Rhett Butler knew the score. “I’m going back to Charleston... to see if, somewhere, there isn’t something left in life of charm and grace,” he declares at the end of the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind.
Even today, charm and grace are no strangers to South Carolina’s oldest city. Equal measures period buildings and old-world manners, this is also an area with a story to tell (plus a distinctive drawl in which to tell it), spanning American Civil War sites and antebellum riches.
See Charleston's famous Rainbow Row
Charleston’s history is writ large on its streets. Stroll Rainbow Row to admire its old houses, daubed in hazy pastel shades since the 1930s. Some say this was done to guide rum-soaked sailors back to their digs, others claim it was a cheap way of cooling the properties.
Next, head to the harbour. Boat trips let you drift past stately homes on the Battery and pelicans divebombing for fish. Further out lie the idyllic Sea Islands, where Gullah culture (Creole-speaking descendents of the freed African slaves that settled here) was born and where turtles clatter ashore to lay their eggs on the pristine sand.
Learn more about Charleston's history
To learn more about the Gullah and the American Civil War that shaped the region, take a history tour. Fort Sumter was where the Civil War began, and guided visits plot out the Confederate siege and the surrender of the Union forces.
Plantations (tobacco, rice, indigo) also lie on every corner; head to Boone Hall for a look at the lives of those who worked the fields. Despite their tragic history, many of these sites are beautiful, and spying the butterflies of Boone or blooms of Magnolia Plantation’s gardens – a dreamy morass spotted with cypress and tupelo – delights.
Shop at Charleston's historic market
A trip into downtown takes you through the busy French Quarter, a creative hub rife with galleries and home to the Charleston City Market, stuffed with savvy street vendors selling sweetgrass baskets (a Gullah tradition) and jewellery.
Time your visit to coincide with Spoleto, a performing arts festival (24 May to 9 June) that takes over churches, parks and everything in between. A toe-tapping finale for a city that marches to its own beat.