Charleston Spring Fling
BY Sandra Chambers
No matter what season of the year you visit Charleston South Carolina be prepared to fall in love with her
No matter what season of the year you visit Charleston South Carolina be prepared to fall in love with herbeauty Southern charm and historical intrigue.
As you cross into the city via the modern 575-foot-tall Cooper River expansion bridge you will be greeted by a myriad of church steeples which dot the skyline earning Charleston the moniker of “The Holy City.” As you drive through the historic section you will encounter a variety of architectural styles and colorful gardens. And as you continue to the waterfront parks sit a spell and listen to the church bells the sea gulls and the lapping of the water. But beware for you have entered a bewitching city that will leave a mark upon your heart.
Charleston is located on the coast of central South Carolina at the junction of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. It was settled in 1680 by English colonists on land granted by King Charles II. The city has witnessed two wars numerous hurricanes an earthquake and endless pirate attacks. Often referred to as a “living museum ” Charleston’s 300-year history speaks to the spirit and tenacity of her citizens.
Today people are drawn to Charleston for many reasons but romance continues to be high on the list. My husband Bill and I recently celebrated our anniversary in Charleston. We stayed at theGovernor’s House Inn (circa 1760) a national historic landmark. With 11 guestrooms two guest suites and friendly staff the Inn is an ideal location for a romantic weekend. We stayed in the Laurens Room one of the inn’s premier rooms with 12-foot ceilings hardwood floors marble shower fireplace and a king four-poster bed with arched canopy. We also had access to a private second-floor veranda where we enjoyed sitting in the cool of the evening.
The food at the inn is prepared daily on-site from several southernreceipt books (as they are called in the South). The peach iced tea and sherry cheddar cheese spread served with crackers for tea and the Spoleto-inspired French toast with buttered praline sauce for breakfast were two of our favorites.
Another romantic place to stay is theMarket Pavilion Hotel Charleston’s newest small luxe hotel with Old-World charm and modern conveniences. Its rooftop Pavilion Bar and swimming pool offer magnificent views of the Charleston skyline.
When it comes to a romantic dinner out our first choice wasRobert’s of Charleston with its small intimate setting and opera-trained singing chef Robert Dickson. During the excellent five-course dinner guests were entertained by Chef Robert’s Broadway show tunes. What could be more romantic than Chef Robert singing Some Enchanted Evening to a newly married couple celebrating their honeymoon in Charleston?
The menu atRobert’s included Paté Maison Pistachio-Roasted Breast of Duckling Roasted Beet Salad and a choice of three entrées including fresh fish beef veal and chicken.
After dinner we enjoyed ahorse-drawn carriage ride through the historic district passing a wide variety of architectural styles including Colonial Federal Georgian Victorian and Italianate all visible in the city’s historically preserved mansions gardens churches and parks. During the day several architectural tours are available covering these houses gardens and churches.
In addition to its outstanding architecture Charleston is also known as one of the top 10 art destinations in the U.S. especially for its plethora of art galleries in the French Quarter. If you’re an art lover plan a trip during the first Friday in March May October or December and join the popular French Quarter Art Walk.
Because there are so many wonderful tours and sights to see in Charleston Bill and I split up the next day to pursue our individual interests. My husband headed toPatriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum across the bridge to tour the World War II aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown and view 25 other military aircrafts a submarine and a destroyer. Tours to Fort Sumter are also available from this point. After that he headed to North Charleston to learn about the mysterious disappearance and recovering of the Civil War submarine the H. L. Hunley.
My morning was taken up with a two-and-a-half hour walking culinary tour withCarolina FoodPros. On the tour I learned that Charleston’s Low Country Cuisine is really a fusion of four cultural influences that have impacted Charleston’s history: the English the French Huguenots the Native Americans and the African slaves.
During the tour we walked through some of Charleston’s oldest and most beautifully restored neighborhoods making three tasting stops at a neighborhood bakery a butcher/wine/gourmet shop and a tea shop. The tour was a great way to see a more intimate side of Charleston as well as learn about its cuisine.
Since I still had some time on my hands and was in a “food frame of mind ” I decided to check outCharleston Cooks! Maverick Kitchen Store. There I discovered every gadget I would ever need to become a wonderful cook. All I needed now were the cooking lessons! Voila! Right next to the store is an ultra-modern kitchen/demo center where they offer a variety of cooking lessons. Since my feet needed a break I signed on the dotted line took a seat and was introduced to “A Taste of the Low Country.” As we watched our chef prepare Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Pepper Relish Butter Bean Succotash and Southern Pecan Pie I couldn’t wait to come home and prove that I was now a Southern cook. And of course the best part was the generous sampling we all enjoyed with a glass of wine.
With only a little time left before I had to meet Bill for dinner I headed to King Street to check out some of the famous upscale shops includingMOO ROO Mary Norton’s boutique of luxury designer handbags coveted by such stars as Sharon Stone and Halle Berry.
I also visitedStella Nova’s Esthetique & Make-up Studio and their brand new co-op store where bargains galore can be had. And to end my day of shopping I made a half-hour appointment at Stella Nova’s Salon and Day Spa for a mini neck and shoulder massage paired with a foot massage complete with warm towels and soothing paraffin. A real energy booster!
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder so that evening my husband and I enjoyed another romantic dinner at theOak Steakhouse located in a restored 150-year-old bank building. We had a table in the second-floor dining area overlooking Charleston’s French Quarter where rich mahogany paneling heart pine floors a fireplace and custom designed chandeliers along with the constant attention of the outstanding wait staff made for a great evening. As for the food executive chef Brett McKee weaves Italian ingredients and techniques into classic steakhouse fare for an amazing marriage of flavors.
The next day we stayed together and exploredThe Old City Market which has been around since the early 1800s when it served as a fish meat and vegetable market. Today more then 100 vendors occupy the open-faced buildings selling a variety of local goods and crafts. Among the most popular vendors are the women who weave sweet-grass baskets a tradition handed down from West African slaves. Although the baskets are pricey they are works of art and have recently been named the state’s official handicraft.
We ate lunch atA.W. Shuck’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar right across from the Market area. Offering outdoor seating and quick service we found their bacon-wrapped shrimp and seafood casserole to be delicious.
Charleston also has a reputation for being a very kid-friendly city so we decided to let the kid in us come out for the afternoon. Our first stop was theSouth Carolina Aquarium with its hands-on Discovery Zone and a great Amazon exhibit complete with Amazon critters such as piranha an anaconda a tarantula an anteater and a simulated thunderstorm. After that we took in one of the shows at the IMAX Theater right next door.
A good place for lunch near the Aquarium and IMAX Theater isFleet Landing Restaurant which is housed in a 1940s retired naval building. It offers a wraparound deck with one of the best water views in town a kid’s menu and upscale adult food such as the tasty Fried Green Tomato Stack and Seafood Gumbo.
A great hotel for a family trip is theEmbassy Suites which offers a “Family Package ” including a luxurious two-room suite equipped with wet bar refrigerator microwave and coffee maker; cooked-to-order breakfast afternoon hors d’oeuvres and complimentary tickets to some activities.
All played out we headed back for a three-hourSpirit Line Dinner Tour of the Charleston Harbor which offered a fun evening of dining dancing and great views. With a chef onboard the food was more upscale than you might expect. Beginning with She Crab Soup and salad we selected from three entrées. My husband had an amazing entrée of Shrimp and Grits while I had fresh salmon.
We promised ourselves that Sunday was going to be a much slower day so we moseyed on down toHigh Cotton’s Jazz Brunch with award-winning Chef Anthony Gray. We sat beneath slowly rotating rattan fans soaking up the warm Southern hospitality while we enjoyed excellent Southern cuisine.
Bill had one of their specialties the “Hangtown Fry ” which is an omelet with cheese fried oysters bacon peppers and grits while I – with my sweet tooth – ordered the Sourdough French toast. Stuffed with cream cheese and served with strawberry sabayon and apple-smoked bacon it was as decadent as it sounds!
When it was finally time to say goodbye to Charleston I realized how attached I had grown to the city in just one weekend. As we drove across the bridge toward home I experienced a strange tug at my heart and I knew I’d be back to experience more of Charleston’s beauty Southern charm and intrigue.
Want to have a wonderfulCharleston weekend? Here’s a list of some great places to eat drink play stay and be merry in “The Holy City.”
The Governor’s House Inn
117 Broad St.
Market Pavilion Hotel
225 East Bay St.
Embassy Suites Hotels
337 Meeting St.
Robert’s of Charleston
182 East Bay St.
17 Broad St.
SpiritLine Dinner Cruise
360 Concord St. Ste. 201
Fleet Landing Restaurant
186 Concord St.
A.W. Shuck’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar
35 S. Market St.
Culinary Tours /Carolina FoodPros
(843) 723-3366 for reservations
Maverick Kitchen Store
194 East Bay St.
Patriots Point Naval
& Maritime Museum
40 Patriots Point Rd.
The Hunley Weekend Tours
South Carolina Aquarium
100 Aquarium Wharf
360 Concord St.
Stella Nova Salon and Day Spa
78 Society St.