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.