Savannah, GA: A Treasure of the South
By: Travel and Adventure Blogger Cathy H. Burroughs
It is no wonder Conde Nast Traveler voted Savannah – home to much loved composer of Moon River Johnny Mercer, writer Flannery O’Connor and cotton gin inventor Eli Whitney, one of the top 10 cities in the US. Within minutes of landing in Savannah, its resplendent 2.2 block historic district of elegant and elaborately refurbished homes dating from the 18th century – the setting for so many movies it could almost be a Hollywood South – reveals what a treasure this city truly is.
Having survived two wars, three fires, numerous yellow fever epidemics and a crippling siege by the boll weevil, this resilient town has made a near miraculous comeback to become a shining jewel in the crown of the South. Drawing high honors from the country’s top travel media, Savannah is now considered one of the numero uno travel destinations in the country: Travel + Leisure says its #1 for Fall Travel and a World’s Best City while MSN.com calls it one of the Top 15 Coolest North American Cities.
Hotel Avia – Hip, Sophisticated Decorating Genius in the Eye of….Everything!
The cool factor was definitely in evidence when we arrived mid March to find this vital city alive with music (its annual music festival with 100+ performances every March and April), culture, fountains, horse drawn carriages, girl scouts (it’s their 100thAnniversary and their founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace is here) and beer drinking St. Patty’s Day revelers (2nd largest in the nation). Beach-goers, too, (charming, old timey Tybee Island beach is just minutes away), as well as hip and edgy young artists (SCAD is one of the nation’s best art colleges) and the full spectrum of both visitors and inhabitants generating an electric atmosphere: eclectic, historic and euphoric.
That was how we felt when we entered our beautiful hotel lobby of the Avia perched on the edge of Ellis Square – one of the 22 city squares of this – America’s first planned city. Emerging into the wildly theatrical jewel tones of its Moroccan/Victorian lobby bedecked with baroque mirrors, tapestries, art nouveau furnishings and curtains that create layers of mystery within its hypnotic interior, discover a sophisticated venue for pleasure, business and named one of the 50 Best Romantic Getaways in Travel + Leisure: Ideal for weddings as well as almost any truly special special event.
Sophisticated, sexy, trendy with a flair verging on decorating genius, this boutique hotel now owned by Hyatt boasts a 2nd floor pool terrace with cabanas and fire pit and has the single most comfortable bedding we’ve ever experienced. Sleep like you’ve never slept before in the heart of Savannah.
Getting Around: Try a Personalized Tour of Savannah
Just steps from this hotel, find The City Market as well as The Riverfront whose worldwide import and exports of cotton, rice, indigo and more made Savannah one of the wealthiest seaports of the 1700’s. This imminently walkable city also offers trolley tours, romantic horse and buggy rides, dinnertime steam boats, scooters, bikes and absolutely free buses and water taxis, even offering up personalized and affordable custom tours.
We enjoyed the customary on/off trolley ride (we tried Old Town Trolley) of the three major companies in town (you can buy a two day ticket if you wish), that gave us a jaunty splash exposure to the highpoints as well as a more in-depth custom tour. Try both or more! Harriet Meyerhoff’s Personalized Tours of Savannah (912-234-0014 - www.savannahsites.com) will immerse you into the layers of intrigue that the trolley tours only tease you with. She even swung us past the Deen compound where we craned our necks for a Paula sighting, y’all.
A Haven for Foodies
Savannah showcases an amazingly versatile culinary scene that will appeal to any palette. These range from the outrageous, heaping, gravified Southern style home cooking buffets to sophisticated sea to table/ farm to table nouvelle inventions. Definitely prepare to make some restaurant finds here, and plan on doing some serious eating. It is no wonder that Travel + Leisure considers Savannah an American Best City for Foodies.
Drunk with Deenitis
In Savannah, all roads lead to Paula Deen. The inspiration of her rags to riches Deen dream together with her iconic presence has propelled Savannah into the consciousness of a nation of food lovers. From the Hotel Avia, we were thrilled to find we were literally minutes from the charismatic celebrity chef’s must experience for yourself three story The Lady and Sons.
Don’t hold back at The Lady and Sons. You can order lots of yummy fare off the menu but we, of course, could not resist the piping hot piled high buffet of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, beef stew and about 30 more enticing dishes. Do NOT – we repeat do not miss the fried chicken and the fried green tomatoes. We could live on Mrs. Deen’s buttermilk battered tomatoes that are to die for! You must try all three desserts that come with the buffet: peach cobbler, banana pudding and the single most decadent dessert I believe I’ve ever sampled – gooey butter cakes.
Our limited schedule barely allowed us to skim the surface of Savannah’s culinary treasure hunt, so we veered off the tried and true with a lovely Thai meal at the sleek minimalist Saigon on Broughton, and we heard that right across the street you could find a savory and delectable lemon grass confabulation at Ruan’s – which came highly recommended.
We couldn’t resist some of the spots which found their respective ten minutes of fame in the slew of movies made here. We got to Clary’s (remember it from The Garden of Good and Evil) for a breakfast of homemade corned beef hash and Southern fried steak. We understand their milkshakes are not to be missed. Unfortunately we did. We also had a classy yet affordable ladies’ luncheon at the restaurant 17Hundred90.
Leopold’s Ice Cream Parlor: Ice Cream and Movies
At Leopold’s all worlds converge. Considered to be one be one of the world’s ten best ice cream parlors, Leopold’s original owners hail from Greece and fiercely guard their secret recipe. You’ll, indeed, experience some of the most scrumptious ice cream ever at this circa 1945 ice cream parlor whose current co-owner is none other than Hollywood producer Stratton Leopold. We had double scoops of peanut butter and coffee chocolate chip three times (but who’s counting) and lyricist Johnny Mercer’s favorite was tutti frutti in the interior designed by a Hollywood set designer.
In Savannah expect to run into movie stars, well known directors and even J Lo and Ben Affleck (remember when they were together?) considered buying a house here. At the very least you can sit on Forest Gump’s actual bench or eat or drink at a venue you may have seen in Julia Robert’s Something to Talk About (The Six Pence Pub on Bull Street). Much of Savannah may seem familiar as you may have spotted it in The Legend of Bagger Vance or any one of the nearly 50 movies that have been made in Georgia’s first capital.
If it’s History You’re After, You’ve Come to the Right Place
Architectural lovers will have an immersion course here. Breathtaking examples of Victoriana, the simple lines of the Colonial era and the high drama of the Medieval adorn the sometimes cobblestoned streets. You’ll find every type of American architecture from Gothic to Greek and Romanesque Revival to Italianate, Regency and more – now returned to their original splendor. We thoroughly enjoyed the elaborately detailed and knowledgeable guide at one of Savannah’s finest house tours -the Owens-Thomas House. A National Historic Landmark and former residence, this home boasts an English style parterre garden, carriage house and one of the earliest authentic slave quarters. We’re told not to miss in future visits the many other highly engaging house tours providing intimate details into the private lives of some of Savannah’s most notable citizenry.
A Treasure Trove of Finds
Forego the expense of a trip to France. You can have a very similar experience going from shop to shop on and around Broughton Street. Antiquers, boutiquers, bargain-hunters and those in search of a one-of-a-kind treasure will have a field day here. Our friend Dicky Mopper real estate mogul by day and auctioneer by night says not to miss one of the auctions of Universe Trading, on the periphery of The City Market. There you could purchase a life-sized dinosaur, a rare print or any number of hard to find objects for a song. He also recommended the shop of master story-teller and larger-than-life historian John Duncan whose personal collection of original antique maps is on view at VJ Duncan’s on 12 East Taylor Street in the garden level of their home.
We fell madly in love (again!) with The Paris Market – a stunning flea market assortment of European housewares, turn-of-the-century inspired beauty products, adornments, bedding, textiles, antique books and bobbles, even gelato and handmade toys. Owner Paula Danyluk has created a lyrical bizarre of unique vintage décor and rarefied objects.
It almost seems criminal to skip Savannah’s extraordinary array of bed and breakfasts, so we hope to return to right this wrong in the near future.