Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Road to Charleson: Pre-Cruise

South Carolina’s “low country” is a history lover’s dream with Charleston as its star. From our home in east-central Georgia the plantations and gardens along the Ashley River north of the city are an easy two and a half hour drive and well worth the time and trouble of leaving the interstate to explore. We passed Middleton and made a note to come back another time, instead opting to tour Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (pictured above) and neighboring Drayton Hall.

Magnolia Plantation, the home of the Drayton family since 1676, has undergone numerous reconfigurations over the years following fires and the addition of rooms and verandahs. Today it stands as a stately example of plantation life, lovingly preserved and furnished in priceless antiques. While the house is beautiful, it is the gardens that are stunning. Pathways lined with flowering plants meander through dense stands of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. An old-fashioned maze is a delight for children. Also on the grounds is the Audubon Swamp Garden, a unique natural garden and wildlife preserve where turtles sunning themselves on a log and egrets feeding their young in the rookery posed for our cameras.

Our next stop was Drayton Hall (yes, the same extended family), built in 1738 and standing today as the oldest example of Georgian-Palladian architecture of its kind in the American South (pictured left, the Palladian facade). Without electricity or running water, it is also unfurnished. For those of us who enjoy house museums, this is a rarity—a house that extends a sense of timelessness based on architecture alone. The setting on the Ashley River is an oasis of peace and tranquility and also offers cooling breezes throughout the house. No electricity means no air conditioning inside, but we found the interiors surprisingly pleasant on a hot afternoon in June. Scenic marsh and river walks are also open for exploration

Touring two large plantations and gardens in a single afternoon is tiring so we’re happy to be resting up in The Restoration on King, our pre-cruise home until sailing on Carnival Fantasy later this week.

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