The relatively small state of SOUTH CAROLINA remains, with Mississippi, one of the most impoverished and rural in the USA. Politics in the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 have traditionally been conservative, particularly following the Civil War during the tumultuous period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow segregation. The region’s main fascination lies in the subtropical coastline, also called the Low Country, and its sea islands. Wild beaches, swampy marshes and lush palmetto groves preserve traces of a virtually independent black culture (featuring the unique patois, “Gullah”), dating back to the start of the Civil War when enslaved Africans stayed put but area plantation owners fled the scene. There are no interstates along the coast, so journeys take longer than you might expect, the views are pretty and the pace of life definitely feels slower. Beyond the grand old peninsular port of Charleston – one of the most elegant towns in the nation with its pastel-coloured old buildings, appealing waterfront and Caribbean ambience – restored plantations stretch as far north as Georgetown, en route toward tacky Myrtle Beach.
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CHARLESTON, one of the finest-looking towns in the USA, is a compelling place, its historic district lined with tall, narrow houses of peeling, multicoloured stucco, adorned with wooden shutters and wide piazzas (porches). The palm trees and tropical climate give the place a Caribbean air, while the hidden gardens, leafy patios and ironwork balconies evoke the romance of New Orleans.
Charleston’s historic district is a predominantly residential area of leaning lines, weathered colours and exquisite courtyards bounded by Calhoun Street to the north and East Bay Street by the river. The further south of Broad you head, the posher and more residential the streets become. The district is best taken in by strolling at your own pace – though that pace can get pretty slow in high summer, when the heat is intense. Attractive spots to pause in the shade include the elegantly landscaped Waterfront Park, a greenway with fountains and boardwalks leading out over the river and White Point Garden, by the Battery on the tip of the peninsula, where the breezy, flower-filled lawns have good views across the water.