USA

Southern comfort in Asheville

After an artsy escape? Look to Asheville, North Carolina recently named the number one destination in the US to visit in 2017. And for good reason: the magical mountain town boasts eclectic architecture, an artistic community and a booming food and drink scene – all surrounded by spectacular natural beauty, says Kaye Holland

 

The charming enclave of Asheville is the “no one place on our best in the US 2017 list for a number of reasons,” according to Lonely Planet magazine editor, Rebecca Warren. 

“It’s been drawing creative spirits for decades and packs a big punch for a small city with its cultural offerings. It has its own symphony orchestra as well a plethora of other music venues. Plus the River Arts District now hosts more than 200 artists, making for an aft-filled afternoon strolling around studios.”

In short, it’s a liberal oasis in what is otherwise a red state, that hums with the sound of a good time being had by all.

Little wonder then, that Asheville proved popular with the A list likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, John Rockefeller and Thomas Edison back in the 20s and, more recently, the Obamas (who were forced to deny they had bought a house here) and Jude Law (who spent time in the mountain town preparing for his role as American novelist and Asheville native, Thomas Wolfe, in the 2016 film Genius.

Interest piqued? TNT has the low down on the bohemian North Carolina city.

 

 

Culture vulture

George Vanderbilt - an American art collector and part of the prominent Vanderbilt family - was so taken by Asheville, that he decided to construct a country retreat modelled on a grand chateaux he had admired in Europe. Take a bow The Biltmore: an 8,000 acre estate that is today recognised as America’s largest private home and Asheville’s number-one tourist attraction. Tip: don’t skimp on time: there’s 65 fireplaces, a private bowling alley, 43 bathrooms, and 250 acres of perfectly manicured grounds and and gardens to gawp at, so be sure to dedicate at least half a day to taking in its glory.

 

Once you’ve got the Biltmore out of the way, tour Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home - a 29-room downtown house that his mother ran as a boarding home, which was immortalised as ‘Dixieland’ in the writer’s debut novel Look Homeward, Angel. While Look Homeward, Angel - which recounts the life of a young man born in western North Carolina and his burning desire to quit his small town in search of a better life - made waves all around America it wasn’t, owing to its autobiographical nature, well received in Asheville where locals were angered by Wolfe’s portrayal of their town as a less than desirable destination.

 

Best bites

Asheville is a fantastic (and affordable) foodie town. TNT loves Tupelo Honey which has two locations (one downtown and one in the southern ‘burb) – both great places to taste Asheville on a plate. Whether you go for lunch, brunch, breakfast or dinner don’t miss out on the hot biscuits with honey.
Alternatively make for  Asheville Music Hall (where every Sunday Mojo Kitchen and Lounge elevate brunch to the extraordinary), Rhubarb (run by James Beard award winning chef John Fleer) and the Sunset Terrace at the Omni Grove Park Inn – whose pretty patio is the perfect spot to tuck into gourmet Fried green tomato sandwiches and (more) Southern buttermilk biscuits…
Elsewhere chocoholics scoring a cocoa fix should look to Lexington Avenue – home to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge but unless you like a queue arriver early or late.

 

After dark

Boasting more breweries per capita than any U.S. city,  Asheville is arguably the best beer city in the America. We love Wicked Weed and Wedge (over in the edgy River Arts District) - two characterful, homegrown craft microbreweries that ooze character. Beer not your thing? Make a beeline for Ben’s Tune Up –  a sake brewery, restaurant, convenience store & music hall where it’s hard not to feel hip.
However if you’re of the opinion that bubbles are best, pop into Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar - a marriage of two of life’s greatest pleasures, books and bubbles, side by side. Or perhaps page by glass…

 

Best excursion
Fans of the great outdoors will be in seventh heaven as Asheville is surrounded by one million acres of forest including the Blue Ridge Mountains (America’s favourite drive).

Urbanites would be well advised to book a half day hike with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, whose mission is to make the wilderness accessible and enjoyable for all. The brainchild of North Carolina native, Jennifer Pharr Davis - aka the first woman to be overall record holder on the 2,168 mile Appalachian Trail - Blue Ridge’s likeable and knowledge guides will take you to thriving wildlife and Instagram-worthy frothing waterfalls, passing rare plant species and wildlife

 

Best kept secret
As refreshing as Asheville’s boutiques, microbreweries, live music scene and ability to serve fab coffee is, it’s the friendly and fun loving locals who are arguably at the heart of what Asheville has to offer – everyone waves and says hello. Spend a while with them and you may never want to leave. Or as Wolfe - Asheville’s most famous son - wrote his sister Mabel in 1938: “I have a thing to tell you now: that is you can’t go home again….”

 

http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/southern-comfort-in-asheville/

The year that was

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to take stock. Here JAT  writer, Kaye Holland, shares her 2016 travel highlights

Biarritz, France
Ah Biarritz. The biggest resort in south-west France is only an affordable (easyjet and Ryanair both fly to Biarritz) one hour plane ride away. What’s more, you can see a lot in a few days….
If architecture is your bag, make a beeline for the stunning scarlet-and-cream-coloured Hotel du Palais whose high profile former guests include Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and more recently Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their two children.
This Biarritz icon – which was built in 1854 by Napoleon 111 for his wife Eugenie de Montijo, in the shape of a giant E – proudly overlooks the Bay of Biscay and serves as proof that not all hotels are created equally. Make no mistake: if Jay Gatsby could be peeled from the pages of Scott F Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, and transplanted to Biarritz, you would find him here…
Yet it is surfing that this Atlantic Riviera destination is most famous and as such you’ll find excellent surf schools clustered all along Plage de la Cote des las Basques. By night dine al fresco on great tasting tapas and wine and start planning your return. This is the Europe you thought was done. Don’t wait: there’s no time like the present.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
To say that Buenos Aires has been through a lot in recent years is like saying Victoria’s Secret angels are hot: a major understatement.
The Paris of the South has survived a series of corrupt governments, coup d’etats, dictatorships, military rule and more - yet managed to maintain its joie de vivre.
And rightly so for, despite all its troubles, there is so much to enjoy in Baires (as the city is affectionately referred to) whose stately European facade belies its Latin soul.
Make no mistake: the fantastic food scene (Argentina’s steakhouses are legendary but you’ll also, thanks to Italian immigration in the past, find excellent pizza and pasta all washed down with copious amounts of Malbec), passion for futbol (football is a religion), tango (arguably Argentina’s greatest contribution to the world) and proud Portenos (BA residents) will warm even the most jaded traveller’s heart.

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon endured an earthquake and tsunami in 1755, a huge fire in 1988, followed by the Great Recession which led to mass unemployment. Yet despite Lisbon’s turbulent history, it remains one of Europe’s loveliest cities.
Portugal’scapital sits atop seven steep hills - it’s a bit of a slog to get to the top but trust JAT when we say that you won’t regret the effort for a second (unless you forget your smartphone), as stunning vistas of Lisbon’s postcard perfect pink and yellow tiled walls come as standard.
Seeing the sights from the back of a bus doesn’t cut it in Lisbon. Instead hop aboard one of the old fashioned trams: number 28 will take you to the colourful Feira da Ladra flea market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) at Campo de Santa Clara. Alternatively, head west on number 15 to Belem for a culture fix. Arguably the jewel in Lisbon’s crown, this old worldly neighbourhood is packed full of maritime history (this is where the Spanish Armada assembled in 1588) and museums. Even if museums aren't your thing, do make time to check out the Museum of Art and Technology (MAAT), whose striking construction was designed by Stirling Prize-winning British architect Amanda Levete. That being said, Belem is perhaps best known for its freshly baked pastels de nata (custard tarts) - sweet sugary, treats that are worth ditching the diet for.

Madrid, Spain
Mention you’re going to Madrid and chances are Catalans (the people of the Catalonia region of which Barcelona is the capital), will tell you than the Spanish capital is the kind of place where your Gran would holiday.
The Catalans may have been correct circa 2006 when Barcelona – with its brilliant beaches, football team and world class art, architecture and design was regarded as one of the most desirable places on the planet – but cool never stays in one place for long.
Fast forward to 2016 and Barcelona has arguably become a victim of its success, while the once scruffy Madrid has upped its game and is now bursting with atmospheric barrios filled with friendly Madrilenos who need no invitation to tell you how great their city is.
There are many museums to take in including the Museo del Prado (Madrid’s best known attraction) and the Reina Sofia (an absolute must for art fans). For all that, Madrid is not about sightseeing per se, as it is about exploring: taking lazy strolls through flamenco soundtracked cobbled streets, dawdling the day away in an elegant cafe and eating a long late lunch in a tapas bar.
Make no mistake: in the fantasy game of "where would you like to live for three months" Madrid – with its heady mix of culinary feasts, cultural offerings, buzzing nightlife and friendly locals – would be on our list…

Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii was declared the 50th US state back in 1959 but, compared to the mainland, it may as well be another country (and indeed some natives are seeking sovereignty). The difference is largely down to the tropical shirt and rubber flip flop clad Hawaiians themselves – and their love of the three Fs: food, family and fun. Hawaiians don’t ask for more from life than it can give and, as such, smiling faces are evident everywhere. From the taxi driver who starts crooning his favourite Bruno Mars track (the music maestro was born in Hawaii) to the supermarket assistant who greets each and every customer with a heart felt “alo-ha!”But let’s be honest: Hawaii is best known for its beaches (Hawaii does beaches better than pretty much anywhere else on the planet). Waikiki is the most famous, with Hanauma Bay– which has a reputation for the best snorkelling – also hogging the headlines. Beyond the beaches, waking early to head out to Pearl Harbor – the target of a Japanese attack that thrust Hawaii into America’s history that recently commemorated its 75th anniversary–  and pay your respects to those who lost their life on the 8 December 1941 at the USS Arizona Memorial is a rite of passage for any visitor to O’ahu. The island isn’t easy to get to, being some 2,000 miles from any country, but trust JAT when we say: you’ll leave happier for having visited.

Uruguay
Long overshadowed by its giant neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay – (easier to pronounce, than it is to spell) is finally getting the attention it deserves. Make no mistake: 
Uruguay may be the second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America but it has a charm, energy and style all of its own, meaning a trip here is fully warranted in its own right.
Chances are Colonia del Sacramento – a characterful UNESCO world heritage listed town that’s resistant to bright lights and late nights – will be your first introduction to little Uruguay. There’s not much to keep you here for longer than a couple of days but, if you’re getting over jet lag, then peaceful Colonia del Sacramento is the perfect spot in which to do so.

From Colonia, move onto Montevideo – thenation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population – before hitting up Punta del Este, a fun place to top up the tan with the stylish set by day and party hop by night. However if you’re in search of a more authentic Uruguay, push onto Punta del Diablo – a former fishing village, about 175km from flashy Punta del Este – where empty beaches and wild sand dunes abound and the focus is not on nightlife, but on the waves.
But wherever you travel, chances are you’ll reach the conclusion that while Uruguay may be small in stature compared to its cousins, it deserves its spot on any South American travel itinerary.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Savannah - a Southern belle of a city and the backdrop for John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - will steal your heart says Kaye Holland

 

Barmy about John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – an enticing Savannah-based combination of travelogue and true crime tale? You’re not alone. Berndt’s book spent a record 216 weeks on the New York Timesbest-seller list.

Ever since I first read the sharply observed Savannah tome in which the eccentric protagonists (think voodoo practitioners, drag queens, antique dealers and charming, if amoral, entrepreneurs) live their lives against a backdrop of moss-draped oaks and shady squares,  I’ve been obsessed with visiting this hothouse of the south.

Happily, towards the end of 2014 – aka the 21st anniversary of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – I finally made it to steamy Savannah in search of the settings that had seduced me.

Want to follow in the real life footsteps of Jim Williams, Joe Odom, Luther Driggers, Lady Chablis and co? Here’s where to head…

 

Clary’s cafe
Located over on Abercorn Street, Clary’s was a favourite haunt of Luther Driggers – one of Midnight’s most memorable characters. (Legend has it that Luther carried a vial of poison 24/7 and was well known to walk flies on strings…) Driggers breakfasted at this former drug store on a daily basis and it’s at Clary’s  cafe – which today features a stained glass window depicting the cover of Berendt’s famous book – that the eccentric and author first met. Want to make like Luther? Order The Georgian – a hearty portion of ham, bacon or sausage, egg, cheese, toast and grits (so good, I’d fly back tomorrow for this side alone) washed down with a super-sized cup of Joe. Savannah, it seems, runs on caffeine, so expect to be offered a refill at no extra charge.

 

 

Mercer Williams House Museum
Savannah’s grandest mansion was the home of Jim Williams – a prominent arts and antique dealer and Midnight’sprotagonist – up until his death in 2004. This is where Williams hosted his legendary annual Christmas parties and, allegedly, shot and killed “his young lover” Danny Hansford one fateful night in May 1981. Williams’ infamous home, today owned by his sister Dorothy, is open for tours although access to the upstairs part of the house (where the Williams family still reside) is forbidden. Even if you’re not mad about Midnight (maybe you’re from Mars or something), the downstairs will delight art lovers – adorned as it is with furniture and art from Mr. Williams’ private collection including 18th and 19th century furniture, 18th century English and American portraits, drawings from the 17th century and a wide collection of Chinese export porcelain.

 

Bonaventure Cemetery
Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, the quintessentially Southern Gothic, Bonaventure – part natural cathedral and part sculptural garden–  is certainly its most beautiful. And its most famous: military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia’s first governor Edward Telfair are among those buried at Bonaventure. But the 100 acre cemetery’s biggest claim to fame is for being site of the voodoo rituals vividly depicted in Midnight that were designed to get Williams acquitted (Jim Williams was prosecuted four times in the shooting death of Danny Hansford before his acquittal.) The cemetery is also famous for the ‘Bird Girl’ statue - sculpted by Illinois artist Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1938 as a garden fountain and bought by  Savannah resident Lucy Boyd Trosdal as one of three copies for the family plot in Bonaventure - which features on the cover of every copy of Midnight. But don’t expect to see the statue in Bonaventure – the tourist attraction has been moved the Telfair Academy, to help persevere its art work.

 

Club one
“Rumours and whispers carried through the streets of Savannah and across the globe. But, The Lady Chablis, The Doll, The Grand Empress has never changed, never waivered and never backed down from having her say and saying it with wit, wisdom and flair…”
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is chock full of colourful characters but none more entertaining than Lady Chablis– a black transvestite nightclub performer – who became an overnight sensation upon the book’s publication. So much so that Chablis played herself in the Clint Eastwood film adaption of John Berendt’s non-fiction best-seller and went on to appear on several talk shows including Oprah, in addition to writing a bestselling book of her own – say hello to Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah.

No visit to Savannah is complete without seeing the Lady Chablis at least once. You can catch the outrageously charming drag queen perform at Club One. It’s not a show for the faint hearted (some of her vocabulary can turn the air blue) but it is sassy, spirited and a Savannah must see.

 

Armstrong House
“Armstrong House was a lion of a house. It gloated and glowered and loomed. It even had a curving colonnade that reached out like a giant paw as if to swat the Oglethorpe Club off its high horse across the street.”
Built at the turn of the century, Armstrong House was one of Jim Williams initial real estate acquisitions and today, Sonny Seiler –  Williams’ lawyer who, like Lady Chablis, played himself in the film – has an office here. Originally owned by the Armstrong family, the historic four story building was built in a beautiful Italian Renaissance style. Seiler’s office itself is replete with 18th-century furniture, marble floors and gold-framed portraits of the lawyer’s five white bulldogs -all named Uga after the University of Georgia, and all of whom served as the university’s mascot. Want to experience Armstrong House for yourself. Tours can be arranged by calling (912) 232-7193



DC cool

 

You haven’t been to Washington DC? That’s an oversight that must be righted. Whether you cram in culture or while away hours in a cute cafe in a leafy neighbourhood, America’s capital will win you over. Go. And go now. You’ll have a blast.

Must see and do
For an overview of America’s stately capital, make  the recently renovated Capitol Visitor’s Center your first port of call. Here you can get take a cinematic tour of DC in one of the new orientation cinemas, before venturing out to see the city for yourself.
First up head for the National Mall – aka the Washington of your imagination. The 1.9 mile long lawn – often referred to as America’s Front Yard – is bookended by the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill and has played host to hundreds of speeches including Martin Luther King’s 1963 I have a Dream speech, marches (like those for gay marriage at the start of the millennium) and rallies. Start early (so as to avoid the crowds) and walk past the White House (cool again thanks to the election of President Obama), then wander down to the Washington Monument (the tallest building in the district, compromising two different hues of stone).


Next cross over 17th Street to take in the National WWII monument that honours the 400,000 American worker who died in conflict and the 16 million who served during the war. One caveat: the monument is adorned with poignant quotes so do keep the Kleenex close.


Then venture to the Vietnam Memorial (via the reflecting pools) and the Lincoln Memorial – a shrine to Abraham Lincoln. After you’ve paid your respects to Abe, head down the stairs to Tidal Basin where you’ll find the Martin Luther King memorial. Spend some time reading Dr King’s inspirational quotes and admiring the towering statue of the man, before ticking off the Roosevelt MemorialJefferson Memorial and – my own favourite – the FDR Memorial. This 7.5 acre monument honours the president who led America out of the Great Depression of the 1930s and through the greatest global conflict in history. The words of FDR’s inauguration speech – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” – have been etched, enchantingly so, into the rocks. Lastly, don’t miss the The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, a new memorial which pays tribute to the three million living disabled veterans as well as those who died in service. It’s been designed so as to reflect both strength and vulnerability – expect a reflecting pool, striking laminated glass walls and bronze sculptures.


Got the Memorials out of the way? It’s time to spend a not to be missed afternoon, exploring Washington’s many museums. Museums such as the Smithsonian National Air & Space MuseumNational Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art are among the best in the country. As an added bonus, almost all of them are free to visit proving that the best travel experiences– like love – don’t cost a thing. But be sure to dedicate at least half a day to taking in the glory.
Time permitting, pop along to the Pentagon –  aka the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense – or to the Arlington Cemetery which honours those who fell while serving the United States.


Best bites
Washington is synonymous with The White House, but the city is so much more than just politics. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover that DC has a thriving foodie scene.Visiting gourmands can fill their boots with every cuisine imaginable as a walking tour with a company like DC Metro Food Tours will reveal. For lunch on the run or to purchase a picnic (tip: dining along the Mall is limited, so bring snacks), look to Union Market, a warehouse-like food market housing over 30 of the top food producers in the region. There is no better place to taste DC on a plate. In Dupont Circle, Afterwords Cafe is part of a buzzy bookshop and a great spot to enjoy beautifully made coffees, delectable cakes and bistro fare on the outdoor patio. For something more formal, seek out Central Michel Richard. Here you can chow down on new takes on American comfort food favourites – lobster burgers anyone? – in a swanky setting.

 

After dark
After a hard day at the office, locals love to let their hair down. Indeed it’s the everyday locals that may just prove to be the city’s biggest drawcard. Strike up at a friendship at a hip U Street bar such as Marvin (Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here sipping expertly mixed cocktails in a low lit lounge with vaulted ceilings) or Bar Pillar – a neighbourhood favourite over on 14th Street. More of an oenophile? Default to Dickson Wine Bar whose cosy walls are covered in wine bars. Afterwards catch a show at the nearby 9.30 club – DC’s original live music venue. Pretty much everyone who is anyone has played here when in town.

 

Shop to it
Right now the retail buzz is all about The CityCenter complex, which opened over in Penn Quarter last year. Housing 40 individual boutiques together with all the big designer names, this is where Washington’s politicians and power players head when they want some new threads. Even if your budget is more Primark than Prada, CityCenter is worth visiting for the atmosphere and phenomenal people watching opportunities alone. Elsewhere art aficionados will want to check out the Phillips Collection near Dupont Circle (a favourite with DC’s diplomatic and gay scene) which houses a remarkable collection of European and American works. Alternatively make for M Street in historic Georgetown, whose charming cobblestone streets sell everything from streetwear to deli delight. For a post shopping sugar hit, seek out  in Thomas Jefferson Street and indulge in a cupcake (or two). Work off any excess calories consumed by heading to Oak Hill Cemetery – a picturesque 24 acre cemetery, that’s a popular spot for a leisurely stroll.

Child friendly Washington
Kids in tow? Ankle biters will love Washington’s new Capitol Observation Ferris Wheel at the National Harbour, which serves up spectacular views of the DC skyline. Expect to see iconic landmarks like Arlington National Cemetery, US Capitol Building as well as the White House. For an extra special experience, reserve the VIP gondola featuring, as it does, glass floors, wine chillers, a retracting monitor/DVD player and leather bucket seats. Alternatively wander to  to gawp at the enormous yachts and enjoy the pretty plaza, filled with fountains.

Sleepover
 


Not all hotels are created equally. If you’re after character and local charm, check into The Carlyle. Located in the arty suburb of Dupont Circle, The Carlyle is an elegant affair – think clean lines and polished finishes, with just the right touch of 1920s nostalgia. Thoughtful touches include complimentary morning coffee – caffeine runs through the blood of Washingtonians – and bike loans. Even if you’re not staying at The Carlyle, do enjoy a meal at the newly opened The Riggsby – a plush restaurant which elevates eating to the extraordinary – or a drink in the adjoining bar. With its modernist lighting, it’s great place to meet trendy travellers.


Getting around
Wooho! Washington DC is one American city where it is possible to leave the car at home. DC is served by an excellent (and affordable) metro system – one of the best in the country – while much of the city can be navigated on foot or by bike.

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

 


Southern charm

Don’t take this personally but you look stressed. Happily the New Year is just around the corner and your next holiday is ready to be booked. Kaye Holland has a suggestion – the southern US city of Charleston – to get you started

“I’m going back to Charleston, where there is still a little grace and civility left in the world.” So said Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind – the now iconic American Civil War epic – and for good reason.

Thanks to its postcard pretty painted houses, charming cobblestone streets, carriage rides, cemeteries, cannons, colourful colonial-era mansions and craft markets, Charleston always looks the part. Church steeples (over 400 of them to be specific) – not skyscrapers – dot the skyline, making this lovely city one that landscape artists live for.

 

The most interesting district for visitors to explore is the historic quarter which, unusually for an American city, can easily be negotiated on foot. Night or day, King Street – the beating heart of the old town – has plenty of appeal.

 

Shoppers (Charleston was recently named one of the nation’s top 10 shopping streets, so lots of people visit simply to shop) will love lower and middle King Street, thronged as they are with enough antique stores and one of a kind boutiques (individuality is what Charleston does best so don’t expect to find identikit shops here) to decimate your baggage allowance.

 

In search of some souvenirs to appease the partner you’ve abandoned back home? Quintessential Charleston items include Sweetgrass baskets. Originally made to winnow rice on plantations, the baskets are regarded as an indigenous art form and Gullah tradition and have become a sought after souvenir. Alternatively take home a rice spoon – an iconic serving utensil that has adorned Lowcountry tables since plantation age – from Croghan’s Jewel Box, a family owned repository of eye popping baubles run by the third generation of William Joseph Croghan’s descendants.

Indeed one characteristic that sets Charleston apart from other US destinations, is the presence of multi generation merchant families. Other King Street favourites include Bob Ellis ShoesM Dumas (a third generation clothing emporium) and Ben Silver – a second generation haberdasher.

 

For a post shopping sugar blow out, pop to the Peninsula Grill – home of the ultimate coconut cake – or the Charleston Bake House to gorge on Ginger molasses. For the truth of the matter is that no trip to Charleston is complete without a serious gastronomic exploration. Food is passion – there’s dining for every palate and price tag. The restaurant that's currently hotter than that Christmas jumper you’ve been wearing all month, is S.N.O.B (whose cheeky name stands for ‘Slightly north of Broad’ as in Broad Street). Be prepared to battle for a booking but if you get one, you won’t be disappointed with dishes such as Sautéed squab breast over South Carolina rice and BBQ tune with fried oysters.

Slightly off the beaten path, Hominy Grill serves good tasting low country cuisine in what was an old barbershop. I enjoyed an extraordinary brunch (I’d fly back tomorrow just for the buttermilk biscuits and cheese grits) on the shady patio – the kind you can picture Gone With The Wind’s Miss Melly and Pitty Pat Hamilton sitting on, “fanning themselves placidly in the sun.”

 

But when it comes to bars, Charleston is rather less conservative that I had been led to believe. Upper King Street in particular has taken off as nightlife mecca and you won’t be short of spots to sip a cool cocktail or cold beer. I experienced a banging Friday night at Closed for Business – one of those places where you somehow become best friends with the waiter, at the same time as barely realising that your glass has been refilled. The night ended when I glanced down at my watch and noticed it was nearly 3am – which can happen in Charleston, if you’re not careful.

Want more gravitas? There are many museums and historic buildings to explore including the Aiken Rhett House (an urban plantation offering an insight into antebellum life) and the Nathaniel Russell House. The latter is famed for its verdant English garden and self supporting spiral staircase.

 

However as interesting as the aforementioned houses are, the best way – in my books – to savour Charleston is to stroll along Rainbow Row (famed for its candy coloured houses that adorn the cover of every guidebook) before making a beeline to The Battery, the southern tip of the Charleston Peninsula. No matter how many times you potter along the promenade, the view will always make your heart flutter.

 

Tempting though it might be to stay within the old town, Civil War buffs will want to seek out Fort Sumter. This pentagon shaped island (accessed by boat)  is where the first shots of the Civil War (1861-65) –  a conflict that saw more than 700,000 casualties – rang out. Confederate troops occupied Fort Sumter for nearly four years, resisting several bombardments by Union forces before abandoning the garrison prior to William T. Sherman’s capture of Charleston in February 1865. Linger a while and let the knowledgeable National Park Rangers’ stories of courageous heroes in action from the Civil War’s first battle, seep into your bones…


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Further afield, it’s worth venturing to Folly Beach (George Gershwin decamped to this windswept island in the summer of 1934 and melded his experiences of Gullah spiritualism into the Porgy and Bess song, Summertime).

But for me, the real revelation was the city itself. Despite the wars, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes it has endured, the historic Port city maintains a unique, unspoiled identity. Throw into the mix 230 days of sunshine and Charleston  makes one hell of a city break, sure to buoy your spirits for months after you return home…

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland