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Travel: Stately and Southern

Slow down in Charleston for historic homes, shopping treasures and food you won't forget.


Instead of staying at one of the city's intriguing inns, we chose Charleston Place, a stately hotel located in the heart of the city's historic district on the corners of King, Market and Meeting streets. The hotel's Italian marble lobby with a signature Georgian Open Arm staircase and 12-foot crystal chandelier was our first indication that we were in for a special treat. Charleston Place is the perfect marriage of continental ambience and Southern hospitality. Rooms are luxurious and service is top-notch. When temperatures topped out around 100 degrees, we retreated to the hotel's pool, which is adjacent to The Spa at Charleston Place, a great place to relax and unwind.

Another treat: Charleston Grill, the hotel's Mobil Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant (205 Meeting St., 843-724-8410). Chef Bob Waggoner, a delightful host who chats with dinner guests, is nationally known for his unique culinary style and innovative use of traditional Lowcountry ingredients. Our side dishes, for example, featured roasted corn with smoked bacon and caramelized Vidalia onions, and baked grits with sundried tomatoes, garlic and fresh goat cheese. We found each course heavenly. The biggest hit of the evening was the Frogmore Stew with local oversized shrimp, smoked sausage and fish.

The hotel sits directly across from Charleston's famous open-air market, where you'll find everything from handmade crafts and souvenirs to native sweet-grass baskets. These baskets date back generations. Weaving the baskets is an art form brought to the area from West Africa. Your best buy on these, however, is at Meeting Street and Broad Street near the Post Office where women sit and meticulously weave the baskets.

The King Street shopping district houses antique stores, major chains and home furnishings. Upper King (above Calhoun) is becoming known as the design district because of its increasing number of design shops. Lower King is known for antique stores, especially south of Market Street. Here you'll find shops such as George C. Birlant & Company, boasting Charleston's largest collection of 18th- and 19th-century English furniture and Charleston silver.

Historic homes are one of Charleston's main attractions. Our favorites included the Russell House at 51 Meeting St., a Federal style townhouse, completed in 1808. The free-flying staircase is a must-see. The Aiken-Rhett House at 48 Elizabeth St. — the entrance hall features cast-iron railings — is one of the city's most opulent mansions.

We also ventured to Charleston Harbor to tour the Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. You can also stop by the South Carolina Aquarium on Charleston Harbor.

Like all of our vacations, our itinerary revolved around food. Hungry for a southern brunch, we headed to the Hominy Grill, located in a restored home (207 Rutledge Ave., 843-937-0930). We opted for free-range eggs and double-cut bacon with sides of warm homemade biscuits and banana bread. Some of the locals recommended lunch at Gaulart & Maliclet Café Restaurant (known as Fast & French). The tiny, narrow restaurant offers counter seating. Sandwiches are served on fresh baguettes (98 Broad St., 843-577-9797).

Another tasty lunch spot is Jestine's Kitchen, a small restaurant that really does resemble mom's kitchen (251 Meeting St., 843-722-7224). A local favorite, Jestine's serves all types of vegetables, from fried green tomatoes and corn fritters to fried okra and collard greens. Lunch plates include Southern fried chicken and brown-sugar-glazed ham. We found it important to leave room for dessert — the pecan pie and banana pudding are worth the calories and the trip.

Contact the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 774-0006 orwww.CharlestonCVB.com.


Annual Fall Candlelight Tour of Charleston Homes and Gardens, Sept. 16-Oct. 23. Some of the most significant historic residences are open for formal evening tours. For more information, call (843) 722-4630 or visit:


Charleston Entertains Kitchen Tour, Nov. 13. The 4th annual "Charleston Entertains Kitchen Tour" is a flavorful twist on Charleston's house tours. Visitors can sample the Lowcountry's finest cuisine in some of the historic district's most magnificent houses. Tickets can be purchased at:

www.historiccharleston.org or by calling (843) 722-3405.

Charleston Antiques Symposium, March 12-16, 2005. Scholars, collectors and experts will be on hand. Noted speakers address the decorative arts of the past. Call (843) 953-7766 for more information and tickets.

Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 17-April 16, 2005. The 58th annual festival features the interiors and gardens of approximately 150 historic private houses during the city's blooming season. Call the Historic Charleston Foundation at (843) 722-3405 or visit:



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