Decked with Southern charm, endless greenery and the addictive scent of jasmine mingling with the spice of a coming thunderstorm, Zero George Street is a boutique hotel tucked away in the historic downtown of Charleston, South Carolina. Once you’ve unpacked your bags, wander the streets nearby to marvel at the magnificent gardens and elegantly restored architecture, or pull up a restaurant chair and tuck in to the city’s renowned Low Country cuisine. With a vibrant creative community spirit that pervades every corner, you’re bound to feel welcome here.
The streets of Charleston are somewhat curiously numbered. In addition to the usual whole numerals, certain buildings are also numbered in halves, and others, in the case of my hotel, at zero. In fact it is this numerical quirk from which the hotel takes its name: Zero George Street. I settle back into a woven cane chair on the long verandah in front of my room, looking out onto the hotel’s courtyard. This boutique retreat is housed in a cluster of five restored historic residential buildings, each retaining the patina of many years lived – one that can only be earned, and never fabricated. The height of the buildings coupled with the spring foliage in full bloom creates a feeling of sanctuary tucked away from the street.
Though petite, Zero George hosts all manner of nooks for sitting and reading a book, or simply revelling in the sunshine – all of which I’m hoping to try. Having flown in from a bleak, winterish day in New York, I’m grateful to feel the thick Charleston heat settling onto my skin. Herbaceous scents mingle with the humidity, the freshness of damp hedges fusing with the sweetness of jasmine in bloom. A different spice in the air signals that we are amidst the crescendo of intense heat and humidity that will later culminate in a glorious downpour. I decide to make the most of the current sunshine and set off exploring Charleston’s historic downtown. There’s a gentle sense of peace here, and a charming friendliness signalled by the nods and smiles offered freely by passersby.
The sounds of traffic are minimal, or at least unusual – the trot of horse-drawn carts and whir of spokes are equally prominent alongside the hum of car engines. Girls in elegant sun dresses glide by on vintage bicycles, making the task look anything but arduous despite the intense heat. Throughout the day as I continue my wanderings, I begin to recognise familiar faces, which evokes a certain small-town feel despite Charleston being the second most populous city in South Carolina. King Street, the city’s prominent shopping thoroughfare, retains a certain elegance in spite of the myriad chain stores at its hem. This rare feat is no doubt due to such brands being housed discreetly in historic buildings, and other more recent architecture that respectfully remains true to the city’s past. It’s also healthily balanced by a procession of independent boutiques, antique stores and galleries – all signs of the creative community that is currently percolating in Charleston.
In various conversations throughout the day, I gather that there are many newly minted Charlestonians who have abandoned their frenetic urban lives in other cities – New York, Los Angeles, Portland – to pursue their creative passion here, be it interior design, taxidermy, artisan homewares, or opening a dream culinary locale. The supportive energy amongst this creative coterie is disarmingly refreshing – and welcoming to everyone. Enamoured by the community spirit, I quietly file away in my mind the idea of Charleston as a future destination to call home. As I explore the smaller streets that branch off King, I soon learn that adventurousness is a richly rewarded virtue in Charleston. Slender, ivy-clad laneways lead to tiny courtyards, silent save for the trickle of a fountain and the chirp of sparrows. Or to tiny boutiques squirrelled away from sight, but filled with treasures for those who dare to wander off the beaten path.
Further down towards the waterfront, grand Italianate mansions stand tall, elegantly bordered by expansive verandahs lined with lazily circulating ceiling fans. Peeks through slivers in fences reveal blooming gardens, some immaculately manicured, others delightfully wild – filled with adventurous vines and gnarled tree branches clad cosily in moss. It takes a great amount of personal restraint to stop myself from scaling the fences to gain a closer look at these lovely secret gardens. Dusk begins to settle across the sky, and along the streets the flames of old-fashioned gas lamps flicker to life. The redolent jasmine grows ever stronger, a reminder that summer will soon arrive. As if given a silent cue, frogs begin to croak in call and response, with crickets chiming in arrhythmically soon after. And with a crack of thunder, the heavens open.
Visit www.mrandmrssmith.com for further information or contact the Mr & Mrs Smith travel team on 1300 89 66 27.