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 

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