Gardens, Gates, Cottages and Castles
Secret gardens await behind skillfully crafted gates … gates that beg to be opened … gates that hide lush gardens, carpeted pathways and flowing fountains.
Text and Photographs by Donna Keel Armer
Each year, the Historic Beaufort Foundation of South Carolina opens a few of these gates so that all may enter and enjoy historic beauty without long lines, difficult traffic or exceedingly long walks or drives between points of interest.
Situated halfway between Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort is a precious gem between two golden cities of the South. And, Beaufort shines each year on its annual Fall Tour of Homes!
Whether you’re traveling from the North or the South, Beaufort is an easy exit off of I-95. The best avenue to create the start of your relaxing getaway is to take Exit 38. When the road splits, indicating Beaufort to the right, take the road to the left (or the road less traveled), and drive across to Beaufort on Old Sheldon Church Road. There’s a line of demarcation that clearly delineates crossing from maniacal interstate driving to leisurely paced rural blacktop. Overarching oaks dressed in regal Spanish moss take your breath away. You will visibly relax, slowing your pace to match the rhythm of the Lowcountry.
Old Sheldon Church Road offers an “off the beaten path” experience that includes the impressive ruins of Prince Williams’s Parish Church which was built between 1745-1755. The Church was designed in the style of a Greek temple and was the first such structure in the United States. The imposing columns still stand watch today beckoning you to stop awhile before continuing your journey.
Beaufort is a place to be visited any time of the year. My first visit (many years ago) was in the Fall on a girls’ getaway week. And, it was once again in the Fall (2013) that I rediscovered Beaufort with my husband when we decided we needed a quick getaway weekend. It was just one of those spontaneous decisions that had far-reaching implications for us. The weekend we picked just happened to coincide with the annual Fall Festival of Homes and Gardens and we were not disappointed.
We booked tickets for all three days of the tour, starting with the “Walking Tour” that featured private homes in the National Historic Landmark District. Each location was within easy walking distance of another landmark home. We were impressed with the number of Gothic revival and Italianate homes nestled among the “Beaufort style” of homes featuring wraparound porches, two-storied, with raised foundations facing towards the water.
For our first evening meal we made reservations at Saltus River Grill situated on the Henry C. Chambers waterfront. The sun was setting as we were graciously given (at our request) an outside table. The fire pit was lit and the Vic Varner Trio set the mood as we sipped our wine and contemplated a mouth-watering menu.
After a peaceful night’s rest, we were energized for the next day of our tour called “Ramble Around Beaufort” and ramble we did. From the tiny Nash cottage to The Dr. Joseph Johnson House (known as The Castle) to the Barnwell Gough House (one of the few remaining 19th century tabby houses in Beaufort), we were regaled with stories of the past.
After a brief rest, we selected Griffin Market for our dining experience and once again, we batted a thousand. Laura and Riccardo Bonino offer some of the best Italian cuisine outside of Italy. Laura is the chef extraordinaire, presenting seasonal fare in the Italian tradition with a mix of Lowcountry finesse, and Riccardo (from the Piedmonte region of Italy) is the charming host and wine expert. As frequent travelers to Italy, we were thrilled to find this exceptional restaurant.
The third day of our stay began with an early morning breakfast at Blackstone Cafe, a local institution in the heart of the Historic District. We returned briefly to our rental house to pack before starting our final day. The “Kitchens and Cuisine” tour (since we are foodies) was clearly a delightful way to wind down our getaway. Five local chefs created regional specialities in the kitchens of five private homes. The weather was brilliant, the houses welcoming, and the food put the icing on the cake for us.
So now it’s time for you to make plans to attend the 2014 Fall Festival of Homes and Gardens (October 24-26, 2014), which welcomes all to view its gardens and gates and cottages and castles.
It will be spectacular. Some of the featured homes for this year’s “Walking Tour” are The Williams Fickling House (c.1820); a recently restored home on the Bay, several houses in The Point; and the Verdier House (c. 1804) which features the Historic Beaufort Foundation museum.
This year’s “Ramble Around Beaufort” and “Kitchens and Cuisine” tours require a car to reach some of the sites, which include the McKee-Smalls House (c.1834); the George Moss Stoney House (c.1823) with its wonderful gardens; the newly restored McGrath-Scheper House (c.1852); the not to be missed Chelsea Plantation, and the newly refurbished home of the Port Royal Sound Foundation.
Late October weather in Beaufort is perfect – light sweaters or jackets in the early morning and late evening and shirt sleeves during the day. Last year, we rented an adorable house on Pigeon Point, but there are numerous places to stay from top of the line Historic Bed & Breakfasts to the typical express hotels. Book early as it’s the time of year accommodations fill up quickly.
If you already have plans for late October and can’t make this year’s Fall Festival of Homes and Gardens, put it on your calendar for next year. But keep in mind that Beaufort is a year round destination. Come any time for a quiet getaway or for one of the many fun-filled festival weekends.
Festivals abound in this Lowcountry area starting in February with the Beaufort Film Festival, an enjoyable event that is sure to wash away your post-holiday blues. Spring, with its burst of new life offers garden tours, a music fest, soft shell crabs, a Gullah Festival and A Taste of Beaufort Festival. Summer offers the unique 10-day Beaufort Water Festival filled with water events, food, entertainment and arts and crafts booths.
Along with the annual Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens, October brings the Beaufort Shrimp Festival and the Port Royal Festival of the Sea. In December, Beaufort shines brightly with A Night on the Town featuring tree lighting, caroling, decorated shops open late, and the entire experience is made complete with a Light Up The Night Boat Parade that will fill your heart with the holiday spirit.
The festivals, stellar eateries, top of the line accommodations, and boutique shopping are surely enough to entice you to come to this historically significant town, but when you add to this delicious pot the graciousness of the people who live, work and play here, you’ll want to come back to Beaufort again and again.
In October of 2013 my husband and I came for a short getaway and to enjoy The Fall Festival of Homes and Gardens. In April of 2014, we moved here to enjoy this wonderful lifestyle year round.