by Ann Lombardi
For a free-spirited, all-American girl getaway, head to seductive Savannah, mystical epitome of the Old South. Serving up heaps of charm and history, this laid-back Georgia “must-see” town quickly casts its magic spell. Start your visit with a stay at one of the Riverfront hotels.
The Doubletree, steps away from the City Market and River Street, tempts with its cozy lobby, huge beds (each crowned with five fluffy pillows) and trademark walnut chocolate chip cookies. Be extra nice to cheery Cynthia at the front desk. She just might slip you an extra cookie or two!
TOP SIGHTSEEING TIPS
• Call 1-877-SAVANNAH, or check out these websites when planning your escape: www.visitsavannah.com, www.savcvb.com, and www.savannahpackages.com. Along Savannah’s Riverfront at 1 River Street, pop into the busy Hospitality Center. Marion, lively “grande dame” of Savannah hospitality, loads up visitors with helpful brochures and regales with insider tales only a local could know.
• The Telfair Museum of Art (one the South’s oldest) and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum are Savannah’s gifts to art and history buffs. Tour the beautifully-restored antebellum mansions. The Juliette Gordon Low and Andrew Lowe homes, Owen-Thomas House, and Davenport House are best bets.
• Fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil have their pick of tours highlighting sites from John Berendt’s best-selling book. It single-handedly boosted Savannah’s tourism by at least 50%. Visit Bonaventure Cemetery and the Mercer House, where the sister of the infamous Jim Williams still resides.
• Snap pictures of the live oaks draped with Spanish moss, bustling harbor, horse-drawn carriages, and friendly locals with endearing Savannah drawls. Really MAH-vuh-lus! The town boasts native children Johnny Mercer, Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low, writers Conrad Aiken and Flannery O’Connor, Southern cooking diva Paula Deen, and “Life is like a box of chocolates” Forrest Gump! Strike up conversations with Savannah’s gracious residents.
• Hop aboard one of Savannah’s free CAT trolleys for an overview of the town. Then buy a trolley ticket on a tourist line (i.e. Gray Line or Old Town Trolley Tours) with live commentary. A one-day pass actually covers two full days of trolley rides. Take the 90-minute ride all the way to the end of the route and then backtrack to explore favorite stops. The home-grown tourist bus drivers are very entertaining and well-versed in juicy local lore.
• Don’t miss a “Ghost Walk.” Savannah is said to have more haunted houses than any other U.S. city! A handful of companies offer ghostly options each evening. Hunky Shannon Scott, owner of Sixth Sense (1-866-666-DEAD), gives spooky adult nightly tours guaranteed to induce a serious case of goosebumps. Catch him soon, because in 2007 he’s rumored to be moving away to write his first book.
• Dine at famous Savannah restaurants off-peak before crowds hit. Sample delicious home-style fare at Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons, Mrs.Wilkes’ Dining Room, and Clary’s Cafe. The City Market Cafe, on West Julian Street, makes yummy thin-crust pizza starting at $2 per monster slice. Dive into tasty, affordable seafood at the Shrimp Factory. For a sinful treat, top off dinner with a scrumptious chocolate basket at Garibaldi’s, local Italian eatery. Filled with caramelized berries & ice cream, the divine dessert is a chocolate-lover’s dream come true.
• Take the free ferry from the Riverfront. Just show a Savannah hotel room key before boarding the boat for the 15-minute scenic ride to the other side of the river. Wave to huge freighters plying the waters and later book a relaxing Riverboat dinner cruise.
• Tour historic First African Baptist Church, the very first black church in America. Peek inside the Catholic Cathedral, St. John the Baptist, and marvel at the wooden Stations of the Cross carved in Bavaria. The stunning stained glass windows were made in Austria. Visit Mickve Israel, the old synagogue founded in 1733 by Portuguese Jewish immigrants to the new colony.
Ann Lombardi is a travel writer, veteran tour escort/travel consultant, and former E.S.L. teacher with a knack for (mis)adventure. Her travel stories have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Risks of Sunbathing Topless (Seal Press), The Thong Also Rises (Travelers’ Tale), Columbia County Magazine, and Cultural Exploring. Among her fondest exploits in 60+ countries are crashing into a snowdrift on a runaway Lapp reindeer sled, being rescued from a phone booth during an alpine blizzard, finishing dead last in the Berlin Marathon, swimming in a volcanic thermal crack with a naked Icelandic man, hitching a ride on an Amish horse and buggy, touring Moscow with a black marketer, and getting tear-gassed in curlers outside a Seoul hair salon. She co-hosted “The Trip Chicks Travel Show” on Fox Radio WMET 1160 in Washington, D.C. and now hosts “Escapes,” a weekly Atlanta travel talk show on 1620 AM Radio Sandy Springs. Ann hangs her backpack in Atlanta, Georgia, and her websites are TheTripChicks.com and AskTheTripChicks.com.
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Photographs were taken by Bill Windsor.