Four thousand miles is a long way to go for a Shag – the dance that is – but Charleston is definitely worth the journey.
The alluring South Carolina city, named after Charles II, is home to the six count, eight step moves and it’s easy to fall into line with the pace and sway of some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. Once the richest city in the United States, there’s so much more to do than just Shag in this well-preserved tourist destination.
The award-winning food, the energetic nightlife, the copious beaches with reliable hours of Vitamin D and the surprising history – the first shots of the US Civil War were fired here – all vie for your attention during a three-day whistle-stop trip.
Kay says that four thousand miles is a long way to go for a Shag – the dance that is – but that Charleston is definitely worth the journey. Pictured is the historic downtown area
Do try a three-mile yomp over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from the peninsula to Mount Pleasant and beyond. There are plenty of beaches to enjoy, not least at Sullivan’s Island, says Kay (pictured on the bridge, left). The image on the right shows Kay at the tiny Pink House, the oldest stone building still standing in the fire and earthquake-ravaged city
British Airways has just started a direct route from London Heathrow that arrives late on Thursday night and leaves even later on the Sunday so be ready to get up early and stay up late in order to cram everything in.
The area is best explored with a well-informed local guide who can offer a fascinating insight into the oldest and largest city in South Carolina. Think the muscularity of Ernest Hemingway meets the romance of Margaret Mitchell and frankly, my dear, you’ll be blown away.
The historic downtown area made up of genteel, clapper board properties and elegant spires, and cobbled streets lead down to the rugged harbour, once the lifeblood of the city and still a bustling port.
Charleston was once the richest city in the United States. Now it’s a well-preserved tourist destination
Eye-catching: Pictured is the aptly named Rainbow Row in Charleston’s historic district
One of the most photographed bridges in America. A centre piece for wedding snaps as nervous brides-to-be stroll over with their supportive fathers to a new life. Runaway brides beware, attempting to marry without a permit will result in a $300 on-the-spot fine
Particularly worth a visit are the aptly-named Rainbow Row and the tiny Pink House, the oldest stone building still standing in the fire and earthquake-ravaged city. It was previously frequented by raucous 18th-century sailors who wanted refreshment and to do more than just dance!
A few short steps away is a museum where others who’d arrived by sea were destined for a much more desperate life.
Although the distasteful underbelly of the slave trade no longer defines Charleston, the city does shamefully acknowledge that up to 40 per cent of enslaved African Americans arrived through their port.
I was moved to tears at the former slave mart, a series of modest-sized rooms where broken humans were traded against their will and violently restrained before being transported further north to back-breaking work at rice plantations including Middleton and Magnolia – former family seats of British plantation owners.
Charming: The historic downtown area of Charleston is made up of genteel, clapper board properties, elegant spires and cobbled streets
Both are now historic landmarks. Elegant, living museums chronicling abominable slavery-to-freedom.
Manicured and romantic gardens have been restored to create happier memories for visitors, not least because they’re used as occasional wedding venues. More opportunistic brides have been known to change in the public loos and attempt to marry without a permit. If they’re caught they face an on-the-spot fine of $300!
The plantations certainly provided food for thought as we headed back downtown for lunch. There are plenty of amazing bars and restaurants to choose from offering Deep South hospitality including Leon’s, a former mechanic workshop converted into an edgy eatery serving superb fried chicken and/or oysters.
Kay stayed at the Belmond Charleston Place, which ‘effortlessly combines 17th-century charm with 21st-century elegance’
The swimming pool at the Belmond Charleston Place is practically a work of art
Clams at S.N.O.B were a stand out memory of Kay’s trip (left). A true taste of the deep south, she says, especially with grits on the side. And cocktails (right) at the Thoroughbred Club bar in Kay’s hotel, the Belmond Charleston Place, are a perfect start to any evening of dining and dancing in Charleston
If you haven’t tried grits, you really should, and there’s no better place for them than S.N.O.B, an acronym for slightly north of Broad Street, an in-joke the staff there will gladly explain. Try the clams, too – they’re among the best in town.
Bars are also plentiful and we sipped classy cocktails at Josephine’s, danced to live music at the Commodore Club and finished with a satisfying nightcap in the Thoroughbred Club bar at the Belmond Charleston Place, our hotel, which seemed to effortlessly combine 17th-century charm with 21st-century elegance.
There’s a hotel pool, but we really fancied a dip in the sea so decided on a Sunday morning yomp three miles across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge before hopping into an Uber and heading to Sullivan’s Island. Other beaches are closer, but Sullivan’s is less busy, more family-friendly and has some fantastic restaurants on the strip, including the Obstinate Daughter. The name drew us in, the food and ambience kept us there – rather like the Charleston Shag. Try it, you’ll like it.
British Airways flies twice a week from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Charleston with return fares starting from £600 in World Traveller (economy) per person. To book please visit ba.com/Charleston or call 0844 493 0787. The service is operated by a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
BA holidays package
British Airways Holidays offers four nights at the Belmond Charleston Place from £979 per person, travelling June 1 to June 30. Includes World Traveller return flights from Heathrow and accommodation. For reservations visit ba.com or call 0344 493 0122.
Prices for a Deluxe room at Belmond Charleston Place start from $345 (£270) per night (excluding taxes and destination fee) and Club Level rooms, including all-day complimentary food and beverage service, start from $475 (£370) per night (excluding taxes & destination fee), based on two people sharing. Visit www.belmond.com/charlestonplace. For reservations please visit www.belmond.com or call 888 635 2350.