Where to Stay in Charleston…The French Quarter Inn

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If you are looking to indulge in a relaxing, luxurious boutique hotel experience, look no further than the French Quarter Inn in Charleston, SC. From the moment we walked in the door, hotel staff went above and beyond to make our stay a true pleasure in every way. The hotel is conveniently located a few steps from Charleston’s most popular tourist attractions, yet is quiet and secluded.

We were celebrating our 20th anniversary and decided to spring for the Luxury King Balcony Suite. The spacious bedroom included a king-size bed with premium bedding, an armoire, desk, clock radio/docking station, mini-fridge, and in-room safe—not to mention, an incredible view. We had access to high-speed internet both in our room and in the hotel common areas. Each time we returned to our room after it had been serviced by housekeeping, soft music was playing. Turn-down service was provided as well—complete with a chocolate treat!

We had a full living room with a fireplace (a little warm for June, but aesthetically pleasing, nonetheless), flat screen TV, and private balcony access. The sofa included a pullout bed, and there was a blu-ray DVD player.

The large bathroom was fully stocked with plenty of fluffy towels, luxury spa products, waffle weave robes, and even a super fancy toilet paper receptacle!

I spent quite a lot of time sitting on our balcony. We were on the third floor overlooking a quiet street and a picturesque garden with beautiful wrought-iron gates and charming statuary.

A continental breakfast was served daily in an area adjacent to the hotel lobby. Selections included fresh fruit, pastries, cereal, boiled eggs, coffee, milk, a variety of juices, and more. We ate there several times and enjoyed the gorgeous weather each morning in the outdoor terrace dining area. There is an evening wine and cheese reception, and freshly baked cookies and milk are offered each evening in the lobby area. 24-hour coffee service is provided, as well as all-day availability of flavored iced teas and snacks.

The concierge arranged for our transportation to and from the airport and we never entered or left the hotel without a doorman opening the door for us and inquiring after our needs and comfort. We decided to extend our stay by one day, but our suite was not available so we were moved to a Traditional King Room. Honestly, the only difference was size! Though smaller than the suite, the traditional room was roomy and every bit as comfortable and commodious! We were 100% pleased with our stay at the French Quarter Inn and can’t wait to return on our next visit to Charleston!

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Where to Eat in Charleston, South Carolina…

Restaurants along Meeting Street

Restaurants along Market Street

As I have mentioned in the past, Charleston and Savannah run a pretty close race in the food department as each city offers excellent cuisine with broad appeal. I don’t know about you, but I am always eager to sample the regional favorites whenever I visit somewhere new—or old! Since I am a lover of seafood, low country cooking is right up my alley. Reviews of the following restaurants and eateries are based on my personal experience alone and are listed alphabetically rather than by preference. Always interested to hear your opinions and receive your recommendations!

Charleston Crab House:

We ate lunch here not once, but twice! Shrimp is one of my top two favorite foods so that, of course, is what I ordered. It was delicious, but…hubby’s Alaskan crab legs blew my shrimp out of the water! When we returned for the second time, you better believe I ordered crab legs! (I had fried green tomatoes for an appetizer and they were scrumptious!)

Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe:

I had heard about this storefront-turned-restaurant with a reputation for serving the best grits in Charleston (TripAdvisor reviews and a feature on Diners and Dives), so we decided to give it a whirl. Turns out, it was right around the corner from our hotel. The location leaves a bit to be desired—next door to a convenience store with most of the seating outside in the parking lot—but the food was delicious! We were early enough to snag an inside seat and the grits really were the best I had ever tasted…and that is saying something since I am a bit of a grits snob!

(The) Fudgery of Charleston:

We hit the ground running our first day in Charleston and covered a lot of the historic district right away. After all of that walking around, we were in need of some nourishment, so we stopped by The Fudgery, which is (too) conveniently located on Market Street adjacent to City Market and near our hotel. We each ordered a Mocha Java Chiller…with real mocha fudge mixed in! Mmmm, mmmm, good! Oh, and we had to sample the fudge. Good thing we had plenty of opportunities to walk off those calories!

Hall’s Chophouse:

We celebrated our anniversary at Hall’s Chophouse on King Street. The food was tasty and the service was amazing. The wait staff was extremely attentive, changing out our silverware between courses and making sure our glasses were always full. We started with She-Crab Soup—a Charleston signature dish—and also enjoyed a colossal shrimp cocktail. I chose Prime Rib for my main course and hubby ordered a Bone-In Rib Eye. The side of Lobster Mac and Cheese we ordered was so huge, we barely put a dent in it. The owner was actually working the door as we were leaving and engaged us in five or ten minutes of interesting conversation. All in all, a lovely dining experience.

Hank’s Seafood:

We selected Hank’s for our last evening meal (supper, to us Southerners) in Charleston. The food was not quite on par with Magnolias (see below), but good nonetheless. The atmosphere was a bit more formal that we expected—tiny tables with linen tablecloths and waiters in white jackets! I ate coarse-ground grits one last time and loved every delicious bite!

Magnolias:

This was my favorite eating experience during our time in Charleston, hands down! The restaurant is informally elegant and the service was superb. I ordered the Shellfish Over Grits (are you noticing a pattern here?) with sauteed shrimp, sea scallops and lobster, creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce, and fried spinach. The hubby chose Grilled Tuna and Arugula Salad with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and citrus-agave vinaigrette dressing. No taste bud-tempting meal is complete without equally tantalizing desserts, so we went for the Southern Pecan Pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Truly a palette-pleasing evening!

Mercato Italian Restaurant:

After a full day of sightseeing, we chose Mercato mainly because there was no wait. As it turned out, it was a fortuitous choice. The decor was warm and inviting, the ambiance low-key and relaxing. We had recently returned from Italy where we discovered what pizza is supposed to taste like, so all American-Italian restaurants were laboring under a not insignificant handicap by comparison. Despite that fact, we were satisfied with the quality and taste of our food at Mercato and were pleased to note that the crust was thin and crisp and the ingredients fresh and authentic!

Poogan’s Porch:

We enjoyed brunch at Poogan’s Porch on Queen Street one morning during our visit. The converted Victorian mansion makes a charming restaurant, and the Southern-style home-cooking is creative, at the very least. I passed on the Sunrise Shrimp and Grits (blue crab gravy, peppers, onions, sausage, poached eggs) and went for Ike’s Down Home Breakfast (two eggs, scrambled; grits; and applewood-smoked bacon), which was quite good.

Sticky Fingers:

The hubby is a barbeque connoisseur so we decided to give this place a go on the recommendation of our tour guide. I have had better barbeque (no big surprise since we hail from the Lone Star State) and I have had worse. At least they have a wide (and personalized) selection of sauces!

And, of course, no vacation is complete without Ice Cream!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on where to stay in Charleston…

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 2

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Don’t miss What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 1 for my first five recommendations.

Charleston’s City Market: I covered this sprawling shopping venue and its historical significance in a previous blog post. Centrally located near all of the main attractions, it is a fun way to while away a little time—maybe grab a snack, relax in the shade, or browse through the vendor stalls. A visit to the Confederate Museum on the upper floor of Market Hall offers a glimpse of life in Charleston during the Civil War era.

Carriage Tour or Pedicab Ride: Most every “touristy” town has a carriage tour option these days, it seems. It is actually an efficient way to get the lay of the land and see what’s out there. We booked our tour online for Charleston, but I think we would have been fine just walking up. There are several different carriage companies and most available drivers congregate near City Market. We opted for a “buggy built for two” with a private guide. We learned many interesting things that we otherwise would never have known about the city. We made use of the pedicab service when we needed a quick ride from point to point. Thomas, our driver, had a great personality and after the first ride,we called for him specifically. On our last evening in town, we hired him for an hour-long ride around the historic district at dusk. He is a native Charlestonian so provided interesting commentary, pointing out various sights—including his childhood home, his grandmother’s house, and the high school he attended!

Do Some Shopping: From art and antiques to souvenirs and moon pies—and everything in between—Charleston offers plenty of shopping opportunities. We bought clothing for the hubby, the requisite souvenirs for the folks back home, and for me, a Southern tradition—RC Cola and a moon pie from the Moon Pie General Store!

Tour Charleston’s Historic Churches: Charleston is known as “The Holy City” for good reason. It is a testament to the old cliche, “a church on every corner”…or at least every other corner! We toured several of the beautiful downtown churches during our private walking tour and were fascinated and amazed by their histories.

Visit Charleston’s Historic Plantations: There are a number of plantations in the Charleston area, but they are some distance from the historic city center. We actually saved visiting them until our second visit since we did not have a car the first time around. There may be bus tours available from the historic district, but I don’t know that for sure. We settled on Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place as our tour choices. As a native Louisianian, I am accustomed to visiting plantations with intact original buildings, so was surprised to learn that such is often not the case in the Carolinas and Georgia. Because the Civil War action was much more intense in this area, many of the homes were destroyed by the Yankees. These two plantations are no exception, which makes their histories all the more interesting. (The current homes on both properties date to before the Civil War, but are not the original family home.) I plan to cover these and other plantations in more depth in future posts.

C.S.S. Hunley: I was disappointed that we weren’t able to see this Confederate submarine that is undergoing restoration and is on exhibit in Charleston. If you are interested in history, warfare, or the military, you will want to see the Hunley.

Would love to hear your impressions of Charleston as well as your recommendations regarding what to see and do. Check back for my upcoming review of the Charleston food scene…

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 1

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The hubby and I spent a week in the Charleston Historic District and did all of our sightseeing and getting around on foot or in a pedicab. When we returned the following year for the express purpose of touring a couple of the plantations, we rented a car. There is much to do in Charleston and you can easily spend a week to ten days and not cover all of the tourist ground. In this post I will discuss the first five items on my “What to See and Do in Charleston” list…

Walking Tour of the Historic District: I made arrangements ahead of time for a private walking/photography tour with local guide, Joyce Aungst. She met us at our hotel at the outset of the three-hour excursion, which was both agreeable and convenient. We covered a considerable amount of territory in that length of time and Joyce offered photography tips as well as excellent commentary. We toured St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Rainbow Row, the Pink House, the Dock Street Theater, Washington Square, and City Hall, and saw many other locations of historical significance. Joyce’s knowledge certainly enhanced our visit and gave us an expanded perspective of Charleston and its history. If you prefer not to schedule a private tour, public tours are available through various guides and tour companies. At the very least, visit the Visitor Center and pick up a walking map and some brochures.

The Battery and White Point Gardens: Home to some of the city’s oldest and finest residential dwellings and a site fraught with historical significance, the Battery is my favorite place to visit in Charleston. Whether strolling among the grand oak trees in the gardens or traversing the promenade along Charleston Harbor, I can almost hear the swishing of hoop skirts and the pounding of artillery as I am transported back to the 1860s. (I covered the Battery in greater depth in a previous post…Strolling along the Battery…Living like it’s 1861.)

Waterfront Park: This unique and beautiful park stretches for a half mile along the Cooper River and includes an iconic Pineapple Fountain (a symbol of Southern hospitality), a tree-lined park area with benches and walkways, a lengthy esplanade, a covered pier with hanging porch swings, and a floating dock that offers an unobstructed view of the water. My only complaint with this attractive waterfront venue is its popularity—no sooner does someone vacate one of the porch swings than someone else slips into their place. We never did get to do any swinging. Yet another reason to return to Charleston…in hopes of finally having access to one of the swings!

Fort Sumter: As the setting for one of the defining moments in American history, Fort Sumter is certainly worthy of a visit. The experience begins on the mainland with a tour of the museum followed by a half-hour narrated ferry ride across the harbor. (See a previous post, As seen from Charleston Harbor…, for more about that.) Once you arrive on the island, you may join a guided tour or explore on your own. The fort itself has suffered damage, deterioration, and reconfiguration over the past two hundred-plus years, but remains as a reminder of one of the darkest periods in our country’s history. (Note: You must book through Fort Sumter Tours as it is the only company authorized to actually dock at the fort. Other harbor cruises merely pass by the island.)

Tour Historic Homes: Many of the antebellum homes in Charleston offer tours to the public. We visited two homes with intriguing histories and incredible architecture. The magnificent Edmondston-Alston House is located on the Battery and boasts amazing views from the piazza out across the harbor. (The carriage house has been converted to a Bed and Breakfast.) The Nathaniel Russell House is a Federal-style townhouse on Meeting Street.  Its free-flying staircase is masterfully crafted and quite unbelievable! I recommend both tours as both were informative and engaging.

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 2 coming up next…

America’s Friendliest Cities…#1 Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston

Some time ago, I posted the 2014 list of the Top Ten Friendliest Cities in America (according to a survey by Conde Nast Traveler), and pointed out that eight of the top ten are located in the South. Yay for the South! I have shared my impressions and recommendations of seven of those cities—some in greater depth than others—and have finally arrived at the #1 city on the list (and my personal favorite), Charleston, South Carolina. I have blogged about Charleston before (check tag list to read previous blog posts), but will share new information and personal insights in upcoming posts. To me, Charleston epitomizes the grace, elegance, refinement, strength, and courage of the South—particularly the women who have long been the backbone of the culture. (No offence intended toward Southern men.) Charleston exudes dignity, charm, and fierce determination as personified by the row of antebellum mansions regally positioned shoulder to shoulder along the battery, united in their stand against the ravages of time, the elements, and a shifting cultural tide. If ever I want to escape the here and now, my destination of choice is Charleston!

What to see and do and where to eat coming up…

 

The Savannah vs. Charleston Debate…

Savannah and Charleston: Rival Cities of the South

Savannah and Charleston: Rival Cities of the South

As we reach the top of the list of “America’s Most Friendly Cities,” I feel inclined to devote a bit more time and space to the Top Two…Savannah, Georgia (#2) and Charleston, South Carolina (#1).

After the hubby and I visited Charleston for the first time—and fell absolutely, head-over-heels in love with its beauty, charm, and culture—people began telling us that we had to visit Savannah, as it is the other side of the same coin and a worthy contender in hospitality and appeal. So, we set about planning an equivalent trip to the Peach State right away. There are many noticeable similarities between the two cities:

  • both are dotted with lovely and gracious Southern antebellum homes
  • each boasts a rich history and strong influence over Southern (as well as American) culture
  • impressive churches hold court on every other corner (or so it seems)
  • between the two locations, there are more eating establishments (serving truly mouth-watering cuisine) than you can shake a stick at
  • both cities cater to the tourist crowd while maintaining a sense of identity and antiquity—a delicate balance indeed

But, when all was said and done, Charleston was our clear favorite. I have since reflected upon the reasons for that and will attempt to articulate them—without diminishing Savannah and its appeal in the process. I can’t help but wonder if my enjoyment of Savannah would have been greater had we visited there first. I say that because during our visit I continually found myself comparing it to its (in my opinion) more classy northern sister. Here are a few of my personal observations…

  • The atmosphere in Charleston is what I would describe as refined and dignified. Savannah, on the other hand, is more casual—a real party town. (A major appeal for many people is the “open container” law that enables pedestrians to walk throughout the historic district with alcoholic beverages in hand.)
  • Charleston’s historic district is pristine and clean, its buildings spic and span, its gardens perfectly manicured and tended. Savannah, on the other hand, has many beautiful homes and gardens but doesn’t quite hit the Charleston mark of excellence. Might have had something to do with the abundance of Spanish moss draped over everything, but that doesn’t seem likely as I am a Louisiana native and find the Spanish moss there to be an enhancer rather than a detractor.
  • We toured both cities on foot and I felt perfectly safe at all times in historic Charleston. While I never felt unsafe, per se, in Savannah, there was a much larger number of panhandlers and street people. Granted, beyond being asked for money on a couple of occasions (which I do not like) we were not bothered.
  • The bottom line is that I found Savannah to be sort of creepy, for lack of a better description. Perhaps I was influenced by my reading of “The Book” (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”—John Berendt’s popular exploration of the city’s darker side) shortly before our visit. Maybe it was the proud proclamation by the trolley tour guide that the city rivals New Orleans as the voodoo capital of the country. I don’t know…maybe it was the cemetery-turned-park that we passed through each time we traveled from our townhouse to the waterfront and back.  (I actually found myself casting furtive glances over my shoulder inside the lovely condo that we rented for the week…it just didn’t feel like we were alone! Crazy, I know, but seeing the open-top “ghost tour” hearse gliding down the street at twilight each evening was a tad disconcerting as well!)

Despite the unusual and surprising sense of unease and slight foreboding that I experienced during our visit, we found plenty of interesting and enjoyable things to do in Savannah. I look forward to exploring some of those—as well as Charleston’s many attractions—in upcoming posts. Also, the residents of Savannah are, indeed, friendly and gracious and the city’s ranking as number two on the America’s Friendliest Cities list is well-deserved. I would also add that while Charleston has a stellar restaurant selection, I found the food in Savannah to be just a bit better!

As always, I would be interested to hear your opinions and impressions of these two Southern gems. Don’t miss my review of the Top Two Cities in upcoming posts…

Wrought Iron Artistry…Charleston, S.C.

Charleston Wrought Iron

Ornamental ironwork appears throughout historic Charleston…in balconies, gates, fences, stair railings, window grilles, decorative panels, boot scrapers, and hitching posts.  By definition, wrought iron is iron that has been heated and worked by hand and hammer.  Brought to Charleston by Europeans, it served as a practical and aesthetically appealing replacement for wooden fences, railings, and balconies—which quickly rotted in the tropical climate.  The city’s earliest ironwork was destroyed by fire or requisitioned during wartime, but examples remain dating back as far as the 1760s.  The notably fine craftsmanship of its wrought iron masterpieces ranks as one of Charleston’s most impressive architectural treasures.

 

The use of wrought iron transitioned from primarily decorative to almost purely functional following the infamous—and unsuccessful—slave uprising plot orchestrated by Denmark Vesey in 1822.  After the perpetrator confessed his plan to murder Charleston families in their homes, many residents installed sharp iron spikes atop their fences and gates as seen in the photo below.  These remain an effective theft-deterrent to this day.