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Archive for the ‘So. Carolina’ Category

The morning air was already heavy and humid by the time we reached Caw Caw Interpretive Center, but it took nothing away from the beauty and peace of the enchanted acreage. Magnolias bloomed fragrant along the winding road and snowy egrets soared low across the horizon, winged snowflakes in the thick, summer sky. White, shooting stars with wings, lighter than the reeds that outlined the marsh below. Sun met lavender wildflowers and breeze met spanish moss, as we strolled along.

I walked slowly through this land of magic, amazed and envious that a Charleston writing friend, who served as my guide, lives in this gorgeous territory. Familiar with decriptions of this unique nature preserve that he has written in the past, it lived up to all my expectations.

Caw Caw Interpretive Center covers the grounds of several former rice plantations, built with slave labor during the 18th and 19th centuries. Today visitors can walk beside irrigation canals, earthen dikes and rice trunks (water-contrl structures) that remain from that period of time, as well as walk along marsh-bordered boardwalks and nature trails. Knowledgeable guides are available to answer questions about environmental issues, natural habitat and local Gullah culture, music and folk art.

Only once before have I seen the deep set eyes and crinkled back of an alligator, that one in the swampland of Florida. Still, I viewed him only from a distance that time, partially concealed by leaves and branches. Not so today, as this creature lounged in the sun, alongside his reflection in the water. Content to stretch out before me, he moved only his suspicious eye as I circled and observed. My imagined protection, a few feet of water. His perceived safety, the identical distance.

Many joined the journey we were on, lizards and turtles, blue herons and dragonflies. Tiny frogs dotted the trails like pepper in the wind, scattering in all directions as our feet moved forward. Lush green branches myrtles, oaks and maples hovered above us as we walked along the paths. Waterfowl played in the sun as we passed the rice fields, built with the hard labor of slaves in the 19th century.

This particular paradise was just the beginning. We left the nature preserve to its 300 plus species of animals, birds and amphibians, heading out in search of food for the soul and stomach. The first we found at Books A Million. I admit I hedged at the idea of stopping at a chain bookstore, but my guide knew exactly what he was doing. This location has a section of local and regional travel books large enough to make up a store of its own. Rows and rows and rows, guide books and history and photography. It was heaven. Only our rumbling stomachs managed to pry us away from the feast of words and images. A stop at Atlanta Bread Company for sandwiches, chips and ice cold sodas took care of that.

Drayton Hall was next on the agenda, an impressive Georgian-Palladian style plantation, unique because it is preserved, as opposed to restored. After surviving wars, earthquakes and hurricanes, this building still remains much as it was when orginally built over a four year period, begun in 1738. The only plantation house on the Ashley River to survive both the Civil War and Revolutionary War intact, it remains as it was originally built – without running water, central heating or electrical lighting – thus giving visitors an authentic feeling of connection to 18th century times.

The plantation home itself is not the only treasure here. A sprawling 630 acres of walking trails, gardens and picnic areas can be found surrounding Drayton Hall itself. Here we encountered two more alligators, swimming contentedly and semi-submerged in a pond a short distance from the main building. Turtles basked in the sun along the edges of the water, though quickly hopped in when I approached to take pictures. Camera-shy, I assumed.

The humidity was taking a toll on us, so we were relieved to find a soda machine near the Museum Shop. We browsed the shop’s goods and gratefully soaked in a little air conditioning, then took a break in sight-seeing until dinnertime, when we headed for Folly Beach.

Fortunate with weather so far, our plans for a meal on the pier took a nosedive as the clouds hastily turned a very dark gray. Still, we had a little time to wander the beach, collect shells and listen to the sound of the water lapping against the shore, all the while keeping an eye on the sky. As the crash of thunder and flashes of lightening arrived, I lingered outside, watching the billowing patterns of the clouds. Eventually, the dounpour won out and we ran for cover and a couple of delicious plates of seafood at RJ’s Seashell Restaurant. Grouper with a pineapple-ginger salsa for me, fried shrimp and scallops for him.

Late at night, we sat together outside the inn, wondering how we had accomplished seeing so much in one day. What an amazing show: nature, alligators, books, thunderstorms, fresh seafood, photo opportunities. It was a perfect day in many ways, and a lesson to me that it’s sometimes well worth leaving the intriguing historic districts of towns like Charleston and taking some time to explore the outskirts.

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A pre-arranged, early knock on my door delivered hot coffee, juice and a basket of warm, fresh-baked pastries. Propped up in bed, I sipped the fresh brew, nibbled on a cinnamon roll, and wrote my way into the day. Surrounded by cool shades of sage and ivory, wood, rattan and ceilings that reached the sky, I melted into my Charleston surroundings.

I owe my luxurious accommodations to the kindness of Linn Lesesne, who took great care in making sure I was comfortably settled into a room at the Romanesque-style Victoria House Inn for my stay. Originally built in 1889 as the Charleston YMCA, this elegant bed and breakfast is conveniently (and dangerously) located near tempting antique shops and clothing boutiques on King Street. In the heart of the historical district, it is one of five area inns run by Charming Inns of Charleston.

I was fortunate to get a chance to see all five properties – a few by nosing around on my own and two through a tour given by Linn herself. Nearby King’s Courtyard Inn and Fulton Lane Inn both offer similar, elegant lodging to that of Victoria House Inn. AAA has bestowed Four Diamond Awards to all inns in this group and guests can be assured they will receive not only excellent hospitality, but treats such as wine and sherry in the afternoons and turndown service with chocolates in the evening. Many rooms offer fireplaces, canopy beds, whirlpool baths or other luxurious features. From what I saw, it’s not possible to go wrong with a room in any of these properties.

Just a short distance away, at 116 Broad Street, the John Rutledge House Inn offers all of the services of the other inns in the beautifully restored home of John Rutledge, one of the original fifty-five signers of the U.S. Constitution. Built in 1763, this impressive building is detailed with wonderful wrought iron work. Elegant, curved stairways lead to the entrance. Accommodations offered include beautifully furnished rooms and extremely spacious suites.

Thanks to wealthy cotton merchant Francis Silas Rodgers, who designed and built Wentworth Mansion as a private residence in 1886, Charleston visitors who seek luxurious lodging can find it at 149 Wentworth Street. This breathtaking building is the product of five years of exquisite restoration and that effort shows in every detail, from the original doorknobs and fixtures to the magnificent city-wide views from the cupola, accessed by circular stairs from the top floor. To say the suites are spacious would be an understatement. Hand-carved marble fireplaces team up with Tiffany stained glass windows to add to the elegance here. Personalized service is a high priority. Excellent, fine dining can be found just steps away in the original carriage house, now Circa 1886 Restaurant.

I thanked Linn for her fabulous tour and turned my attention to touring some of Charleston’s Historic District. I gave myself my own walking tour, admiring architecture, gardens, courtyards and churches. A stroll through the market area gave me a chance to see goods such as Mary Lou Ranson’s handpainted glass containers, spices by Virginia Smalls and a wide assortment of the well-known sweet grass baskets.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sue Middleton, who did her best to focus on a basket she was weaving, even with my persistent questions and picture-taking. I treated myself to a small basket, one of many she had for sale. Sixty years she’s been making these, Sue told me. Ever since she was a young child. I’ll treasure my sweet grass basket, knowing the work she put into it.

With all the fabulous restaurants in this city, it should be difficult deciding where to eat. But I got hooked a few years ago on one little place, which I now consider a personal Charleston tradition. Convenient to the market area, I only had to take a few steps to land at Wild Wing Cafe. Here, under ceiling fans, old metal signs and even a giant sculptured hippopotamus head, I ordered my favorite: lemon pepper wings. Ten wings and two diet cokes later, I emerged again onto the Charleston streets and headed for the inn.

Charleston holds much for visitors inside its historic district, but on this trip I decided to push outside the city and explore the surounding areas. I would meet up with a writing friend from the area and together we would head out to explore the outskirts of the city. With this in mind, I settled back into my room and drifted off to sleep in my incredibly comfortable bed at Victoria House Inn.

Additional Photos: View Here

If You Go:

Victoria House Inn
208 King St.,
Charleston, SC 29401
(800) 720-2946

Reservation information for all inns: Charming Inns of Charleston

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