08 November 2012
Charleston, USA: A Taste of the Sea
Sail out into Charleston Harbor, or cruise along the coast. Shimmering waters offer limitless fun, from exploring alligator swamps to seafood dining in jazzy restaurants.
The Charleston area is a cluster of islands, marshlands and inland waterways. The most memorable way to explore them is up close and down low in a kayak. Let Coastal Expeditions take you on any of a wide variety of paddling jaunts. You can meander through handsome undeveloped barrier islands, abandoned rice fields in the estates of old plantations, swamps filled with cypress and tupelo trees and habitats for manatees, alligators and sea turtles. Don't be surprised if dolphins join you along the way.
Cantering on the Coastline
Few experiences are quite as exhilarating as running a horse through the surf, yet there are only a few beaches on the East Coast where you can still take a turn in the saddle. Fortunately, one of those beaches is in the Charleston area. The Equestrian Center on Seabrook Island, 23 miles south of downtown, offers rides that will take you over some of the finest sand in the South. The island's North Beach is one of the widest in the Carolinas, meaning there's plenty of room to really hoof it.
The Harbor: Wild or Mild
Charleston Harbor is quite a show. On a spin around it you can see one of the most famous forts in the world, a magnificent feat of engineering in the form of the graceful sailboat-shaped Ravenel Bridge (the largest suspension bridge in North America) and a parade of boats - pleasure craft, freighters lumbering in from distant ports and impressive naval ships (the aircraft carrier, destroyer and submarine anchored at Patriots Point).
Get a Little Crabby
You can eat good blue crab in any of the fine Charleston restaurants, but they will surely not taste as delicious as one you've caught yourself. Barrier Island Eco-Tours will take you to one of the best crabbing spots in the area and teach you how to catch crustaceans the old-fashioned way - with a hand line and some chicken bait. After you've made a haul, you'll be whisked to gorgeous, deserted Capers Island for your own private crab boil on the beach. Barrier Island Eco-Tours also offers a separate sunset dolphin-watching excursion, for those who only want to see sea animals, not eat them.
Choosing the best beach in the Charleston area is like picking the prettiest diamond at Harry Winston's. They're all breathtaking, so it's impossible to go wrong. But if you're looking for some guidance, you couldn't do better than the beach at Isle of Palms. It's close to downtown. The surf is lively and the strand is wide and white, with a picturesque fishing pier. The island itself has a lovely ambience - classic beach houses with wide screen porches and painted colours you might find in a candy store.
Charleston takes on a whole new aura once the sun goes down. The city loves its restaurants and cooking here goes way beyond any preconceived, highly fried ideas about Southern Cuisine. Plenty of restaurants take sophisticated turns on traditional Low Country dishes and do great honour to the catch from the sea (keep in mind that this is the epicentre of the East Coast shrimping industry).
Striped Bass; Double Bass
A must-visit is Charleston Grill which features four stellar menus that reflect different corners of the globe and the whole light-to-lavish indulgence scale. Bring a thesaurus to dinner so you can find new words for delicious to describe the subtle, surprising flavours of striped bass in fennel sauce, or crab cake and creek shrimp in a lime and tomato dill vinaigrette. While your taste buds swoon, the rest of your body can sway along too, thanks to the nightly jazz sessions (main picture, above) that take dining here, at Charleston Place Hotel, to another level of elegance.
Another of Charleston's most remarkable spots is High Cotton at 199 East Bay Street which has antique pine floors, exposed brick walls and the airy feel of a good Southern porch. The kitchen whips up creative dishes (barbecue-spiced seared flounder; prosciutto-wrapped Carolina rabbit) that will appeal to both soul and stomach.
By Jeannie Ralston, a US-based writer for many international publications.
What were your Charleston highlights?