Road Trip Chronicles: The Sweet Carolinas | Travel

CHARLENE PETERS

A sweeping assault of humidity in Florida sent me packing in a sweat to resume my road trip from California to Boston. On my drive to the Carolinas, I passed through nine rolling bands of thunderstorms and arrived, white-knuckled, at Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

My four-legged travel buddy and I were ready for serious downtime. Nothing seemed more relaxing than gazing out at the harbor to watch passing sailboats while we sat perched on Adirondack chairs on the balcony of our room at The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.

This luxurious coastal sanctuary is a bridge away from downtown Charleston. Its 90-plus rooms are designed with an assortment of nautical touches and equipped with a ceiling fan, a fireplace, and that balcony with a grand view of the harbor.

The only reason I tore myself from this room was to fuel my craving for a fantastic grouper dinner at the resort’s Charleston Harbor Fish House. The dining room offered its own up-close, stunning waterfront stage with its viewpoint of the USS Laffey (DD-724), the most decorated World War II once-sunken US destroyer nicknamed “The Ship That Would Not Die.” Next to this ship is Yorktown, an aircraft carrier built during World War II for the US Navy.

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On the resort’s pier is the J. Seward Walker, Jr. Sailing Center Complex, an annex of the College of Charleston Sailing, where guests may sign up for lessons. Off-pier is a spa, a secluded beach next to Beach Club Tiki Bar, a bocce ball court, and life-sized chess pieces to assume your role in Queen’s Gambit. For guests who want to visit downtown Charleston, the pier is where one can hail a water taxi.

Next, I drove to downtown Charleston for a stay at one of the newest hotels on the block, Hotel Bennett. I was clueless to its former status as the Charleston County Library as I entered its 18th-century-designed Roman rotunda. I stopped in my tracks to take in its walls draped in hand-painted murals, the chandelier in all its Lowcountry glamor that loomed above, and its grand staircase that led to the ballroom space upstairs.

Several gasps later, a departing guest approached me and asked if I were checking in. “You’re in for a treat,” she said. She was oh so right.

To the left of the lobby was a gilded entrance to Camellias, a Champagne bar intentionally designed to look like a jewelry box from the outside, and from the inside, a decadent Fabergé egg. The bar was designed in homage to Mr. Bennett’s mother, Virginia, who would frequent the Woolworth ladies’ counter during the old days when a woman could not enter a bar. The name is a nod to a popular Charleston flower, the camellia.

In my fully automated room, my first act was to grab the remote to lower the privacy blinds and then to fill the soaking tub in the bathroom suite. Post-bath and upon further inspection of my room, I found my first clue to the hotel’s former library status – books were shelved in bindings to match the color décor of the room.

Refreshed and ready to explore more of this fantastic find in Charleston, I headed to the busy rooftop bar, Fiat Lux, where a glass of Flowers rosé paired well with the stunning sunset view. Prior to my dinner reservation at Gabrielle, I stopped at Camellias for a Champagne-inspired cocktail with a plate of charcuterie and felt like I had been transported into a fairytale.

And this is where I unearthed my next clue to the hotel’s former status as a library. Within this Modern Baroque design are a pale pink marble bar and tabletops repurposed from the library’s façade.

An hour later, I strolled to the right of the lobby, serenaded by music from a grand piano on autopilot. I entered the open concept space and took my seat at Gabrielle Restaurant, where I happily devoured my crispy duck confit.

Dessert would have to wait until my next visit, as the restaurant ran out of its signature Camellia Cake.

The next morning, I took a seat on the outdoor patio to enjoy a memorable filet-layered Eggs Bennett, served with a view of the park. It was not easy to depart from this five-star experience, but my road trip recommenced.

A rainy stop in Wilmington, North Carolina restricted my exploration of the Wilmington Riverwalk and its restaurants and shops. Dinner plans, scheduled on the patio, were relocated inside for a pub-style dinner at Marina Grill.

By the time I had finished dinner, the rain stopped long enough for me to take a short walk for an after-dinner glass of Tempranillo at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

Before I departed the next morning, I strolled Old Wilmington’s pier on the Cape Fear River and passed a replica of the Nao Santa Maria sailed by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and I observed the Battleship North Carolina across the river. Monument-sized dedication plaques stopped me in my tracks during my tour of the Riverwalk; I stood grateful for the military’s preservation of peace, freedom, and liberty for all.

Breakfast on Carolina Beach allowed me time for a stop at Malama Café, where a thick slice of toast slathered with luscious berries and cream took my taste buds to an all-new height.

A few steps away, the beach entrance of an arcade boardwalk led me past carnival rides to a white-sand beach dotted with the bright colors of beach umbrellas. I made one final stop to grab a fried fish to-go lunch at Stoked Restaurant, and then I hit the road for Pennsylvania.

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Stay tuned for more cross-country road trip stories, as shared by Charlene Peters, author of “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes & indigenous recipes to share.” To reach Charlene, email siptripper@gmail.com

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