By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Elegantly Preserving History While Nurturing a Creative Culture
Receiving the highest ranking in 2016 as the best city in the world, Charleston, South Carolina is the toast of the South. Travel & Leisure’s annual World’s Best Awards has Charleston, the Holy City, as the top travel destination from around the world. A dynamic city that preserves its heritage while nurturing a most creative culture. A prime coastal city flanked by the Ashley River, the Cooper River and the Atlantic Ocean, Charleston intrigues visitors with its 300 plus year old history, numerous plantations, European-like atmosphere, award-winning gardens, historic buildings, and rich past along with nurturing customs, an eclectic cuisine, varied eateries and specialty shops.
Having visited Charleston several times in the past, we’ve been captivated by its early beginnings at Charlestown Landing, enthralled with its military and Civil War history at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, enchanted by its southern roots at Boone Hall Plantation, and fascinated by Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum. On this Charleston excursion the focus is on exploring America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens and touring the downtown Historic Area.
Stepping back in time, we walk through America’s oldest landscaped gardens at Middleton Place, a 320-year old plantation. The 65-acre gardens are in full bloom with century-old camellias blossoms from the winter garden blending elegantly with row after row of colorful azaleas from the spring gardens. Everything is blooming, creating picturesque floral landscapes. As we stroll through the gate of the Ruins of the Main House and the North Flanker, docents welcome us and share in-depth history of the gardens, the plantation, the manor house, and the owners. The original home, Henry Middleton’s overall grand design built in the mid-1700’s, was a three-building residential complex. The Main House was burned in 1865 by Yankee soldiers then the 1886 earthquake destroyed the remaining brick façade. Today the only surviving portion of the complex is the South Flanker, which now is the House Museum.
On the House Museum guided tour, the docent explains that the South Flanker was originally a gentlemen’s guest quarters while the former North Flanker held an extensive library and conservatory. Four generations of Middleton families originating from England became landowners of 19 plantations in the South. Our tour is an intriguing history lesson on the family’s influence in the American Revolution, growth of rice in the region (known as Carolina gold), slavery, the impact of the Civil War and ability to salvage the plantation afterwards. Through the furnishings, décor, portraits, and paintings provide a glimpse of the lives of the Middleton’s over the centuries. Amazingly, the property has remained in the same family for some 320 years.
Following garden paths there is the Parterre and Terraces facing the Ashley River, where guests originally arrived by boat. Winding our way past The Mill with views of Mill Pond we are thrilled with the Azalea Hillside bursting with magenta, pink, purple and white azaleas. Following the path we arrive at the Stableyards and get a lesson of life on a working plantation. The docent shares the history of the Stableyard before and after the Civil War, lives and work of the slaves. Sadly, rain keeps us from more exploration of this magnificent property that is successfully preserving history for visitors. We will definitely be back!
Charleston is a great walking city with its European-like atmosphere, narrow streets, people-filled sidewalks, award winning gardens and multi-colored historic buildings with blooming window boxes. The Ashley on the Cooper History Tour, a walking tour is on our agenda to gain more insight and history of this amazing Southern city. A transplant from New England, Barry, our guide, is passionate about Charleston and gives an extensive tour of the city’s history. Intriguing stops and tales are found at church cemeteries, the Powder Magazine, Old Slave Market, Charleston Market, Dock Theatre, a history of Fort Sumter, the Battery, Waterfront Park, and so much more. The tour is a continuous education of Charleston from the past to the present. We gain an admiration for the preservation efforts and growth resulting in Charleston surpassing Florence, Italy to be the “World’s Best City.” Barry keeps us busy as he walks us through so many sections of the city intriguing us with each areas uniqueness and history. The tour was terrific! Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as the tour covers a lot of territory.
A great way to sample Charleston’s cuisine and get a taste of history is the Bulldog Tours - Savor the Flavor of Charleston. With Fran, as our guide, we stroll through five different eateries in Charleston. Having grown up in Charleston, Fran shares tales of the fresh foods cooked by her Momma and herself. Additionally, she gives an in depth history of Charleston as we sample some local favorites. Starting at Tommy Condon’s it’s tasty samples of Fried Green Tomatoes with a corn relish and cheese grits. More samplings continue at the Spice & Tea Exchange where we do a lot of sniffing and smelling of the herbs, spices, sugars, salt and more. Moving on to Low Country Bistro, Fran continues the history and culinary lesson as we sample a flamed oyster, a deviled egg and zesty crab cake slider. Market Street Sweets satisfies our sweet tooth with candied pecans, peanut brittle, bear claws and chocolate candies – plus enchanting pralines “to go.” Strolling through the Charleston City Market we learn about sweet grass baskets and local teas of Charleston. The finale is Poogan’s Smokehouse. Hot fresh cornbread baked in an iron skillet topped with a smoky butter tantalizes the taste buds. Next is the crunchy pimento cheese fritters. The finale a scrumptious BBQ Slider. With all these samplings – we opt for a light dinner.
After our tour, we take a leisurely walk through the Charleston City Market. A must see on any visit to Charleston. Walking the aisles of the old City Market in the historic district, vendors hawk goods from a benne wafer and dried bean soup to handmade jewelry and artwork in their distinctly southern laid back way. We stop to watch ladies make the Sweetgrass baskets, an art form originally brought to Charleston by slaves from West Africa some three hundred years ago. This skill is passed down through the generations from mothers to daughters. Sweetgrass grows wild in marshy habitats and once dried, gives off a vanilla fragrance. Jewelry, clothing, hats, numerous special food vendors and all types of unique crafts and arts are found here at the City Market. Take time view the wares, as one can easily pass by a very local and specialty vendor. Be prepared for crowds.
On this visit, we are thrilled to have accommodations in downtown Charleston at the Fulton Lane Inn, one of the Charming Inns in Charleston. A delightful Inn that brings history, charm, comfort and convenience to our visit to Charleston. First their parking lot is off of Market Street and just a block from the Charleston City Market. So convenient! The historical Inn is well appointed and our 3rd floor room No. 318 is spacious featuring two huge windows and a large updated bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. The mini fridge is a nice touch too. The décor is fresh while maintaining a historical aspect. On arrival, we enjoy the complimentary wine and cheese at the sister hotel, the Kings Courtyard Inn. Evening sherry is also a special touch. A morning continental breakfast can be delivered to our room or at the breakfast room at the Kings Courtyard. Opting for breakfast at Kings Courtyard, we enjoy meeting and sharing travel tales with other guests. Walking to the City Market, joining a local walking tour, going to dinner, just strolling the city, or window shopping along King Street is so easy from the Fulton Lane Inn. Note: Fulton Lane Inn is part of the Charming Inns with four inns in the downtown Charleston area. Any of these are terrific for accommodations and convenient location. While we are not dog owners, we met many guests who chose the Inns for the pet friendly policy.
Plan a visit to World’s Best City – Charleston, SC. So much to do and see! The biggest challenge is being sure to decide the activities that meet your vacation desires from history to dining to shopping, Charleston has it all!
If you go:
Ashley on the Cooper
Bulldog Tours – Savor the Flavor of Charleston
Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau,
Fulton Lane Inn