This Southern Road Trip Is Close Enough on the Horizon I Can Taste It

At the moment, all of our plans are on hold. But that doesn’t mean we here at Bloomberg Pursuits aren’t planning the experiences we’ll rush out to enjoy when it’s safe to do so. We’re sharing our ideas with you in the hopes that they will help inspire you—and we’d love to hear what you are daydreaming about, too. Send us your ideas at [email protected], and we’ll flesh some of them out for this column.

It’s still too early to say when it’ll be safe enough to responsibly visit Georgia and South Carolina. But with social distancing restrictions easing, Kathryn O’Shea-Evans’s dream of a food-and-charm-filled road trip is closer to becoming a reality than most. 

There’s comfort, and then there’s Southern comfort. The latter is what I crave at home in Denver, where—quarantined or not—people simply aren’t as prone to saying hello to one another on the street. So when Covid-19 is just a speck in the world’s rearview mirror, I’m taking my family on a road trip to Charleston and Savannah. Just two hours apart, these gumdrop-hued cities are my happy places: capitals of friendliness where it’ll take mere seconds to thaw from months of isolation.

These are historically resilient cities. Over the centuries, Charleston has endured multiple wars, the horrors of human enslavement, devastating hurricanes, and previous pandemics—including the deadly yellow fever outbreak of 1699 and a swell of smallpox cases that wiped out 7% of the city’s population in 1760. Savannah bore much of the same; yet both cities still stand as strong and sturdy as the whale bones in an antebellum Southern belle’s crinoline.

22,412 in U.S.Most new cases today

-16% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​12 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-0.​5% Global GDP Tracker (annualized), March

With that in mind, I’ll spend my days eating, sleeping, and playing in places that have shown decades if not centuries of fortitude. And I’ll do so knowing that I, my loved ones, and everyone sharing the pavement will have successfully weathered another storm.

Rev Your Engines

I’ll start in Charleston, founded in 1670 as Charles Town after King Charles II. This is a city where even the people at the car rental counter are affable: My last time there, they upgraded me from a boring sedan to a 2020 Ford Mustang V-8 convertible that projected a pony onto the pavement every time I opened my door. It made me feel like a Kardashian on the lam; it’s been a year, and I still miss that car.

I’ve found driving in Charleston to be a relative breeze, as there’s often more traffic from horse-drawn carriage tours than cars. For me, the only place to stay in the city is the 19-roomJohn Rutledge House Inn, the 1763 home of South Carolina’s first governor, who helped draft and later signed the U.S. Constitution. The rates (from $319) include cooked-to-order breakfasts in a dining room that once hosted George Washington, afternoon tea, hors d’oeuvres, and a nightly “brandy hour.”

Considering her history, it’s no surprise the hotel has had subtle face-lifts through the years. (The second-floor veranda was partially toppled by a Union cannonball during the Civil War.) But the glories of her 18th and 19th century architecture remain: Italian marble fireplace mantels carved with rosebuds and snakes, inlaid floors as intricately designed as quilts, and gracious balconies that allow you to sip your evening sherry as the world languidly strolls by. Wise travelers will splurge, as I have, on Mrs. Rutledge’s former suite; theMain House Deluxe Room has 12-foot ceilings, a gas fireplace, and a canopied and curtained four-post bed.

We’re here to get out and not to stay in, so we’ll stroll Charleston’s cobblestoned streets until we hit the leafy inner courtyard of a 1688 home,82 Queen. Its Lowcountry lunches include Carolina crab cakes, barrel-aged Old-Fashioneds, and fried green tomatoes topped with stone-ground grits and tomato-bacon jam. The next day it’sCirca 1886, a locavore spot in the pine-floored carriage house of the five-star Wentworth Mansion hotel. My go-to dish: a maple-poached red apple salad, served with soursop, cress, and hominy crunch.

Because design and American history are my love languages, we’ll spend far too long ogling the architecture on tour at the 1808Nathaniel Russell House, where the staircase is—as I call it—actually a stare-case. It’s a cantilevered, three-story, snake of an architectural marvel that will drop your jaw upon sight. I haven’t yet made it to the ghostlyAiken-Rhett House, an 1820 home that was preserved for tours exactly how it was found, flaking paint and all, including the bone-chilling quarters of the enslaved.

Hit the Road

The drive from Charleston to Savannah is less than two hours via Interstate 95, which means you can take time for a detour in the wrong direction. Just north of Charleston you’ll findBrookgreen Gardens. Founded in 1931 by railroad tycoon Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, artist Anna Hyatt Huntington, the 9,100-acre grounds—set where four former rice plantations once stood—are now a pristine place to stroll alongside nearly 1,500 figurative sculptures.

This trip, I might prefer to slink along the smaller coastal roads instead of the highway. That route will take us through the dreamy vacationlands of Kiawah Island, Beaufort, and Hilton Head Island. I’ll be driven by my stomach as much as anything else: My husband, James, and I once had the best seafood of our lives in Hilton Head at the docksideHudson’s, a former 1912 oyster factory that sits on Port Royal Sound. The place feels like a scene from Dawson’s Creek, with its tables atop a jetty set along a wide expanse of glimmering water. Its coconut shrimp—caught by the restaurant’s own fishing fleet in local waters—and hush puppies are worth the side trip alone.

Georgia on My Mind

My heart will undoubtedly skip a few beats as we pull into Savannah, a compact city where exquisitely planned streets abut 22 square parks shaded by live oak trees. It’s a place I love so much that I try to return to it annually, even if it’s just by reading John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If I had any sense I’d pack up my horde of pastel and silk dresses and move there full time.

It’s my firm conviction that when you’re traveling south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you have to stay with ghosts. No newly built mass-market luxury hotel could ever do justice to a place like Savannah, where Spanish moss hangs like poetry in the magnolia-scented air. The 1896Foley House Inn, by contrast, isso haunted, I can swear my lipstick moved around our room on its own accord when I last spent the night. Set on Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump sat musing on boxes of chocolate, and within walking distance of almost everything you’d care to see, it also has the best food I’ve ever had at a B&B (and I’ve stayed in my fair share of Relais & Châteaux). Don’t miss the gratis afternoon tea in the parlor, where dishes like praline bundt cake and almond florentines are so bounteous you won’t be hungry for dinner. Another perk: Foley House also has a dog-friendly policy that allowed us to curl up by a gas fireplace with our road-warrior papillon, Huckleberry.

Before we leave never-never Land, we’ll drive toWormsloe State Historic Site, an 822-acre former plantation whose entrance road is an almost 2-mile-long allée of 400 live oak trees. Back downtown, we’ll eat note-perfect fried chicken and too, too, too many sides from the communal tables at 1943 boarding houseMrs. Wilkes Dining Room; blackened oysters with green tomato chow chow at the 1771Olde Pink House; then we’ll walk it all off on the way toGryphon, a stained-glass-lined restaurant where we’ll order a round of Atlanta peach spritzers and bourbon banana pudding cake. By nightfall we might only have room for Pink Elephant cocktails at the Grey. (The signature drinks are made with gin, lemon, and strawberry shrub.) But no doubt we’ll get sucked into some of chef Mashama Bailey’s modern soul food before rolling out the door of her iconic restaurant, set in a deco-era formerly segregated Greyhound bus station.

Eventually we’ll wander the streets in a contented dream. Did I mention Savannah’s historic district has an open-container law? It’s a real carpe diem kind of place. And now more than ever, I’m a carpe diem kind of woman.

Channel your travel urges into charity: The Historic Charleston Foundation, which runs so many of the city’s amazing house tours, is accepting donations to stay afloat until visitors can return once again.

Have a daydream of your own? Let us know, and it may feature in a future column. 

For more road trips and charming inspiration, check out:

  • Here’s One More Reason to Visit Charleston This Fall
  • Luxury Homes for Sale in Savannah
  • Where to Go in 2019: Savannah, Georgia
  • The Most Luxurious (and Delicious) Road Trips to Take This Season
  • The 10 Best Global Road Trips to Try This Summer
  • Wisconsin Is the Best Golfing Road Trip You Can Take Right Now
  • The Best Places to Eat Along California’s Highway 1

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