Words by Rosalind Stefanac
I had always heard about Southern hospitality, but it’s not until I visit Savannah, Georgia with my sister that I experience it first-hand. I see it when a hotel manager drives more than an hour to hand-deliver the passports I left in our room safe. And when the teenage server at a local burger joint sits down at my table to patiently answer all of my probing questions.
Welcome to a locale that’s not only rich in history that dates back to the 1700s, but is lush with trees (green all year round), filled with friendly folk, and where the restaurants kindly provide to-go cups so you can finish your cocktails on the stroll home. And as a walkable city, there’s no need to worry about driving. Here’s a look at this charming and genteel Southern city.
Sleep here: historic (and sometimes spooky) suites
Savannah has a stunning array of historic inns, bed and breakfasts as well as modern hotels. Locals are quick to tell me ghosts permanently reside in many of them.
Unprepared to share a room with phantom guests, I opt for the not-so-haunted Kimpton Brice, a boutique hotel planted squarely in Savannah’s National Historic Landmark district, just steps from everywhere we want to be. In a former life, the building was a Coca-Cola bottling plant and the hotel décor cleverly mixes modern elements with vintage charm. My favourite reprieve is the courtyard, which is spaciously equipped with comfy couches, umbrellas and tables - perfect for a quiet morning coffee. I return later in the day for a complimentary signature cocktail served daily between 5 - 6 p.m. Kimpton Brice is a pet-friendly hotel so be prepared to be distracted by adorable, canine guests.
First I head to Olde Pink House for an initiation in Southern dinner service. My sister and I enjoy a melange of upscale local fare: plates of shrimp and grits, blackened oysters and fried green tomatoes. Our meal is taken among the elegance of a Georgian mansion built in 1771. The building is purportedly haunted by several former patrons, but the only spirits I encounter are in my cocktail glass. After dinner, we venture to the cellar piano bar below where local legends croon sultry tunes into the wee hours of the morning. Olde Pink House is open seven days a week but reservations are required.
I savour yet another memorable meal at Cha Bella. In operation for 13 years, the restaurant prides itself on serving farm-to-table American cuisine using the freshest seasonal ingredients. Not only is the food delicious, but the creative craft cocktails we imbibe — pear margaritas and lemon-lavender champagne — are incredibly refreshing.
Cha Bella | Casey JonesCha Bella | Casey Jones
For a thorough overview of the other culinary treats in the area, we embark on a three-hour Famous and Secret East Side Food Tour with Savannah Taste Experience. Generous-sized samples replace the calories burnt on this walking tour, which places us in eateries firmly off the beaten path.
Leading with my sweet tooth, I venture to Savannah’s River Street. Home to several decadent sugar shops, the aroma of chocolate and caramel wafts through the air. I duck into River Street Sweets to indulge in their signature pecan pralines and bear claws which are made on the premises.
Do this: frightful fun
Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia | Iryna Liveoak
Dubbed the most haunted city in America because it's apparently constructed on a mass of unmarked graveyards, I feel compelled to take at least one ghost tour while visiting Savannah.
My sister and I debate over a haunted pub crawl and hearse tour, but ultimately chose a ghost walk with Genteel and Bard. Kicking off at dusk, it doesn't disappoint.
Even if you don’t book a formal tour, you’re bound to hear a ghost story in Savannah. Those seeking some frightful fun might venture to Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which we explored during daylight hours.
Urban exploration: underfoot and over water
Designed around 22 picturesque squares and parks, I spend most of my time exploring Savannah by foot. Each square has its own unique vibe, with historic monuments, fountains, pretty landscapes and plenty of benches. At one point, I simply sit for a while and soak in the atmosphere, which includes an amazing rendition of the Beatles’ Let it Be performed on the flute by a street musician.
Given that it’s hovering around 30°C, I’m grateful for the shade offered by the massive trees all around me. They were strategically planted along the downtown streets back in the 19th-century for this very reason. The majestic oaks, typical to the area, are especially intriguing because they’re swathed in Spanish moss that look like cob webs. It’s fitting for this ghostly city.
One afternoon my sister and I board an old-fashioned riverboat for a one-and-a-half-hour Savannah River tour. With the capacity to carry 1,000 people, the boat feels like a mini cruise ship complete with music, food, cold drinks, and a tour guide who gives us an entertaining history lesson about the area.
We end our cruise back at the dock along River Street and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the quaint shops, pubs and restaurants situated all along this 200-year-old, cobblestone road.
Off the beachin' path
It’s been getting progressively hotter during our visit so we take the advice of several locals and head 20 minutes out of Savannah to Tybee Island. It is the go-to beach spot for all the folks in the area - and I can quickly see why.
On our last day in Georgia, we walk barefoot over five kilometres of gorgeous sandy beaches beside the Atlantic Ocean and stop to take a dip along the way. The "No Shark Fishing" signs don't deter us; the locals assure us the waters are safe.
In Tybee you can rent Sandra Bullock’s house for a cool $1,400 per night but we settle for the much more affordable Desoto Beach Hotel with the beach literally at our door-step. The atmosphere is causal and one night we walk over to The Deck, an outdoor bar nestled between the sand dunes. I’m still dreaming about my perfectly pan-seared fish sandwich on the patio. We ran out of time, but next visit we’ll be renting bikes to further explore this lovely coastal spot.