Looking for an authentic Charleston cultural immersion? Book a sophisticated three-day getaway at Planters Inn, voted the #3 Best U.S. Small City Hotel in the Travel + Leisure 2015 World’s Best Awards.
Touch down at Charleston International Airport, which receives 69 direct flights each day from a variety of East Coast and Midwestern cities. Make the short 20-minute trip to the heart of the Historic District and leave your luggage with the bellhop at Planters Inn, the only Relais & Châteaux property in South Carolina. The intimate 64-room Planters Inn boutique hotel is housed in a meticulously restored and exquisitely furnished 1844 building that Travel + Leisure describes as “akin to an overnight with well-to-do friends in their old Charleston mansion.”
Head toward the leafy Hampton Park neighborhood for breakfast at airy Park Café, a favorite spot to enjoy surprisingly simple yet refined meals in an understated setting. The avocado toast topped with a poached egg is a delicious and healthy way to begin the day.
After a leisurely start to your vacation, venture to Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark that is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. North America’s first camellia plants—gifts from Andre Michaux, appointed by Louis XVI as France’s Royal Botanist—still bloom beautifully here. Spend the morning soaking in the majestic raw natural beauty of this sprawling estate perched on the banks of the Ashley River. Step back in time and envision the self-sustaining lifestyle of a bustling plantation with pottery, weaving, blacksmithing, candle-dipping and open fire cooking methods demonstrations. Wander amid the free-grazing sheep, cashmere goats, and peacocks at this picturesque place.
Once you return downtown, head to the world’s first Le Creuset signature boutique, where the iconic colorful enameled cast-iron cookware is on dazzling display. Ready to do a little more shopping? Wander one block further to lower King Street, an esteemed antiques district with the likes of George C. Birlant & Co., maker of the Charleston Battery Bench—the quintessential Lowcountry garden decoration. Stop in Shirtini, the tiny nook of crisply pressed, classically styled blouses. Swing through Rapport, a high-end women’s clothier offering luxury labels along with high-touch service and creative styling for Charleston’s discerning shoppers. Gaze at the treasure trove of heirloom silver, estate jewelry, classic gifts, and eye-popping baubles at Croghan’s Jewel Box, the 100-year-old shopping tradition currently managed by the fourth generation of the shop’s founding family.
Now that you are laden with shopping backs, retreat to your Planters Inn guest room with its soaring 10-foot high ceilings, custom crown molding, and Baker Historic Charleston Collection furnishings including a handcrafted four-poster bed.
After a quick refresh, it is time to enjoy a sumptuous dinner at Peninsula Grill. Here, flickering copper carriage lanterns illuminate the lush garden courtyard designed by noted Charleston landscape architect Sheila Wertimer. Meander along the hand-pointed historic brick alleyway, which leads to a gleaming green door adorned with a burnished gold fleur-de-lis. Inside, the ambiance is supper club chic with velvet-lined walls in shimmering oyster tones, woven seagrass, and indigenous cypress molding. Executive Chef Graham Dailey serves sophisticated interpretations of Southern cuisine. Be sure to save room for a slice of the 12-layer Ultimate Coconut Cake®!
After enjoying a light breakfast of house-made granola and fresh fruit in the Planters Inn courtyard, set off with Charleston Photography Tours for a fantastic morning excursion that will give you a new view on the area’s evocative beauty. With knowledge of hidden local gems coupled with the insights of internationally award-winning photographers, this outfit will ensure your vacation photographs achieve new heights. What’s your ideal “postcard shot”? From historic ruins and plantations to shrimp boats and seascapes, you’ll see Charleston in a new—and photo perfect—light.
Lunch takes you off the beaten path to Cru Café nestled inside a classic 18th century Charleston single-style home that is an easy two block stroll from the hotel. Locals like to sit on the sunny porch and watch horse-drawn carriages amble down Anson Street while enjoying the ever-popular duck confit arugula salad with candied pecans, tomatoes, and fried onions in a port wine vinaigrette. The shrimp B.L.T. with pepper jack cheese and beurre blanc on sourdough is another crowd pleaser.
As the sun begins to inch toward the horizon, take to the water for an evening harbor cruise aboard the 84-foot, three-masted wooden Schooner Pride. Sail past historic landmarks, barrier islands, and one of the longest cable-stay bridges in North America. This is the perfect vantage to really enjoy and appreciate the “Holy City” skyline, where church steeples—not skyscrapers—are the tallest structures in town.
Go from being on the water to feasting on the ocean’s bounty at Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, voted “Best Seafood Restaurant in Charleston” for 16 consecutive years by readers of the Charleston City Paper. The bones of this late 19th century cotton warehouse give it innate appeal. High ceilings and leaded glass windows contribute to its airy feel, while antique tile, pine plank floors, and copper accents contribute to the polished atmosphere. The food? Classic Charleston seafood dishes, naturally! Try the fried oysters with green tomatoes, sweet corn, pickled okra, and blue cheese or Seafood a la Wando, a house specialty.
Begin your final day at Hominy Grill with Robert Stehling, whose deft touch with turning Southern ingredients into soulful food helped earn him the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast Award. He’s been cooking up a record number of shrimp-n-grits plates—a true Charleston original—ever since. As Stehling says, “grits are good for you!”
Next, head to another Charleston original: the Aiken-Rhett House Museum. Built in 1818, this sprawling double house and associated outbuildings are a premier example of urban life during the plantation age. The home is an active restoration project for Historic Charleston Foundation’s archivists and preservationists, and a tour of this in situ manse is a fascinating walk through splendor frozen in time.
The light-filled Blossom restaurant is the ideal spot to enjoy a light, leisurely lunch before wandering through French Quarter art galleries. Enjoy a lump crab cocktail and glass of rosé wine before canvassing the neighborhood to see artistry on display at Helena Fox Fine Art, Ann Long Fine Art, Robert Lange Studios, and the Corrigan Gallery.
On your final evening in Charleston, walk one block north of Planters Inn and tuck into acclaimed FIG restaurant, which stands for Food is Good. Owned and opened by Chef Mike Lata, who won the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast Award in 2009, this neighborhood-style bistro is now presided over by Chef Jason Stanhope, who won the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast Award in 2015. The atmosphere is laid-back but the focus on food is zealously passionate.
BEFORE YOU PACK YOUR BAGS
No visit is complete without picking up a few special souvenirs. Make sure to leave room in your luggage for a pair of sterling silver oyster shell cuff links from Croghan’s Jewel Box and a hand-forged bronze oyster spork by Ann Ladson (available at the Preservation Society of Charleston gift shop). A sweetgrass basket from the Charleston City Market is the most iconic Charleston souvenir; the first baskets were woven during the plantation age to separate grains of rice from the chaff after harvest. Pick up a few pieces of palm colored cookware at Le Creuset—the shop will ship the items directly to your home. Likewise, Peninsula Grill will ship an entire Ultimate Coconut Cake® directly to your doorstep! The towering cake (called “A little slice of heaven…” by The New York Times) serves 16 pieces, making it the perfect way to share your Charleston vacation with friends and family back home. Bon appétit!