Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Savannah Stopover

This year, on our annual trip to visit my mom in Port St. Lucie, Florida (been there, blogged that), we stopped for two nights in Savannah, Georgia. Armed with our invaluable walking tour guidebook ($6 well spent), we spent almost all of our time in the city walking around the downtown historic district, and I can’t remember a city center more picturesque than this one.

The city was laid out in the 1700’s around 8-block wards, with a square at each ward’s center. As the city grew, new squares were added, and today, 22 remain. This means that you can’t walk more than a few blocks before coming to the next square. Each square contains some artistic centerpiece: a statue or monument or fountain, surrounded by well-tended landscaping, brick pathways, and live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. And around each square, the city’s finest civic, commercial and residential structures were built, so that if you sit in a bench in any of the squares, you can just look around in all directions and see the city’s most historic and impressive buildings: a lavish antebellum home here, a church there, a beautiful inn next door.

The historic district is filled with attractions for visitors: historic home tours, history and art museums, trolley tours and carriage rides, shops and restaurants geared to tourists, boat cruises on the Savannah River, and visitor centers scattered throughout. Luckily we were there mid-week in late February, when the tourists weren’t out in force. I would be wary of the place on a sunny Saturday in spring.

The city is also home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), an institution that has bought up and transformed many of Savannah’s buildings into college spaces, so we did see lots of students out and about. The one thing we didn’t see much of were city residents going about normal, non-tourist activities. Other than businesspeople hovering around a few out-of-place modern office buildings, there didn’t seem to be many locals around town, other than the employees of businesses serving the tourist trade. If Savannah has a tagline, “historic preservation for the tourists” would sum it up well. Tourists or no, as travel destinations go, Savannah is a marvel of history, culture, and natural beauty, all wrapped up in a pedestrian-friendly bow.

This is the trolley tour we took, one of several operating in the historic district. A good way to get a guided orientation before taking off on foot.

Original home to the Savannah Cotton Exchange (c. 1887), one of many historic buildings along the riverfront.

Hamilton-Turner House, c. 1873, now an inn. The city is chock-full of similar historic homes.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, c. 1896. Impressive interior, and no admission fee!

The fountain in Forsyth Park, erected in 1858.

The Olde Pink House restaurant (c. 1789), where we had dinner in a lavishly decorated dining room. And more fountains and gardens and trees and squares...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burnley & Barboursville Vineyards

On our way to Stanardsville in January, we visited two area vineyards. Our first stop was Burnley Vineyards, a small, home-grown winery established in 1976, with 32 acres of vineyards, and a tasting room in a converted house. We tasted quite a few of their 15 wines, and settled on a Rubix, a port-style dessert wine. An unusual choice for me, because I’m definitely more of a pre-meal drinker than post-meal. But I enjoyed it enough to consider exploring more dessert wines in the future.

The friendly face at the Burnley tasting room.

After Burnley, we stopped at nearby Barboursville Vineyards, a much bigger operation that includes event space and an upscale restaurant. Like Burnley, the winery was founded in 1976, but historic buildings at the site date back to the early 1800’s. One of the historic homes on the property has been turned into an inn, next to the ruins of the original estate, designed by Thomas Jefferson. History plus wine draws a lot of visitors, and I’ve read that on summer weekends, the tasting room is so crowded that it’s impossible to find comfortable room at the tasting bar. We were there on a dead-of-winter weekday, and were two of only a handful of folks in the large room, so we were able to taste lots of wines in a leisurely way. Barboursville has a wine for every taste, but be careful. When a winery has something like 20 wines available for tasting, you really do need to pace yourself if you expect to drive away safely.

Barboursville's large tasting room.

The sign at the ruins says: "Historic landmark designed by Thomas Jefferson for Governor James Barbour. Built 1814; destroyed by fire Christmas Day, 1884."

The 1804 Inn includes this building plus several small restored cottages.