In the heart of the historic district, the landmark Planters Inn channels Old Charleston with sweetgrass baskets, flickering carriage lanterns, and plenty of Southern charm.
The story of Charleston starts in 1670, with its founding as a colonial seaport by English settlers. By the mid-18th century, it was the most prosperous city in the South. A sophisticated cultural identity emerged from the meteoric rise to greatness. America’s first public library (1700), first opera (1735), first permanent theatre (1736), first musical society (1762), and first public museum (1773) were Charleston’s achievements. Today, this beloved coastal destination is equally impressive, known as one of America’s most gracious, beautiful, and cosmopolitan cities.
The broad appeal of this Southern charmer has not gone unnoticed. Among its many accolades: Readers of Travel + Leisure voted Charleston the Best U.S. City for the fourth year running (2013-2016), while readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted Charleston the Best U.S. City for six consecutive years (2011-2016).
And then, the ultimate recommendation for visitors on the hunt for a spectacular vacation destination: Charleston was voted the Best City in the World by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine in 2016, just two years after the magazine bestowed its Best U.S. Boutique Hotel Award on Planters Inn, the iconic Relais & Châteaux hotel located in the heart of the famed Historic District.
Among Charleston’s greatest assets is architectural splendor. Classic Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Adamesque and Victorian mansions dot the peninsula, an inventory unparalleled in America. Not to be missed: the Nathaniel Russell House, one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings, a fascinating home-turned-museum built in 1808 with its striking original interior paint colors and breathtaking three-story cantilevered staircase. A repository for stunning historic ornamental plasterwork is found at the circa 1820 Edmondston-Alston House museum.
Charleston’s eclectic cultural landscape is also central to its popularity, from the Gibbes Museum of Art—a magnificent Beaux-Arts structure and home to the largest collection of fine art produced by Southern artists—to the Charleston City Market that opened in 1804 and is heralded as the nation’s oldest public market. Today they provide a compelling look at the lives of early Charlestonians.
Charleston wears a patina of old-world elegance, and her evocative beauty has inspired painters, poets, playwrights, and musicians for more than three centuries. Stroll down the blue slate sidewalks and it’s easy to see what inspired noted artist Alfred Hutty to write in the 1920s, “Come quickly, have found heaven.”
And while the trappings of this Southern gem are assuredly historic, a palpable exuberance is ushering in a new era of cultural vitality. Today, Charleston is experiencing a dynamic resurgence of art, style, design, and world-class performance venues like the new $142 million Gaillard Performance Hall, the gleaming showcase for some of the most popular Spoleto Festival USA shows.
If Charleston is a great center of culture, history and cuisine, then Planters Inn is the quintessence of all three. To step through the doors at Planters Inn is to be swept back to an era of grandeur and discovery. There are lofty ceilings, exquisite crown molding, gorgeous oversized windows, working fireplaces in many rooms and furnishings that recall classic Charleston. There are four-poster Baker Historic Charleston Collection beds in each of the 64 guest rooms; all are meticulous reproductions of those that existed during Charleston’s Antebellum peak. It feels less like a hotel and more like a comfortably elegant private residence.
One of the standout elements of Planters Inn is its jewel-box of a parlor, brilliantly conceived by Charleston native and top American designer Amelia Handegan. Sitting rooms and parlors are a part of Charleston society tradition dating back to the city’s beginnings. To stroll down the city streets at night was to enjoy a glimpse into comfortable and elegant salons. The parlor at Planters Inn embodies that tradition. This light-filled room overlooking the Historic District is sophisticated without being overdone, with seagrass flooring, sweeping floor-to-ceiling window treatments and plush velvet sofas. Guests of the Inn use the parlor as it is intended—for reading, relaxing, and meeting up with friends.
Elements of parlor design permeate the hotel, as do other symbols of Charleston’s genteel past. Sweetgrass baskets woven from native South Carolina materials pay homage to a 300-year Charleston tradition. Furnishings—demi-lune consoles, bow front chests, the four-poster beds—are by Baker Historic Charleston Collection, each piece inspired by the city’s finest original furniture. Audubon prints adorn the walls in guest rooms and intimate shared spaces. Hushed tones of buttercream, Lowcountry greens, and pale powder blue invoke tranquility. Pieces of the Mottahedeh “Sacred Bird & Butterfly” motif in the traditional Chinese orange and gold line the hotel’s china cabinets. Reproductions of the porcelain, along with countless other Charleston-specific souvenirs, can be purchased across the street from the hotel at the venerable Charleston City Market.
Another beloved feature is the stunning courtyard. Hidden from the street, this delightful discovery was brought to life by Sheila Wertimer, the landscape architect behind some of the city’s most elegant gardens. A hand-pointed, historic brick path leads alongside the hotel through a wrought iron gate with a gas lantern overhead. It opens into an ideal Charleston garden courtyard, adorned in delicate crepe myrtle blossoms in summer, and beguiling pink and white camellias in winter.
Every evening at dusk, a gentleman emerges from Peninsula Grill to carry forth a longstanding tradition: He lights each carriage lantern by hand, one-by-one, and the courtyard comes alive. Palmetto trees are illuminated, and tea lights flicker in this magical nighttime tableau. It is an intimate and wildly romantic setting for Peninsula Grill’s highly sought-after courtyard tables.
A cosmopolitan restaurant serving refined American cuisine with Southern accents is the alchemy that put Peninsula Grill onto the national dining map in the late 1990s and solidified its place among the South’s most successful and most beloved restaurants. Upon opening just shy of Valentine’s Day, 1997, Esquire’s John Mariani chose Peninsula Grill as one of the best new restaurants in the United States, and Wine Spectator gave it an Award of Excellence. The accolades accumulate still today.
The restaurant embraces fresh, seasonal cuisine, and it sources the very best ingredients both locally and from around the world daily. Classic appetizers are offered with a slight Lowcountry accent, like Ossetra caviar with fried green tomatoes, and oyster stew with wild mushroom grits. Not to be missed is their take on She Crab soup, an elegant sherry-finished bisque that originated in 1700s Charleston.
Peninsula Grill’s décor, also envisioned by Handegan, draws praise for its timelessness. Shimmering velvet walls, woven seagrass floors, and custom chandeliers set the stage for a gold-trimmed proscenium where the chef and cooks “perform” nightly. The effect is elegant but not overreaching, the perfect embodiment of the entire Peninsula Grill experience.