Charleston – South Carolina
Charleston was established in 1670 as Charles Town honouring Charles II of England. This isn’t a guidebook but the place burnt down a couple of times, moved and was rebuilt, but you can Google all that stuff.
I was the advance party Sandra would arrive in time for dinner from Los Angeles. The flight from New Orleans on American Airlines was uneventful and I hurried out to pickup my Avis car. A short queue, but they had all my info in advance so gave me the keys with no further paperwork. As I walked down the hill to the car park I thought I would need to drop Sandra off with the luggage when we flew to Philadelphia later in the week, as we wouldn’t want to push our luggage up hill.
It was then that it dawned on me that I had walked out of the airport without my bag! Had this been any airport in the UK it would have been impossible to get back into the baggage hall. As it was the US, the baggage hall is essentially on the street so any Tom Dick or Harry can come and steal your bag. Making my way back I called into the American Airlines office to find the person absent, I saw her soon enough she was making her way back to her office with my bag. In fact she had two, so I was not the only stupid one that day!
The Planters Inn is an old hotel full of charm and charming people. Supposedly with one of the best restaurants in town, as our first breakfast was so abysmal and as the next meal could be my last on this earth, we didn’t bother trying it. The staff though are delightful, have lots of other ideas for breakfast lunch etc, and are great at valeting the car. Rooms are big and each comes complete with a Teddy Bear, just in case you need a cuddle while you’re here.
I had a very decent lunch in the Palmetto Court across the road which is the restaurant that belongs to the Belmond hotel. I would stay here next time. The food was good on both occasions I tried it. Plus there is a rooftop pool and bar. The Thoroughbred bar downstairs exudes southern comfort.
Husk was booked for dinner one of the best restaurants in town, needs booking, and way in advance. They also have a bar with bar snacks, where less or no booking is required. Both are excellent. Sean Brock started this place and I found him on a Netflix programme with Anthony Bourdain. He has other joints in town too, if you have time to visit.
A horse and carriage ride seemed a good way to start to get our bearings. As we clip clopped round town our driver explained a little of the history. The houses many of them antebellum (from the Latin meaning pre-war, there have been several so take your pick). They were built in the days of no air conditioning. So were aligned in order to catch any breeze going. Many with outdoor porches or piazzas. These areas would have the equivalent of a front door, or hospitality door. If the door was open then neighbours could drop by for tea or mint juleps!
Later we opted for a guided walk for just us, rather that join a tour. This was useful to understand the history of Charleston and that it was the seat of the start of the Civil War of Independence. Having got somewhat wet on this walk and the anorak in the bag being deployed, I am pleased to say the day improved as we crossed the new bridge aka Arthur Ravenel Jr bridge to Mount Pleasant. Lunched at Shem Creek where the fishing boats come in and watched some Pelicans sunning themselves and fishing for their lunch. There is a lovely walk along the creek here and the place is all set up for fishermen, with water and a table for cleaning the fish.
Having seen one plantation house in New Orleans we decided another might be in order and made our way to Boone Hall. Not unlike Oak Alley outside New Orleans’s, indeed has its own oak alley, but their slave accommodation was made of brick, rather than wood. And there are 9 original slave cabins. Very small 12’ x 30’ single story houses with a hearth for cooking. The place is still farmed 320 years later. Peaches mainly. The slaves here also made bricks when they weren’t growing sugar or indigo. The house was rebuilt in 1936 so not v interesting but still gives a fascinating insight to southern history.
A couple of rooftop bars, the Market Pavilion Hotel and The Vendue at Charleston’s Art Hotel were great. Fig was booked for dinner also a must do and also book way in advance. I used the concierge to help here. Planters Inn is famous for its coconut cake and 11 layers. So after dinner we tried out the bar and the cake. Not sure it’s worth the effort. Bar is nice cake is ordinary.
As breakfast at the Inn had been such a disappointment, we found Millers All Day for breakfast on King St. The name is a misnomer it shuts around 3pm! But it’s very good for breakfast. We are in the land of grits and biscuits. Grits think weird porridge and I can do without it. Biscuits are like scones and they are fine.
As we had a “ghost walk” planned for the evening we just dipped into the Husk Bar before hand for some southern fried chicken and a cocktail. The chicken is their idea of a bar snack. I think it was a whole chicken; anyway we couldn’t manage it all. Go hungry!
A boat trip to Fort Sumter is interesting as this is where the first shots were fired that started the American Civil War. There is a montage inside the fort that explains the back-story and this is interesting if your illiterate as far as US history is concerned. Otherwise as a fort it’s not that great. Wales has better castles. Pages Okra Grill beforehand conjured up a good American breakfast. The boat ride there gives great views of Charleston and I imagine in summer a little relief from the heat. April is a good time to come here. Weather perfect for sightseeing. The humidity in summer is supposed to be high and of course there are more tourists.
Planters Inn sits opposite N & S Market Street between which sits a craft market. The sweet grass baskets are famous here, the craft originating in Africa and made by Gullah weavers. They are very expensive but worth a look. Considered and I quote “among the nation’s most prized cultural souvenirs”. There are some in the Smithsonian. There are none in Covent Garden.
There is also the Confederate Museum at the end of the market, full of artefacts to do with the civil war uniforms with bullet holes and the like, only a dollar or two for a quick run round.
On N Market Street was my favourite bar. Henry’s On the Market with live jazz and roof deck. Set over 3 floors, with a very comfy 1st floor area complete with fire where I whiled away an hour or two with a book. Our final dinner was at Felix’s on King St a short Uber away. I’d booked The Ordinary which was a converted bank next door, but the noise was unbearable, so we repaired to Felix’s, light, bright good and Frenchish.
Charleston is eminently liveable, historically very pretty, the food was good, and southern hospitality is all it is cracked up to be, and the pace of life is slower than the big cities of the North.
Leaving Charleston for Savannah we dropped in on the Angel Oak on St Johns Island a live oak tree between 400/500 years old.