If you were to stand out in the ocean off the South Carolina coast and look back towards the shore, you might see a shrimp trawler pulling its nets slowly across the sea. The land beyond would sparkle, and it would be hard to tell the ocean from the shore. You would see the Lowcountry for what it truly is-its closeness to the ocean. Not only close in proximity, but a close, warm and nurturing relationship as mother and her child. This kinship is what shapes and continues to define the region. No matter where you are in the low country, you can feel the ocean’s influence. The fresh clean salt air permeates everything. It imbues the people, the food and the culture of this unique region making it a place like no other.
The ocean brought early European settlers to the low country from France, Spain and England over 300 years ago to seek their fortune in the fertile coastal plains of South Carolina and Georgia. The ocean currents endowed the area with long, warm growing seasons that provided the settlers with a bounty from crops such as rice, cotton and tobacco, and the sea provided access to lucrative markets overseas.
From this trade grew thriving ports, which became the centers of politics and culture. Wealth from thriving agriculture and trade brought the trappings of high fashion, accoutrements of European artisans and craftsmen and the architectural treasures of the fine old homes in the cities and plantation houses of the countryside.
Unfortunately, this success also included slavery, but this too brought the tastes and the cultures from West and central Africa. Spices and okra mixed with seafood and native fruits and vegetables became staples of the Lowcountry cuisine. The African cultures blended to form Gullah and added their influences to that of the Europeans that arrived before them. Mix all this together with the historic romance of this area painted in prose by Margaret Mitchell, and it is easy to see why people still are drawn to the Lowcountry.
The feel of this relationship to the ocean still draws modern day adventurers to the Lowcountry to enjoy the history, romance, culture, cuisine, natural beauty and recreation of the area.
At the top of the Lowcountry lies the port city of Charleston. Charleston is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the east coast. Known for its beautiful antebellum mansions along the battery, colorful rainbow row, old French quarter and straw market, Charleston breathes history. It is the place where the first cannons retorted to mark the beginning of the Civil War. You can stroll along the battery and see Fort Sumter across Charleston Harbor, and imagine the cannons firing the first shots in April of 1861.
Charleston, also the known as the ‘The Holy City’ due to the religious tolerance of its early citizens, is dotted with the steeples of many beautiful churches including the iconic St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Charleston is not only history though. Many of the new visitors come hungry, which is a good thing. Charleston is known for its many incredible restaurants and chefs with their modern takes on traditional Lowcountry cuisine. Charleston is also a city of the arts. Each May, it hosts the world-renowned Spoleto festival. Founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Christopher Keene and others, it was created as an American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Each May, the multi-week celebration brings the best in opera, theater, music and visual arts to this historic Lowcountry city.
If you travel south from Charleston about 70 miles, you will find yourself in the quintessential Lowcountry town of Beaufort, SC. In fact, it has played the part in print and in the movies.
Beaufort was the birthplace of the Secessionist movement, which helped bring about the Civil War. Beaufort, pronounced ‘bewfart’ was the location of the first meeting to draft the Ordinance of Secession, which took place at the Milton Maxey House, today known as the Secession House.
More recently, it has been featured in the New York Times, named “Best Small Southern Town” by Southern Living and named a “Top 25 Small City Arts Destination” by American Style, with close to 20 galleries downtown adding to the arts landscape. It is also a popular sport fishing and adventure destination. But, perhaps you may already know Beaufort; it is the setting of many Pat Conroy novels including The Prince of Tides, which was also filmed there. In fact, Beaufort has served as the location backdrop for films such as Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill, GI Jane, Platoon and Forces of Nature.
If you love golf, the Lowcountry is for you. A bit further down the coast, just north of Savannah, lies Hilton Head Island, and it is a vacationers dream. Hilton Head consists of twelve miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches and golf courses designed by golf royalty such as Palmer, Fazio, Dye and Nicklaus, just to name a few. There are over 24 golf courses and over 350 tennis courts located on Hilton Head. Well heeled and modern, it still has a genteel southern charm.
Way down south at the bottom of the Lowcountry is the port of Savannah. Savannah is the charming and graceful southern lady of the Lowcountry. So lovely was this city, that during the Civil War, General Sherman did not burn it on his march to the sea, but instead presented it to President
Lincoln as a Christmas gift in 1864. The city that stayed Sherman’s torch is still there.
With the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark District, Savannah contains more than 20 city squares with museums, monuments, antebellum mansions and magnificent churches. Beautiful old homes, ancient moss-covered oaks and beautifully manicured public squares make Savannah so full of the feeling of history and charm that it’s easy to get lost in this antebellum dream.
Looking for a setting where ocean and shore are one? Where cultures have melded and blended shaped by the sea contoured by an illustrious and romantic trip through history? Great culture, cuisine and adventure await there. Maybe it’s time you looked for the Lowcountry.