Ballastone Inn, Georgia
Our Yankee interloper drops in to gloat on Dixie and, more annoyingly, us Brits.
There’s a charm to the American South that doesn’t always get appreciated, or even recognised, by the global media. The last time Savannah, Georgia made headlines in the UK, it was 1778, and British forces were regaining control. Savannah–and its picture-perfect tree-lined streets and pedestrian squares–was one of the last American cities to remain in British hands. And while some may argue the South hasn’t done too well for itself since, with obesity rates in the region the highest in America and literacy rates among the lowest, there’s a genteel opulence that’s alive and well. You walk into the Ballastone Inn, on a quiet street in the heart of the historic centre, and immediately you’re transported back to a time before nameless desk agents, vending machines, and plastic keycards that fail to open your door. Inside the Ballastone, the tradition of Southern hospitality and relaxed pace of life make it feel as if you’ve leapt back into the 19th century — and, aside from wishing for some room service, it’s not a bad place to be.
All too quickly here, you realise why residents of the South can’t get a handle on their weight. Sweet iced tea is the drink of choice in the region, and a pitcher sits on the bar at the Ballastone 24 hours a day. High tea is served each afternoon, in china the Queen would be proud to use, along with a finger sandwich and a decadent bite of cake. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the evening. And a hot breakfast each morning which is a far cry from the typical cold, stale spreads in too many American hotels. It’s all so remarkably… civilised. Stay long enough, and you won’t fit in the elevator.
Best of all, you’re strolling distance from all of Savannah’s historic squares, each offering its own unique
perspective on the city, shaded by beautiful oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, coloured in by pink and purple azaleas emerging from every corner. Just off Forsyth Park sits Local 11 Ten, a gem of an example of the kind of local farm-to-table cooking that’s taking over on both sides of the Atlantic. My wife and I were sold on a rustic strawberry tart with berries “grown by the chef in his greenhouse” — and as soon as we took one bite, we understood why the British soldiers were so reluctant to leave.
Less than 200 km up the coast from Savannah lies Charleston, South Carolina. If you think Savannah has charm, compared to Charleston, it’s a shanty town.
Horse-drawn carriages amble down Charleston’s cobblestone streets, quaint shop windows line the avenues, and friendly strangers can’t help but stop to chat. Perhaps it’s the remnants of plantation life–those plantations now, probably for the best, converted into tourist traps–but wandering through Charleston not only lifts you to another century, but makes you regret ever having to come back.
The restaurant, Circa 1886, situated in a converted 19th-century mansion that makes the word “mansion” seem grossly underqualified, is helmed by one of America’s leading chefs who is modernizing the cuisine of the old South. With antelope and bison on the menu, you feel as if you are eating American history. That bison meat falling off the bone, bathing in a horseradish froth, will make you understand what the British were fighting to keep the place, back 230-odd years ago. A fine way to celebrate the secret allure of the American South, and a fine place to toast the progress they’re just starting to make over there in the New World.