With beautiful southern plantations, cobbled city streets, and world famous restaurants, Charleston is an ideal long-weekend getaway. There is so much to see and do–and eat–that you’ll never be bored. You can tour many of the city’s pastel antebellum mansions; historic Fort Sumter is only a boat ride away; several of the Ashley River plantations host world-class gardens; and for the foodies, there are literally endless choices! It’s no wonder that year after year Charleston is ranked one of the top cities to visit in the world.
So, when Nana offered to babysit, we jumped at the opportunity of a weekend kid-free to explore historic Charleston. After doing some research and talking with acquaintances who lived locally, we decided to book one night out on a plantation outside of the city to explore that area first and then two nights in the city center. On our day of departure, we took an early morning flight to make the most of our time, and after picking up our rental car, we headed to our first stop and lodging for the evening: Middleton Place.
Staying at The Inn at Middleton Place provided the added benefit of allowing us to remain on property when the crowds had gone home, and it included our entry to the Gardens, House Museum, and Stableyards–saving us $86 for the day. Bookings also included a light breakfast in the Lakehouse (hot breakfast available for an additional charge) and an evening reception (wine, beer, and appetizers) in the Lodge. The Inn had a swimming pool, as well, but since it was winter, we didn’t take advantage of that amenity–we were more interested in the wood burning fireplace in our room!
Once we’d checked in, we wandered over to the Middleton Place Restaurant for an early lunch. I couldn’t pass up my first time ordering Shrimp and Grits down south; it was the perfect combination of sweet and savory. The cornbread was an awesome addition, as well. My husband opted for soup and salad; he had the seasonal soup, and then a delicious beet salad with fruit, nuts, and goat cheese.
After filling up, we headed off to explore the property’s gardens. The Garden Club of America has called the 65 acres “the most important and most interesting garden in America.” I’m not a garden connoisseur, so I’ll just have to take their word for it! That being said, the landscaping, bridges, and statues were a joy to explore–and there were flowers in bloom, even in February.
Once we’d wandered through the garden paths, we caught up with one of the House Museum Tours to check out the interior of the house on property. While it didn’t seem immense, we learned during our tour that much of the original house was burnt down in 1865 by Union troops; the remaining section was a wing originally built as a guest quarters. It was the least damaged portion of the house and was therefore converted into family living quarters after the war. The tour provided a window into not only the Middleton family’s lives but also the enslaved residents of the property and their vastly different experiences.
Finally, we walked over the the Stableyard to check out the animals and artisans. Sheep, goats, Guinea hogs, horses, and even peacocks resided in the stableyard–much as it would have been in the 1800s. There was also a cooper and potter demonstrating the skills that plantation slaves would often have employed. This was an interactive experience, and the children we saw exploring the Stableyard really seemed to be enjoying it. (Note: There is often also a blacksmith and weaver showcasing their skills in the Stableyard–those stations were empty during our visit, but it was an off-peak time.)
Our tour of the Middleton Place grounds complete, we hopped in our car and headed down the road a short distance to the Magnolia Plantation. The Magnolia Plantation is probably the most well known plantation in Charleston, and it draws tourists accordingly. However, since we arrived in winter in the late afternoon, it wasn’t a peak visit time. Upon arrival, we bought our tickets, picked out the last house tour of the day on the schedule, and headed off to explore the gardens before our tour time.
For the Magnolia Plantation, the gardens were the real draw. They were a step above the rest. There was a series of beautiful bridges interspersed throughout the meandering paths and various flowers and wildlife to explore. I just loved how the bridges reflected off of the surrounding water like glass in the afternoon sunlight–no edits required! (Note: The picture at the beginning of this article of the white lattice bridge is my favorite bridge at the Magnolia Plantation.)
Once it got closer to the time for our house tour, we went over to the plantation house and waited on the porch for our turn. It was a quick 30 minute guided tour that covered 10 rooms outfitted with various antiques and family heirlooms from the previous occupants of the home (the Drayton Family). The tour guide shared a few anecdotes of the home’s various occupants and did very much bring the place to life talking about everything from lavish parties to illicit slave education in the home.
The Magnolia Plantation also had a petting zoo, conservatory, a cafe (with peacocks and mini horses), and a theater running a film about the property. However, by the time we were finished with the house tour, the grounds were closing down for the day, and we were ready to kick back and relax a little. We returned to our room at Middleton Place to shower, and then walked over to the evening reception held from 5pm-7pm in the Lodge. There were a few finger foods out, and there was complementary wine and beer. It was a nice setting to relax and have a pre-dinner drink.
Then, we walked down to the on-site restaurant for dinner. Again, our meal was delicious. In fact, we didn’t have a bad meal in all of Charleston during our time in the city. We both tried the evening's specials. My husband ordered seared fish over roasted potatoes and veggies, and I had the tagliatelle with mushrooms, spinach, and roasted brussels sprouts. Delicious food, in combination with a few cocktails, left us happy, full, and exhausted. Dinner complete, we walked back to our room and called it an early night!
In the morning, we bid farewell to the Charleston countryside and waved hello to the city life. (Part 2 coming soon…)