Charleston & The Lowcountry
When people think of the Lowcountry the beach is their first thought, but really there's so much more. There are bays, and creeks, and rivers to explore and they all connect to the Intercoastal--the protected waterway that runs along the eastern coast. This is a prime bird-watching area, since it's on the Atlantic flyway. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, snowy egrets, blue herons, and wood storks are just a few of the types of birds you will see. There are also American alligators, loggerhead turtles, and manatees. Wildlife teems here along the waterway, and you'll also discover deer, ferrel hogs, raccoon, otter and mink.
Along the waterways you can still see some of the old plantations. Although reminiscent of Gone With The Wind, unlike Tara, these were not cotton farms but former rice plantations. With all the abundant water the area was perfect for rice fields, and it was the slaves who knew how to cultivate rice since it was a staple crop in West Africa. The slaves brought their rich cultural history with them when they came to this land, particularly in the food they prepared for the plantation owners. In fact, Lowcountry cuisine was a result of the coming together of cultures of West Africa, the Caribbean, and finally North America, where each of these areas provided not only special ingredients but also their unique style of cooking. A shrimp boil or a Lowcountry boil, for instance, was a style of cooking learned in West Africa and brought to America, where the meat or fish was boiled in heavily spiced water or broth, giving it exceptional flavor. Today some of those specialized recipes remain. Chicken Bog, a stew of whole chicken, lots of black pepper, salt and brothy rice is a perfect example of one of these dishes. Then you have Frogmore stew, which is boiled shrimp with sausage, potatoes, and corn on the cob. And of course there are gumbos. Unlike using file powder as they do in New Orleans, to thicken the stew, these Lowcountry gumbos instead were thickened with okra which was a staple in Africa. You'll find some of these dishes featured at our favorite Charleston restaurants.
Today this strong culture of Africa continues in the Lowcountry. The Gullah, descendants of enslaved Africans, still live in Lowcountry regions of South Carolina and Georgia, including both the coastal plain and the sea islands. Because they have been relatively isolated, the Gullah have developed a culture that has preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage. This special language has roots in Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize and West Africa. Their story-telling, their cuisine, even their music, beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions exhibit strong influences from west and central Africa.
As you go inland from the Lowcountry, you'll see Spanish Moss hanging gracefully from centuries-old live-oak trees where secluded manors are separated from their neighbors by low shrub hedges. True fences would be frowned upon. Camellias and azaleas trail the banks of the lazy rivers. During the warm afternoons of summer, you'll often find people sitting on their porches sipping sweet tea and visiting with friends. The magic, however, happens in the evening as you hear the soft croaking of frogs down by the river and see the glow of fireflies. Now you might understand why it's close to impossible not to relax in the Lowcountry. In fact, people have said that once you come to the Lowcountry plan on setting your clock back twenty years to a simpler time--a more genteel time.