Think of America’s Deep South and it conjures images of country music, plantation houses and fried chicken, but the reality is so much more.
Sarah Woodthorpe peels back the layers to discover history, architecture, creative arts, award-winning cuisine and all-pervading music. With the added benefit of direct flight access from London via a seasonal flight to Charleston, this diverse area of America is ripe for a visit.
Historic downtown Charleston is an 18th century walled city located on a small peninsula featuring a range of architecture from the elegant French Quarter to the Battery districts, defined by cobblestone streets, pastel-hued antebellum houses and secret gardens hidden behind ornate wrought-iron gates. On a walking tour, I was privileged to experience an afternoon of Gullah singing, cuisine and culture with a local storyteller focusing on the importance of the African-American descendants of the area.
Charleston cuisine is inﬂuenced by its coastal location and the sway of soul food, with meals as rich in history as they are in ﬂavour. The city may have evolved into a sophisticated destination in recent years, but classic dishes like shrimp and grits as well as crab soup remain staples of the local gourmet scene. Cru Café, located in an inconspicuous two-storey historic home with a peeling painted porch, is one of the best examples – a reservation for lunch is a must.
Low Country Luxury
Leaving the pastel colours of Charleston behind, I headed south passing the Low Country beaches and barrier islands of South Carolina’s Atlantic coastline. The area is a popular playground for travellers from all over the United States but it’s easy to find secluded beaches with amazing views. Famous for its natural beauty, Kiawah Island is a short drive from downtown Charleston. The island features maritime forests, preserved marshes, and rolling sand dunes along with a resort which is home to one of the best golf courses in the state. An afternoon kayaking along the estuary took me to a sandbar accessible only from the river to spot Atlantic bottle-nose dolphins.
Further south I reached the coastal city of Savannah which rivals Charleston’s reputation as one of the south’s most charming towns. Spanish moss-draped oaks stand majestically over the cobbled streets, squares and parks of Savannah like the cover of a great book. An afternoon spent with a local under the shade of an oak tree painted the historical importance of the Girl Scouts founder’s birthplace alongside Revolutionary and Civil War historical sites.
Nightlife and New Orleans
I left the Low Country sedate pace behind for a connecting flight to New Orleans. World-renowned for its music, Creole cuisine, distinctive dialect, and its annual festivals, most notably Mardi Gras, the city is unmatched in the US due to its unique cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. The historic heart of the city is the French Quarter, known for its French and Spanish Creole architecture and vibrant nightlife. Moving away from the tourist hot spot, neon lights, balconies and bars of Bourbon Street, the French Quarter is steeped in history. The distinct design, traditional shotgun-style houses, eccentric characters and museums showcase the true culture and colour of the city. No visit to New Orleans is complete without experiencing the nightlife.
Widely regarded as the birthplace of, and best place to hear jazz, New Orleans boasts a colourful musical heritage which spans many genres and styles. I found myself on Frenchman Street, where an impromptu curb-side concert was taking place, the intoxicating notes of a local trombone player drawing me and the crowds on the street to enjoy the experience. Its venues oﬀer an array of live performances from traditional jazz to blues, reggae and rock. It’s an absolute must-do for any music lover and it was a fabulous end to my culture-fuelled trip to the Deep South.