City Seeker, Destinations

5 Days in Charleston, South Carolina

August 17, 2015 • By

Mr. H recently had business near Charleston, South Carolina and I went along because – well, you know – any excuse for a road trip!  The business part of the trip ended on a Thursday, so we decided to take a long weekend exploring Charleston and the surrounding areas.

Historic Houses of Charleston, SC

Historic Houses of Charleston, SC

Even on a road trip I love a luxury hotel as much as the next girl, but I don’t like to pay rack rate. So I did a quick search of Jetsetter.com‘s carefully curated boutique hotels and luxury properties to see if anything was available on short notice. I found two hotels in the Charleston area that looked particularly nice. We couldn’t choose between them, so we decided to split our five days up between the city itself and a more rural property, simply because they both looked like fabulous places.

On our way in, we had lunch at a road trip favorite about two hours outside of town. Miller’s Bread-Basket in Blackville, SC is a small, meat-and-three type establishment featuring Amish/Mennonite food. The tiny town is about 45 miles off the Interstate.  Whenever we can, Mr. H and I try to allow enough time to travel the backroads and we love finding unexpected places like Miller’s. If you’re driving into Charleston from Atlanta, Macon or parts West, it’s worth a stop – and sure beats many road trip options.

Cupcakes at Miller's Bread-Basket in Blackville, SC

Cupcakes at Miller’s Bread-Basket in Blackville, SC

Miller’s is not fancy by any stretch. It’s a daily buffet in a rural outpost. But the people are warm and friendly and the food is fresh and wholesome. The butternut bread is a specialty and doesn’t disappoint. And you’ll definitely want a cupcake! Flavors change daily. We had a nice conversation with our smiling waitress. Then we hit the road again.

Blackville, SC - on the way to Charleston

I love the textures on this old door in Blackville, SC – on the way to Charleston

Our first Charleston hotel was The Inn at Middleton Place.  This property is uniquely located on the grounds of a National Historic Landmark that’s also home to one of America’s oldest landscaped gardens.

Historic Gardens of Middleton Place

Pleasure Gardens of Middleton Place

The historic house has been overseen by the same family for over 320 years.

Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark

Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark

The grounds, as you might expect are truly amazing. As a hotel guest you have full access, as well as a pass to tour the historic house museum.

Gate at Historic Middleton Place in Charleston, SC

Gate at Historic Middleton Place in Charleston, SC

Our first stop, however, was our room, which was located in a clean-lined, modern building facing the Ashley River. The modern architecture was perfectly at home in the landscape…

Modern Architecture of The Inn at Middleton Place

Modern Architecture of The Inn at Middleton Place

Every review we’d read about this property mentioned the awesome location. But we’d also noticed that bathroom fixtures and other details were often described as dated.  Hotel bath tubs – are a big deal to me but since we’d gotten a fabulous price and everything else looked amazing, we decided to see for ourselves.

The giant, tiled bathroom did give off a bit of a hippie-chic vibe that didn’t trouble me at all.  It had clean lines, lots of tile, glass brick and wood accents and it came with great amenities.  Outside, the humid climate and lush vegetation also meant that some exterior surfaces could use a spruce up.  But overall, the place was amazing and offered a lot of value for the price.

The room itself was furnished in a minimalistic, modern Shaker style that seemed perfectly appropriate to the space.  Here’s our corner room that overlooked the manicured lawn and the river. Everything inside was spotless and tidy.

Our Room Facing the Ashley River at The Inn at Middleton Place, near Charleston, SC

Our Room Facing the Ashley River at The Inn at Middleton Place, near Charleston, SC

The first order of business, after a long day of travel was to check out the facilities.

Mr. H was ready for a swim.

Making a Splash at Middleton Place

Making a Splash at Middleton Place

The pool area was surrounded by grass and trees, with the river running along one side and the hotel visible on a hill above.  There was no one at the pool when we arrived, so we were able to relax and unwind completely undisturbed.

The Swimming Pool at Middleton Place near Charleston, SC

The Swimming Pool at Middleton Place near Charleston, SC

In the afternoon, we stopped by the Lodge, which opens for a complimentary guest reception every night.

Later, we changed and went to dinner at the restaurant on the historic grounds. To get there, you walk along a foot path by the water and over a bridge. The ten minute walk was a lovely way to settle in and acclimate to the slow country pace.

The next morning after breakfast we decided to take advantage of our day pass to Middleton and take a tour of the gardens.  It looked a bit gray out, but the hotel offers umbrellas around every corner.

Umbrellas at the Read in this Classic Umbrella Stand

Umbrellas at the Read in this Classic Umbrella Stand

Almost immediately, we were caught in a tropical-style downpour and had to take shelter in the old mill house.  (We found this rather romantic…)

Waiting Out the Rain

Waiting Out the Rain

While we were there, I managed to take lots of photos…peeling plaster, brick and other wall textures that I may turn into patterns later…a butterfly who joined us inside the dry building…and then this totally impromptu shot through the glass.

I Captured This Vintage View While Waiting Out a Rainstorm - It Feels Like an Outtake from Downton Abbey

I Captured This Vintage View While Waiting Out a Rainstorm – It Feels Like an Outtake from Downton Abbey

I think it looks like a vintage photograph. When I saw these beautiful strangers walking along the ridge with their umbrellas, I felt as if I’d stepped back in time.  I’d love to thank my models – if only I knew who they were!

The storm was over in minutes and we were one our way again, with clear skies for the rest of the day.

Here’s what the Mill House looks like from the outside. Beautiful, classic architecture surrounded by 65 acres of centuries-old pleasure gardens.

The Mill House at Middleton Place

The Mill House at Middleton Place

We spent the whole afternoon touring the gardens and then had lunch in the restaurant.  Middleton Place sources much of their food from local farmers, which is a nice touch.  Everything was fresh and good.

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Clouds Reflected in the Butterfly Pond at Middleton Place, near Charleston, South Carolina

We toured the old rice fields, learned about the Middletons who signed the Declaration of Independence and read about the enslaved Africans on whose backs the family wealth was won. A tour guide in the house museum told us about the library full of classic volumes that had been burned during the Civil War and showed us a painting that was stolen and later returned to the family.

Along the way we saw peacocks, egrets, heritage breed chickens and more.

A Peacock on the Grounds of Middleton Place, Charleston, SC

A Peacock on the Grounds of Middleton Place, Charleston, SC

The next morning was bright and sunny – perfect for a private Salt Marsh Tour with Captain Luke Pope of the Charleston Kayak Company. We had Captain Luke to ourselves and spent about two and a half hours exploring the wildlife and beaches of the Charleston area.  The company, which is headquartered at Folly Beach, also offers naturalist tours, kayak trips and more.

Captain Luke trolling for wildlife specimans

Captain Luke trawling for wildlife specimens

We visited an excellent shelling beach and picked out some natural souvenirs. We saw a lighthouse that will likely only survive a few more years due to soil erosion, watched dozens of dolphin at play, enjoyed the sun and had a quick swim.  The boat tour is great if you are a first timer to the Charleston area.

Lighthouse as seen from the salt marsh near Charleston, SC

Lighthouse as seen from the salt marsh near Charleston, SC

The next morning – our last at this property – we opted for horseback riding at the Middleton Equestrian Center.

Equestrian Center at The Inn at Middleton Place in South Carolina

Equestrian Center at The Inn at Middleton Place in South Carolina

It was a sweltering day. Our trip was leisurely – perhaps too slow considering the extreme heat – but we enjoyed it. We saw egrets, an alligator and more. As our group traveled through woodland shade we were fairly comfortable, but in the open fields the sun beat down mercilessly. We had already checked out of our room, so from the barn we headed straight into town for our next Charleston hotel experience.

We arrived at the Belmond Charleston Place feeling hot, disheveled and underdressed. But the valet, bellman and reception clerk all treated us like royalty.

Lobby of the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel

Lobby of the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel

The lobby featured a massive crystal chandelier, marble floors and lovely carpets. And we were pleasantly surprised when we were told we’d been upgraded!

(Everyone always talks about those three little words that mean so much.  Well, “you’ve been upgraded” has to rank right up there near the top, don’t you think?)  This place was so special, it will get its own Hotel Love feature tomorrow! It was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The Belmond is at the center of everything, close to Charleston’s best shopping streets and restaurants. King Street and Market Street shops offer everything from high end designer fashion to local crafts.

We opted for an early dinner and on our way to a recommended seafood restaurant, we stumbled upon Brasserie Gigi, a classic French cafe that will be on our Charleston list from here on in.

The Interior of Gigi's Brasserie, an Excellent French bistro and bar in Charleston, SC

The Interior of Btasserie Gigi, an Excellent French Bistro and Bar in Charleston, SC

The interior was classic French and so was the food. We loved the place so much we ended up going twice in two days, sampling everything from the Seafood Tower (with a glass of Veuve Cliquot), a French Dip Sandwich, the Salade Maison, the Lobster Salad and of course, the Moules Frites. Exquisite. Everything was perfect, including the service. (Bonus: Our bartender looked like a model for a Pinterest “lumbersexual” hipster/beard board.)

Not Our Actual Bartender

(Not Our Actual Bartender)

While in town, we also played serious tourists and took Grayline’s “Charleston City Tour and Historic Fort Sumter”. The city’s visitor center arranged for the shuttle to pick us up at our hotel (no extra charge). The tour lasts about four hours and was an excellent way to get the lay of the land.

We visited the Fort where the first shots of the Civil War were fired and learned fascinating details that I, despite being a pretty avid history buff, hadn’t heard before. (Don’t let me spoil it for you – take the tour!)

We also got great views of Charleston’s classic old homes and heard their tales.

This Bright Pink House is Actually a Classic Antebellum Home in Charleston, SC

This Bright Pink House is Actually a Classic Antebellum Home in Charleston, SC

We even had an unexpected meeting with one of Charleston’s favorite sons. Stephen Colbert was in town, visiting his childhood home!

Stephen Colbert in front of his childhood home in Charleston, SC

Stephen Colbert in front of his childhood home in Charleston, SC

Colbert was friendly and funny – and quick to tell us that everything our driver had said so far was completely made up, much to our tour guide’s delight.

Dinner on our last night in Charleston was at Hank’s Seafood Restaurant.  Located in a turn-of-the-century warehouse, the restaurant is reminiscent of classic fish houses of the 1940’s, complete with starched white tablecloths, leather booths, vintage fixtures and a polished wood bar. We hadn’t made a reservation (make one if you go!) so we ended up sitting at one of the shared, high top bar tables. Even these are hard to come by as things get busy. We enjoyed the Charleston She Crab Soup, Tuna Ceviche and salads.

The next morning, we made a special pilgrimage to Charleston’s 199-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to pay our respects to Pastor Clementa Pinckney and the other victims of the Charleston Church shooting. A sad epitaph to our journey – but something we felt we had to do.

All in all, our opinion of Charleston is that five days is not nearly enough time to experience its history and charm.  We’re already discussing when we’ll be able to go again.  And watch for tomorrow’s Hotel Love post on the Belmond Charleston Place.

If you’re planning your own trip, Charleston’s official tourism site is: www.Charleston.com.

We booked our accommodations through JetSetter.com. To see their current deals on boutique hotels and luxury properties in Charleston and around the world, click below.

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Save up to 40% on top hotels – JetSetter

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