further information on Charleston visit
Pictures by courtesy of the Charleston Area CVB
Liz Coggins is a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers