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    Charleston South Carolina: a journey through plantations, churches and Southern history

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    When you want to feel like family, to be a little "pampered", there is nothing better than the warm hospitality of the South and with this in mind our choice takes us to the south-east of South Carolina, to Charleston in an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean created by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers.

    With about 135.000 inhabitants this is the largest but also the oldest city in the state, capital of the homonymous county, famous for the beauty of its gardens, refined architecture, the residences of the colonial period as well as for the enveloping welcome. As often happens in the USA, the most populous city is not always the capital, in fact in South Carolina it is Columbia.


    • The climate of Charleston
    • What to see in Charleston
      • Two steps in Downtown Charleston
      • The French Quarter
      • The Port of Charleston
      • Il Rainbow Row
      • Charleston churches
      • Charleston's nature attractions
    • Tours and excursions available in Charleston
      • Magnolia Plantation
      • Excursions outside the city
    • The Charleston Islands
    • Advice on where to shop
    • Charleston events
    • Where to eat in Charleston
    • Where sleeping in Charleston
    • How to reach Charleston

    The climate of Charleston

    The name Charleston was assigned in the 17th century in honor of King Charles II of England but it must also be said that, as a southern outpost of the British Empire, the area then suffered attacks from natives, pirates and subsequently European immigrants landed. many of them from France. In this beautiful city the climate is not harsh, winters are mild with rare snowfalls and pleasant mid-seasons. The only "moles" are the humidity and the rains concentrated mainly from June to September, the hottest months. So, never mind, we just have to choose a date in the best period which is March-May.

    What to see in Charleston

    Two steps in Downtown Charleston

    We start our itinerary from downtown, the city center rich in history and beauty along streets that showcase ancient houses and buildings. King Street it cuts the city in two from north to south and in its path bordered by the Wentworth and the Broad is the artery where most of the shops and restaurants are located.

    We then move on to the Broad street and in so doing our exploration leads to the 4 Corners of Law (Broad St. & Meeting St.) named for the presence at the corners of institutional buildings, federal, state, local and ecclesiastical law: the City Hall (town hall), the County Courthouse (county court), the Federal Courthouse ( federal court) and the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. This church is the oldest religious structure in the city, built from 1751 to 1761 in the Georgian style. Among the "guests" of his cemetery are two important signatories of the American constitution.

    The other streets that best represent downtown are East bay (with pastel colors and wrought iron balconies), To tie (with gardens and squares), Tradd (with southern charm), Church (with the church and the theater) e Chalmer (one of the eight cobbled streets). We have been in Charleston for a few hours and the first sensations related to the combination of architectural pleasantness and open spaces are already very positive.

    THEArthur Ravenel JR BridgeModern and spectacular in its essential forms, it is an eight-lane four-kilometer bridge over the Cooper River. Since 2005 it has connected downtown to the nearby town of Mount Pleasant. The bridge can also be crossed by bicycle and on foot and in fact it has increased its notoriety for the race Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10-kilometer race, with thousands of participants, which crosses it giving life to a remarkable scenographic impact. The event is held on the first Saturday in April and is the fifth largest road race in the United States.

    The French Quarter

    We are ready for the French Quarter, part of which is downtown. The area is bordered by Cooper River, Broad St., Meeting St. and Market St. and was named after the concentration of French traders in the past, that same past that you can breathe and in which you immerse yourself walking along the streets next to historic buildings, churches and galleries.

    This is a city where you can make excellent art purchases and right there Pink house (17 Chalmers St.), the oldest residence in town, is a former gallery immediately identifiable by the pink exterior walls. Even though it is closed now, the building and street are worth a photo.

    La French Huguenot Church (136 Church St.) is the oldest Gothic Revival church in South Carolina founded by Huguenots who immigrated here to escape persecution of the 16th and 17th centuries in a mostly Catholic France that did not tolerate their Protestantism. Adjacent to the church stands the Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St.) born as a hotel in 1809 and converted into a theater in 1935. It is recognized for its evident skylights, chimneys and its refined wrought iron balcony.

    We conclude our visit to this district with the Saint Philip’s Church (142 Church St.) impossible to "jump" as it is clearly visible at the end of the road. It houses the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina dating back to 1681 and is one of the symbols of the city. This brick episcopal church has colonnades at the base and a tall conical tower. We were told that the church is often closed, so our advice is to go and visit it on the occasion of religious services or immediately before or after them.

    The Port of Charleston

    Overlooking the Cooper River Waterfront park (1 Vendue Range) is a five-hectare park that also houses a large fountain. Here you can relax on the benches and stroll among oaks and dwarf palms. It is no coincidence that South Carolina is nicknamed "Palmetto State". In the park there is a jetty from which you have a good view of the harbor, the Ravenel Bridge and Fort Sumter. Here is also Vendue Wharf, a large wooden pier on the ocean. We must say that Charleston is beautiful, its whole is harmonious and to us who love photography so much it reserves ideal views and angles.

    Il Rainbow Row

    Parallel to the harbor and the water, a charming row of 18th century Georgian houses in pastel colors is called Rainbow Row. At one time the ground floor of these houses was used as a commercial space while the first floor was the home of the merchant. This is one of the most photographed attractions in the city. With flowers, colors and balconies the buildings create a really pleasant chromatic impact; extend from East Battery Street to White Point Garden (2 Murray Blvd.), a park overlooking Fort Sumter and the harbor.

    Oaks, statues, monuments, a gazebo and a walkway with benches are found within this area. Here, at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers is a named point The Battery where a battery of guns once stood. It is now a pleasant area on the peninsula's southernmost edge, a white succession of pre-American Civil War homes flanked by slender palm trees overlooking the river.

    A pair of curiosity: Charleston, a dance in vogue in the 20s, takes its name from the city and Elisabeth Welch has dedicated a famous song to this lively rhythm. The doors of Charleston: each entrance in this city has its own character and charm, different shapes from delicate pastel colors, bolder shades to classic wood.

    Charleston churches

    Charleston is nicknamed “the Holy City” due to the presence of many churches and also because it was one of the few colonies to tolerate so many religions. Let's take a short tour of some of its religious structures that we believe are absolutely worth a visit. Starting from the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (120 Broad St.), a stunning Gothic-style Catholic cathedral with bright interiors, exquisite décor and brightly colored stained glass windows.

    Then it's the turn of Saint Mary of the Annunciation (93 Hasell St.) rebuilt after a fire in 1838; is the first Catholic church in Georgia, North Carolina and South. Its façade is recognizable by Doric columns, perhaps a little austere, but the interior is quite another thing, very bright, full of paintings even in the ceiling and behind the altar there is the image of the crucifixion.

    With a few steps you arrive at the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (90 Hasell St.) also called Congregational Beth Elohim. Founded in 1749, it is the second oldest Jewish congregation in the United States but is the oldest in terms of operation. The style of the building is Greek Revival with white Doric columns in the facade; also in this case the columns could be a prelude to something rigorous, but the interior is magnificent.

    Finally, on the Charleston college campus there is Cathedral of Saint Luke & Saint Paul (126 Coming St.). This Anglican cathedral is neo-Gothic in style, "clean", with beautiful stained glass windows behind the altar and raised boxes along the side aisles.

    Charleston's nature attractions

    Time is running out and now we temporarily abandon the study of the city because we want to meet alligators, seahorses, otters, trout and sharks at the South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf). The aquarium, which also hosts exhibitions, is open every day from 9am to 17pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and December 25th.

    Info on tickets for the Aquarium

    Near the aquarium there is Liberty Square from which the vessels depart for strong Sumter National Monument at the mouth of Charleston Harbor (food and drinks are included in the ticket). The first shot of the American Civil War was fired from this fort exactly on April 12, 1861. At a cost of $ 21, the one-hour tour includes a visit to the ruins and transport but there is also a specific sunset tour.

    Tours and excursions available in Charleston

    We took a few tours to get to know the city thoroughly. Charleston's hidden alleys and passages e Historical Walking Tour of Charleston they allow you to explore Charleston on foot to savor a little of everything that makes it so beautiful, a “face to face” knowledge of the city.

    But if that weren't enough, it is possible to experience his "ghosts" firsthand with Charleston Macabre Ghost Tours. Then there are specific tours for those who want to understand why Charleston is famous for its culinary art: Chef’s Kitchen Tour of Charleston e Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour. And then you also want to take a ride in a carriage with horses because the atmosphere is the right one and in this regard we suggest theHistoric Carriage Tour which introduced us to the beauties of the city in full relaxation.

    To discover Charleston also from the point of view of the sea, we set sail aboard the Carolina Belle, the boat from which to observe the coast and the city. The narrated tour is 90 minutes and introduced us to Charleston's history and key facts while enjoying the views from inside the boat or deck. Departure is from the port, Charleston Wharf (10 Wharfside St.).

    Magnolia Plantation

    A feature of great appeal in the American Southeast are the plantations and we, after visiting those in Virginia along Route 5, do not want to get lost. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd.). Guided tours of the property, lasting 30-45 minutes, run from 9am to 17pm. The mansion is decorated in an early American style typical of the last half of the 17th century. In the property there is not only the dwelling, which is why it is interesting to get to know this type of estate in depth, the life and history of 19th century plantations, a link between past and present.

    Info on guided tour with transportation from Charleston

    The garden scenery with bridges, flowers, trees and a mangrove area instills tranquility. There is also an area called a zoo which is home to hens, peacocks and pigs, typical animals of a plantation, but also gray foxes, lizards, turtles, snakes, beavers, bobcats and white-tailed deer. It is possible to take a one-hour boat ride through the plantation's rice fields along the Ashley River bearing in mind that alligators "reside" in the canals. All these activities are included in the price of $ 8 for ages 7 and up. On the property there are also a gift shop and the Peacock Café where you can refresh yourself.

    Excursions outside the city

    The town of Mt. Pleasant, as well as the islands surrounding Charleston, so close to the city, contain beauties to be discovered. We report the Boone Hall Planting dating from the colonial period (1235 Long Point Rd., Mt. Pleasant) and the McLeod Planting, a splendid estate dating back to 1851 (325 Country Club Dr., James Island). In these areas live magnificent and imposing oaks; we point out one, the McLeod Oak, which should be over 600 years old in the aforementioned plantation and another, the superlative Angel Oak (3688 Angel Oak Rd., Johns Island), about 400 years old, 20 meters high and 8.5 meters wide. Locals tell ghost stories of former slaves who appear in the form of angels around the tree.

    For those who stay a few days in Charleston we recommend two excursions noteworthy. In a north-easterly direction, with a journey of 2 and a quarter hours, you reach the coastal city of Myrtle Beach developed on an artificial island connected to the continental United States by the road called Intercostal Waterway. In this city of nearly 30.000 inhabitants you can do many activities: fishing, shopping, strolling in the gardens, playing golf and mini golf, visiting museums, water and theme parks, riding the Ferris wheel, enjoying a safari and even driving a NASCAR car. . There are so many opportunities for fun for the whole family. You certainly don't get bored and the unstoppable influx of tourists confirms this.

    Heading south, about two hours away from Charleston, we point out theHilton Head Island, with 40.000 inhabitants, known for its beaches, outdoor activities (fishing, kayaking, biking, bird watching, walking, dolphin watching) and the Costal Discovery Museum (ideal for learning about the history of this area). Here is also the Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort owned by Disney. This island is a splendid oasis of tranquility and relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of big cities.

    The Charleston Islands

    Isle of Palms

    Five islands they embrace the peninsula on which Charleston has developed and represent its bathing areas and quiet "escape", small paradises of serenity and relaxation but also of activities for those who wish. Let's go and discover them starting from the north near the town of Mount Pleasant to the islands further south.

    • Isle of Palms it's 35 minutes north of Charleston; here you can enjoy the beach, make sand castles, use the services of the marina, go surfing and golf.
    • Between the Isle of Palms and the Charleston Harbor entrance it is located Sullivan’s Island with wide beaches and historic buildings.
    • Continuing south we meet Folly Beach 15 minutes from Charleston where you can go surfing, enjoy wide beaches with bars, do outdoor activities and then refuel in the food trucks. On this beach you can see dolphins, turtles, bald eagles and sea birds.
    • The penultimate stage of our tour is Kiawah Iceland 45 minutes from Charleston with beautiful beaches, golf courses, boat tours and fishing opportunities.
    • The southernmost island is Seabrook Iceland 50 minutes from Charleston with pristine beaches, marine forests, mangroves, horseback riding, golf course and a marina.

    Advice on where to shop

    Even if the memories are indelible, a little bit of Shopping it will further help keep Charleston's memory alive. We report two locations in the city center. The most popular street is the one already mentioned King Street where you can find a bit of everything, from art galleries to antique shops, from clothes to shoes, from cosmetics to home furnishings, from stationery to gifts and much more. In addition to the shops, there is no shortage of restaurants and hotels.

    In the city it is very well known and frequented theHistoric Charleston City market (188 Meeting St.), a lively and colorful place to shop for souvenirs, home furnishings, art, clothing and many other products from local vendors. And the beauty is that here you can also eat the "local way". The building is open from 9 to 18 every day. From April to December on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the opening is extended until 22.30pm. Two more classic malls are Fwoods Mall (2150 Northwoods Blvd.) e Tangier Outlets (4840 Tanger Outlet Blvd.).

    Charleston events

    Let's take a look at the Events citizens of Charleston. In February and / or March the Charleston Food & Wine Festival; each of those locations celebrates southern culture and cuisine. There are large tents to sample food, an artisan market, stands for interactive cooking experiences, entertainment in the best restaurants in the city and there is also the participation of established chefs. All this gives life to a great gastronomic experience. The various activities are subject to charges.

    The American edition of the Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi takes place in late spring - Festival of Two Worlds/Spoleto Festival USA which brings together every year American and European artists, emerging and professional, in the fields of jazz, opera, symphonic music, dance, theater and performing arts. The shows take place in various locations and have a great participation.

    On the occasion of the Christmas festivities, theHoliday Festival of Lights (James Island County Park - 871 Riverland Dr.) when thousands of multicolored lights of all shapes and sizes come to life. At various times of the year at the Circular Congregational Church (150 Meeting St.) there is a great event called The Sound of Charleston, an exciting mix of gospel, jazz, classical and Gershwin arias. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center (375 Meeting St.) or directly at the church. The updated timetables can be consulted on the official website.

    Where to eat in Charleston

    Charleston is a real culinary destination. The city abounds with restaurants and we point out some traditional ones and others where you can taste typical dishes. The American chain Bubba Gump (99 S. Market St.) inspired by the movie Forrest Gump is renowned for its good shrimp and is a must for us because we love that crustacean. This location is in the city center and has a patio that can also accommodate dogs. Do you have a sweet peckish? The ice cream of the chain Ben ‘n Jerry (96 N. Market St.) are a great solution to the problem (a curiosity… tours of the ice cream shop's headquarters in Waterbury, Vermont are made).

    Always in downtown, Husk (76 Queen St.) offers much appreciated southern dishes and is located in the street preferred by those who love to experience good food to whom we also recommend Poogan's Porch e 82 Queen. A particular detail that we liked is the presence of the chefs in the room who interact with the customers and personally deliver the food to the table.

    For a river view dinner near the harbor we recommend Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar (186 Concord St.), a casual chic style venue serving American cuisine. On the other hand, it is more refined High Cotton Restaurant (199 E. Bay St.) with pine floors and brick walls. Brunch with live music is served on Saturdays and Sundays. Here, low country cuisine is offered with dishes from southern South Carolina and the Georgian coast with African influences, similar to New Orleans Cajun cuisine.

    Where sleeping in Charleston

    French Quarter Inn

    Staying overnight in Charleston can be a really good experience because some hotels have that local style and atmosphere. Within the French Quarter we recommend the The French Quarter Inn (166 Church St.), a luxury boutique hotel with historic charm where guests are enveloped in true southern hospitality. The rooms and suites have the refined style of the past with some modern touches.

    In downtown we report The Meeting Street Inn (2 Meeting St.) an elegant B&B with a porch and nine refined rooms each with its own vintage style. At 202 King Street, Charleston's main street, we point out the Fulton Lane Inn also with its own charm and warm hospitality. The hotel has 45 rooms and suites of different sizes and furnishings, mainly with light colors. Breakfast, wi-fi and 24-hour concierge service are included in the price. The 22 Charlotte B&B (22 Charlotte St.) is a historic Charleston house that has been inhabited since 1810. The property has two open porches, pleasant old-fashioned rooms and even a cottage.

    You would like to sleep in one plantation? If the answer is yes, The Inn at Middleton Place (4290 Ashley River Dr.) is for you. The residence has 55 very bright rooms, with a window that is actually a stained glass window that occupies the entire wall. There is also a restaurant on site with a more casual atmosphere during the day and more formal in the evening. It is possible to take tours of the gardens, the house-museum, the stables and carriage tours. The wood that surrounds the property makes this place enchanting.

    Search for Charleston hotels

    How to reach Charleston

    To reach Charleston we recommend choosing betweenairport international Hartsfield-Jackson (6000 N. Terminal Pkwy.) in Atlanta in Georgia which is almost 5 hours or that of Charleston (5500 International Blvvd.) Which has no direct stopovers from Europe but which can be reached by domestic flight. You can also get to the city on board ships from cruise at the 'Union Pier (32 Washington St.).

    We recommend renting a car for greater autonomy but if you do not have your own vehicle you can use public transport bus operated by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (MENU) that make routes between urban areas and downtown. For any travel to other cities, the line ferroviaria Amtrak is present in Charleston (4565 Gaynor Ave.).

    Historic charm, ancient buildings and churches, but also lots of greenery, pretty houses, impressive residences, good food and river views. Charleston is not a classic American destination but it is worth knowing all its faces. In the same vein of charm, we also recommend Savannah Georgia about a two-hour drive away. Really two pearls of the Southeast to combine in a single, splendid itinerary.

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