Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Low Country Living

To say South Carolina wowed me would be an understatement, I was not prepared to fall head over heels in love with this place, but we did. We've spent time in Charleston before and adored it, but Beaufort and the artsy haven of Bluffton, just made my heart skip a beat and I didn't want to leave. I just wanted to linger and meander endlessly down the live oak lined streets, to soak in that southern hospitality and gaze upon its antebellum homes. South Carolina just has this delight about it, an old world feel that collides with nature, creating this environment that wins every ounce of your being over. My heart was taken with this place the exquisite moment that I watched a herd of deer happily bounce through the salt marsh while woodpeckers pecked at the nearby tree. It was all too Snow White like and if I could save time in a bottle, this would be the place and the moment to have done so.

Bikes and books on King Street
Like I said before, we have been to Charleston before, but just couldn't resist the temptation to zip up there again for a weekend. We had such an extraordinary visit the last time we were there and seeing it all decked for the holidays was just an opportunity we couldn't refuse. Southern charm collides with southern Christmas flair, and bam, you have a recipe for perfection!

City Market decked for the holidays
Charleston is this mecca of well-preserved southern charm; from the church steeples that accentuate the skyline to the horse drawn carriages riding past century old mansions, are unforgettable. Getting a couple of days to explore and get lost in the neighborhoods is all it took to remember why it is that we are so drawn to this place. We started with immersing ourselves with locals, visiting the holiday farmers market to shop, to peruse and pick up some holiday gifts for our loved ones. We took our time to visit with the shop owners, see the real Charleston, and give one older gentleman the opportunity to see everything. That’s right, Ethel was in her stroller, being pushed by yours truly and it just made one guys day, in his words “he has now seen it all!”

Ethel and I strolling the Battery
Once we left the farmers market we let ourselves become immersed in Charleston, we walked captivated by the homes and the lush magnolia filled gardens, just engrossed in the ambiance of what is probably one of the South’s greatest cities. Eventually we day-dreamily found our way to the battery, stopped for a bit on a park bench and let the critter out for her own strut through the park. For us, having no agenda and no map, but allowing ourselves to wander is sometimes the best travel plan one can make; we tend to experience so much more of life this way.

Tom taking in the grounds at Magnolia Plantation
Charleston is also home to some astounding plantations. Last time we were here we had the opportunity to visit Middleton Plantation, this time we opted to go just a little further down the road and check out Magnolia Plantation and a big bonus, it was dog friendly. The gardens were simply amazing, especially considering that they are the oldest public gardens in America. And winner, winner, they have a hedge maze, talk about taking an opportunity to get lost, how could we not partake! Downfall, the azaleas don’t boom until spring, but hey, I can always use this as an excuse to go back. If you’re traveling with kids, they have a train and a petting zoo on property as well; great experience for everyone all around.

Magnolia Plantation
Wrapping up our time in Charleston, was spent in full holiday spirit, taking time to enjoy the holiday lights and we even drove out to “Nights of Lights” to add a little extra enthusiasm to the Christmas season. Downfall the line was long, an hour wait, but completely worth it; next time we will know to get there right as they open and to dress a little warmer so that we want to park and get out and explore the Christmas village. Overall though, it was a great trip to Charleston and a wonderful reminder of how much we enjoyed this city, and I already can’t wait to go back.

Grounds at Magnolia Plantation
Charleston isn't the only city making up the South Carolina Low Country. Ten minutes from our place was the eclectic town of Bluffton. The historic district is a quaint and charming area, lined with great little art boutiques, one of a kind shops and historic churches. I became quite the regular to the Thursday farmers market, the main street is shut down and vendors set up shop, and one can just drift from one booth to the next under the moss shaded streets. Bluffton just exudes this artsy charisma, which is completely welcoming, nothing bourgeois about it, and the city does a great job at luring residents and tourists alike to visit Historic Bluffton by the droves. One of our favorite events we partook of while there was the Art Walk, spending an evening admiring the creativity of the residents and giggling as many of the locals just zip around with their critters via golf cart. Such a great energy and feel to a little city and one that shouldn't be overlooked.

Art Walk in Historic Bluffton
Then there is Beaufort, probably one of the wealthiest towns of its size in the country and it is oozes sophisticated charm. We took a day to just linger, gaze upon its antebellum homes and soak in a little sunshine along the waterfront. Beaufort is true southern hospitality at its finest, one of my favorite memories was this older home owner, I should clarify here, mansion owner of one of the most amazing properties I have ever seen, just walking out of his home and across the grounds to the Intracoastal to shoot the breeze with a kayaking crew and to wish them a wonderful day. Or another gentlemen walking out of his esteemed home as we walked by, making a point to come and say hi and meet Miss Ethel.  Things are different in the south and maybe it is just the difference between new and old money, or just that hospitality that gets ingrained in one from growing up southern, but is charming and captivating - and I love these people!

Antebellum Home in Beaufort
Hilton Head itself caters to tourists and other than picnics and strolls along the beach we really didn't spend too much time here. Unless of course it was to eat, they have some amazing restaurants’ on the island. The beaches are pristine and made a great place to throw down a blanket, eat some lunch and then take a little walk with our feet in the ocean while our food digested.

Hilton Head Light House
The Low Country captivated us, even that pungent smell of the salt water as the tide recedes from the marsh soil won me over. The ever changing landscape of the marshes as the tides would come in and out; the place is beautiful and absorbing it all was too much, we must go back soon! Plus there are just too many golf courses for one month, Tom has a bucket list to fulfill. 

Images from Magnolia Plantation:

Hedge Maze
Images from Beaufort:
Old Sheldon Ruins
Old Sheldon Ruins
Ivy covered steps
Antebellum home, fall foliage and Spanish moss
Tree stuffed with bricks at Old Sheldon Ruins
View of the Intracoastal from Beaufort 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Home Sweet Hilton Head

Once upon a time we rode into Moss Creek Plantation and were immediately enchanted as we drove down a winding road, canopied with live oak trees that were dripping in Spanish moss; the place oozed southern charm and truly felt like we had stepped into the pages of a fairy-tale.  Our Hilton Head home was more than just a place to land for the holidays, it was like living inside a virtual painting. Walls of glass spanned the back of the home and looked out over the salt marshes, creating a sensational and an ever changing landscape for us to endlessly gaze upon; finding motivation to get out and leave was hard, I mean why would we want to, we had a stunning view right from our kitchen table.

The condo was smack in Moss Creek Plantation; home to two golf courses, a tennis center, an equestrian facility, pool/fitness center, miles of walking/biking trails and a reserve island. Needless to say the grounds were vast and the community completely catered to those living there, whether it be their primary home or second home.

Speaking of second homes, the Salt Marsh Cottages in which we stayed were specifically designed in the seventies as a second homes for those migrating south for the winter. The designer, Jakie Lee, won national recognition with this design; creating an organic design that just seamlessly blended in with nature and bringing that outdoor connection inside. The architecture was superb and we truly felt like we were part of the environment from the comfort of our couch.

View from our wall of windows
This place was an amazing holiday retreat for us and we opted to spend five weeks here, just so that we weren't perpetually on the road and could just hunker down and enjoy the holidays and each other for a bit of time. Being here for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I couldn't resist the opportunity to set up a Christmas tree this year, especially after last year and having our home packed up and in the utter state of chaos that surrounds a move, it really seemed like a must this year. A little something to anchor us and give us a sense of “home for the holidays”feeling.

View from upstairs loft
Giving into the holidays was really easy and I couldn't wait to get back to all those traditions we have had year after year, especially after skipping out on them last year. From the tree, to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and although it was just the three of us, it was perfect. And for me, once a puzzle comes out, the holidays are near; I grew up in a home that during the winter break we would spend endless hours together constructing puzzles. I know it probably came about as a means of my parents keeping our minds occupied and off the television, and possibly out of the hair while they dealt with the pandemonium of the holidays, but to this day, seeing a puzzle on a table screams Christmas to me just as much as the trimming the tree does.

A holiday tradition 
While in Hilton Head, we had an opportunity to meet with some of the neighbors and I feel like they just adopted us and took us in as part of their families. On Thanksgiving Day, one set of our neighbors, Sue and Tom, invited us over for pre-dinner cocktails, insisting we come over and meet their family. They were the true beacon of southern hospitality and made us feel so welcome on a day that we were missing those so dear to us. It meant so much to us to pop over for a bit and just feel that family-like setting and the two of them and their kindness really added all that much more of an appeal to our stop in South Carolina. Meeting them, their kids and grand-kids is such a cherished memory.

Bridge leading out to island reserve
Ethel even loved it here. I honestly couldn't even tell you what her favorite was, it could have been so many things:  warming in her bed in front of the fireplace, getting out for fun quiet walks of chasing squirrels and birds on the reserve island,  or her daily treats from the security guards. In fact she became obsessed with the security guard check in as we would return from excursions or errands and the security person would be there with a little treat for Ethel upon our return, they knew her just as much as she knew them and trying to contain her from hopping out of the car window and into their arms some days was near impossible.

Christmas Spirit
Not only did our Hilton Head home and community win us it over, but its location was beyond ideal. Everything was nearby: the beach was a quick thirty minute drive, the heart of Savannah was forty minutes away and Charleston was within a two hour drive. This is definitely a place I would love to spend more time in and even possibly settle, we absolutely loved it here. So if you y’all get a hankering for the south, here it is our holiday retreat in Moss Creek Plantation, you should definitely go and visit, the place is magical!