Where the Old Times Aren’t Forgotten
The honeycombed coastline south of Charleston stretches for some 200 miles, dissolving into peninsulas, channels, and dozens of marshy subtropical “sea islands” that make up South Carolina’s Low Country, a rural and slow land peopled by the descendants of slaves and planters.
Kiawah and neighboring Seabrook are well-known, well-heeled island-resorts, while the pristine, 5,000-acre Hunting Island, once a private hunting resort, is now blessedly protected as a nature reserve.
On St. Helena Island, the Penn Center was established in 1862 as the first school in the South for freed slaves, and today serves as a museum and nerve center of the area’s Gullah community – descendants of Angolan Mende, Kisi, Malinke, and Bantu slaves who have managed to preserve a great many elements of African culture due to the Sea Islands’ isolation. Test the simple cuisine at St. Helena’s Gullah Grub Café or the well-known Shrimp Shack (whose unique shrimp burgers explain the lines). Both are on the Sea Island Parkway.
Well-manicured Hilton Head Island, the last sea island on the way to Savannah and one of the most popular (and developed) resort areas in eastern America, offers 25 championship golf courses and some 300 tennis courts, with 13 of the courses and 145 courts open to the public.
The small waterfront town of Beaufort (pronounced Byew-fert), a kind of Charleston in miniature, is the gateway to the Sea Islands and the most practical and popular base from which to explore the coastal area.
Known for its many wide-verandaed antebellum houses, the once prosperous town has enjoyed something of a renaissance due to its popularity with Hollywood film crews, who’ve filmed The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, Prince of Tides, and many others here. Many of the celeb actors who’ve come through have parked their bags at the Rhett House Inn, one of the most charming accommodations in the Low Country. Only a short walk from the restored waterfront and the town’s main drag (lined with antique stores, art galleries, innovative restaurants, and book stores), the inn is the quintessence of Southern hospitality.