It was a simple — yet monotonous — 350-mile drive down from Chapel Hill this morning. Crossing the bridge from South Carolina, we arrived in Savannah, some would say the quintessential Southern city, with squares, fountains, cobblestone streets and the slow winding Savannah River lined by street musicians blaring away on saxophones. Savannah is perhaps best known as the backdrop of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the John Berendt novel that spent 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, longer than any other book.
Savannah is also undergoing a transformation. There’s a burgeoning arts scene, driven largely by the recent expansion of the Telfair Museum and the continuous innovation of Savannah College of Art and Design. And there’s money pouring into historic restoration, including Ellis Square, a square turned parking lot now being re-transformed to its original state.
Our hotel, AVIA, itself a new addition, overlooked the Ellis Square construction. Inside was a modern and serene atmosphere, coupled with true Southern hospitality. After a friendly welcome from the front-desk receptionist, we were promptly upgraded to a Grand Studio Suite, which offered views of the historic district and plenty of space — including a full kitchen.
The Mercer Williams House provided an appropriate introduction to Savannah. The fully restored house, originally built in the 1860s, was the site of the violent act memorialized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Jim Williams, who restored the house, was acquitted of murder three times. Today, there are tours of his garden and veranda, as well as the first floor parlor rooms, with their hundred year old tiled floors and artifacts from a bygone era.
Interestingly enough, Williams’ sister still lives on the second floor.
Outside, we wandered among the streets, squares and fountains of the historic district. We passed the bench that served as the backdrop for Forrest Gump, spotted lamp posts and gracious homes festooned in holiday decor and walked the quiet paths of Forsyth Park.
With a light mist falling, we drove out to stately Bonaventure Cemetery, the final resting place for some of this city’s most notable residents, including Conrad Aiken and Johnny Mercer. Towering oak trees — some 250 years old — sit overhead draped with Spanish moss, creating both an eerie and peaceful atmosphere.
Back at the AVIA, we showered before checking out the shops on Broughton Street, including a really cool furniture store, 24e, that was having a barn-burning sale.
We snatched up some goodies, opted for a non-low country cuisine dinner and crashed out.