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first thing you might like to know about Charleston, in South Carolina is that
it began life in 1670 as Charles Town – in honour of King Charles II. For quite
understandable reasons, it changed its name to Charleston in 1783, after the
Revolutionary War (the one we call The War of Independence).
much is certain. Equally certain is the fact that it was never, ever, called
Carolopolis. But that’s the name you’ll see time and time again on the useful
plaques that have been put on many of the city’s old buildings by the South
Carolina Historical Society. Try as I might, I could not find an explanation for
this bit of historical fakery.
fakery, as it happens, because Charleston has enough real history for itself
and a couple of other cities, too. It also basks in the reputation of being
America’s most friendly city, or its most polite and hospitable city, depending
on which travel magazine you read.
Half of all the slaves entering America did so through its harbour. America’s oldest theatre (opened in 1736 and still going strong) is in Dock Street. The first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter.
the USA’s first game of golf was played here.
I have a couple of riders to add to those last two items. The 1861 siege of
Fort Sumter was an inconsequential affair in which no casualties were suffered.
It was only during the surrender ceremony that a couple of chaps died owing to
the accidental explosion of a gun.
try as I may, I haven’t been able to pin down the date and location of that
first golf game. But more than one local official made the claim, and it was
printed on the little slip of paper on my pillow at the Bennett, which
came with a piece of fancy chocolate and tomorrow’s weather forecast. So it
must be true.
Hotel Bennett is very large and very grand and could be a bit overwhelming if you let
it. It is quite new, too, and all set to make a reputation for itself. The
quality of its service is high, as are its public rooms and bedrooms.
was terrific. It had all the conveniences you would expect in a top quality
establishment, including one of those machines that gurgle and hiss and turn
little foil and plastic sachets into coffee. The Bennett is so smart that I
half expected George Clooney to appear from a cupboard and operate the machine
you need to be on top of your game when switching the lights on and off,
drawing the curtains, or operating the television and the air conditioning.
Because it is all done by way of a handset resting on its cradle on the bedside
table. It took me a little while to work it out, and I hadn’t truly mastered it
by the time I left after three nights. I have friends who would be overwhelmed
by that little gadget and, most likely, would spend their time at the Bennett
with the lights and the television set permanently on and the curtains
permanently drawn – or vice versa.
the Bennett will more than suit folk who like their hotels a little bit over
the top, and I know there are plenty of those who follow my musings.
smaller, older and more stylish choice would be the French Quarter Inn,
located, as its name implies, within walking distance of the Old Town and its
many attractions. I took to it from the moment I walked through its doors, and
was not surprised to learn it has been rated Charleston’s top hotel by a couple
of US travel magazines and comparison sites and, again according to some, the
third best hotel in the entire USA.
fact, so impressed was I by the French Quarter Inn that I did what I very
rarely do, and drew it to the attention of a couple of folk I know who are in
the business of selling holidays to the USA. If, as I expect, more UK visitors
choose Charleston because of British Airway’s new direct flight from Heathrow,
I hope my chums will get on that bandwagon.
direct flight, which I mentioned in a previous ‘Now and Then’ was the reason a
posse of fellow travel writers descended on Charleston in April. (Is ‘posse’
the correct collective? How about ‘a rambling’ or ‘a scribbling’?)
there, we held our Annual General Meeting in the Gibbes Museum, which is one of
the best in a city which boasts of many. A tremendous benefit is that the
majority of museums and churches and other historic buildings are within
strolling distance of each other in the downtown heart of Charleston – the
aforementioned French Quarter, which has, too, plenty of restaurants and shops
and even a few market halls such as you find in old towns back home.
drawn carriages clop about and clutter up the cobbled heart of Charleston. I
was told five different companies operate these tourist rides, which I think is
probably too many. Attempts to graft traditional attractions
on to real history are rarely successful, and I’m inclined to side with the
growing number of local folk who’d be happy to see the back of them.
whilst those words are in my thoughts, their passing would also bring the
demise of the equine sanitation vans, whose drivers are tasked with hosing
horse pooh from the streets, and have ‘Doody Calls’ printed in large letters on
their sides – the vans, I mean, not the drivers.)
are old Plantation Houses to be visited – I chose Middleton Place and found it
fascinating – and among Charleston’s other attractions are the aircraft carrier
Yorktown, a working distillery called High Wire (where we enjoyed a very well
organised party) and many first class restaurants. The two that stick in my
memory are the Grocery restaurant on Cannon Street, and Halls Chophouse on King
the latter, choosing the smallest steak from the display, I discovered it was
is unique. It carries its history lightly, and seems to have come to terms with
its past links to the slave trade. It is a city in which you can eat and drink
well, having discovered the superiority of locally brewed ales over America’s
so many American cities, it does not overwhelm you. I can’t wait to go again.
You may also find interesting:
- Charleston, South Carolina – a honeymoon for Silver Travellers by Louise Hudson
- Huey and Charleston by John Carter
- Charleston – elegance and irony by Roger Bray
- Top tips for visiting Up Country South Carolina by Godfrey Hall
- Charleston – the fruits of pluff by Roger Bray
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