The city of Charleston in South Carolina is a treasure trove of American history, having been settled by English colonists as far back as 1680. Before the Civil War started off its shores in 1861, Charleston ladies and gents lived lavishly in stately mansions surrounded by lush gardens behind artistically forged wrought-iron gates. Iconic Belmond Charleston Place embodies that fashionable urban lifestyle with all the sophistication and elegance one expects in a luxury hotel. It is distinctly Charleston dripping with Southern charm and hospitality.
History of Belmond Charleston Place
The hotel is not historic but was built in the style of 17th century architecture in the historic district that surrounds it. In 1986, popular Mayor Joe Riley wanted a luxury hotel to anchor his revitalization of the city, so he built Charleston Place on an empty parking lot. During his 40-year term, Riley “transformed Charleston from a sleepy Southern town into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world,” writes Brian Hicks in The Mayor, Joe Riley and the Rise of Charleston.
The Italian marble lobby with its “Open Arm” staircase and 12-foot crystal chandelier is a traditional style in southern architecture. It took my breath away! It was like entering one of those grand Georgian mansions along Meeting Street. The lobby is intimate, warm and welcoming, more like a boutique hotel.
Rooms at Belmond Charleston Place
To my surprise, the hotel has 434 guest rooms. Our club-level king room in a soothing blue-grey hue features rich inlayed mahogany furniture in the 1800s style—bedside tables, desk and chest of drawers hiding a minibar. A beautiful mirrored sectioned armoire holds plush robes and slippers, umbrella, iron/ironing board, fridge and a safe. Two cut-velvet lounge chairs sit next to a marble-top end table holding a vase with a single fresh rose (a signature touch in every room). Tech amenities include TV, iPod docking station, free Wifi, and cell phone charging outlets. Cool little reading lights are attached to each side of the bed, and you can control all lights from a master bedside switch. This room ranges from $469 to $835.
The large bathroom is luxurious with Carrara marble, a silver-framed mirror, glass knobs and wall sconces. The walk-in shower features both a rain-head and hand-held spray. There’s plenty of storage and extra fluffy towels. Some rooms have soaking tubs also. Bath toiletries are London’s Gilchrist & Soames. Turn-down service includes slippers laid out on each side of bed and the next-day weather report.
The club level is extraordinary at this hotel. I felt as special as a movie star on the set of Gone With the Wind.
Every time we passed through the Club Floor lounge there was food set out. Besides continental breakfast, all-day snacks of cheese and crackers, afternoon tea and happy hour hors d’oeuvres (with full bar), a spread of desserts and cordials tempted us after dinner. This Cannoli Cake was one of many delicious desserts on the center table.
Dining at Belmond Charleston Place
An Old World setting distinguishes Charleston Grill, the award-winning restaurant at Charleston Place. Dark wood paneling, arched nooks, lampshade sconces and white tablecloths add to the rich ambiance befitting this gorgeous property. Paintings of local scenes hang in gold frames on the walls, and a jazz combo plays nightly. Service is impeccable.
Again, the single rose appears on the table. We sat next to the window looking out onto the lush garden courtyard. Too hot to eat out there in June, so we got the best of both worlds!
Chef Michelle Weaver divides her menu into four categories: Pure (simple and clean), Lush (in the French tradition), Southern (inspired by the region) and Cosmopolitan (global cuisine). Imagine a Lush appetizer of Foie Gras flavored with Nutella! For my entree I chose a Southern dish (“when in Rome. . .”). It was sort of a Cioppino, Southern style, Chef calls LowCountry Muddle. A delicious, light tomato broth engulfs pieces of shrimp, crab and bass layered on grits.
The light and airy Palmetto Cafe serves breakfast and lunch with mostly seafood dishes; also weekend brunch. The Thoroughbred Club recalls America’s oldest Jockey Club founded in 1792. With a horse racing motif, this sexy space serves as the lobby bar, serving cocktails, tapas and desserts starting at 4 p.m accompanied by live music all week. Meeting at Market is a sports bar open to the outside on Meeting and Market Streets. Typical pub fare is served with a large selection of craft beers. Lastly, the Clocktower Terrace is the rooftop pool bar with healthy bites and libations.
The Spa at Belmond Charleston Place
Just as luxurious as the rest of the hotel, the full-service spa is a peaceful oasis complete with sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. Adjacent is a fully equipped fitness center and gorgeous salt-water pool with a retractable roof. The rooftop bar is just outside the pool room.
Meeting Rooms at Belmond Charleston Place
Exquisitely appointed and efficiently designed, the second-floor meeting space accommodates both large-scale receptions and smaller meetings, breakout sessions and seminars.
Other services include babysitting, airport transportation (12 miles away), concierge, overnight valet, laundry, shoe shine and 24-hour room service. The Shops at Belmond Charleston Place are in a wing off the lobby. The collection includes such upscale brands as Gucci, Louis Vitton and Godiva Chocolatiers plus the hotel’s signature shop with unique items.
Belmond Charleston Place, 205 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401; 888-635-2350; www.belmond.com/charleston-place.
What to do in Charleston
There is so much to see and do in the once walled city of Charleston—the antebellum homes and gardens, more than 400 churches, the bustling harbor and private beaches, Fort Sumter, the plantations. There’s good reason why Condé Nast readers named 343-year-old Charleston the #1 small city destination for six straight years. Beauty, charm, history, architecture, lowcountry cuisine, shopping and that inimitable southern culture. There is a refreshing gentility in this town that I’ve not found in other cities. Women wear dresses, men look sharp; everyone is polite and friendly. Maybe it’s because Charlestonians have endured wars, a major earthquake and devastating hurricane that they value life and land more than other city dwellers. Charleston is an American treasure.
Plan to spend at least a week here. The historic sites impressed me the most, so I will recommend a few within the city. There’s so much more here and in other neighborhoods and surrounding islands. Find a complete listing and historical background at www.explorecharleston.com.
Tour the historic district by carriage or walking or self-guided tour (buy The Complete Walking Tour of Historic Charleston at the Visitors Center.
Shop for Sweetgrass baskets (a Gullah culture tradition) at the Charleston City Market
Take a ferry to Fort Sumter to learn how the Civil War started.
Visit Old Slave Mart Museum for a sobering history of slavery in Charleston
Visit Gibbs Museum of Art
Browse antique shops along King Street for a peek into how Charlestonians lived in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Best time to visit weather-wise is spring or fall. Summer heat and humidity can be stifling. Best rates are found in early winter.
Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other hotels she’s visited in Sleepin’ Around.