ESCAPE TO THE LOW COUNTRY
Off-season is the perfect time to explore this iconic coastline. The 2015 Escape journeys from Savannah to Charleston to see what makes this land unique.
By Reed Jackson
Photography by Roark Johnson
The Gullah have a word for those who were born and raised in the Low Country. They call them “bin yahs,” people who have been there and know the land—how it smells on the water; how the cicadas start to teem and hum at sunset; how the first frost of the year sweetens the local greens. Things a “come yah,” someone from out of town, wouldn’t necessarily understand.
Take a trip to the Low Country, the stretch of land that lines the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, and you might just find yourself wanting to slow down and stay awhile. This is a place trapped in time, crossed by roadways lined with oaks draped in Spanish moss and dotted with charming white churches. Its scenic pathways are only half the magic, however; its rich history, still found in its people, art and food, makes it a truly unique region of the country and a perfect place for an off-season road trip, when it still remains relatively warm but is blissfully empty of tourists. A tour from Savannah to Charleston via the iconic Sea Islands is perfect for the 2015 Escape, a small SUV tailor-made to handle dusty back roads and narrow cobblestoned streets, and to do it with class and style.
History: Past Meets Present
On a brisk morning in Savannah, Ga., we get acquainted with the old town, driving the Escape past the Historic Savannah Theatre, the oldest operating theater in the U.S. The brick building, with its Steamboat Gothic design, is one of many historically designated structures in this area.
We drive out of town, taking in the steamboat tours on the Savannah River before we hit the marshes and palmetto forests of the Sea Islands, the Low Country’s charming chain of tidal and barrier islands. This is rice country: The crop brought wealthy businessmen from all over the world to plant it, as well as the African ancestors of the Gullah to harvest it.
“We’re about history, and we’re about the water,” says Beaufort Mayor Bill Keyserling when we swing by his home for a glass of sweet tea and a stroll by the river. Beaufort was a center of action during the American Revolution and Civil War. We stop by the Beaufort History Museum to find out all about it, then head to the Penn School to see the country’s first school for freed slaves.
Driving deeper into the Sea Islands, we make it to Huntington Beach just in time for sunset. The Escape’s available 2.0L EcoBoost® engine, paired with a 6-speed SelectShift® automatic transmission, makes maneuvering the tree-lined roads a breeze. We park near the beach and walk onto the sand, soaking in the pink lemonade sky as the sun goes down.
Art: Flying Colors
The walls of the downtown Charleston studio and home of local artist Jonathan Green are adorned with his artwork, blazing paintings in flaming oranges and electric greens, celebrations of the wild landscape of the Low Country. Green was born and raised in the area and has become celebrated for his ability to capture the hardships, victories and emotions of the Gullah community in which he was raised. “My art has been an application of all that I have learned from my elders,” he says.
Green also has a desire to share his knowledge with young artists in South Carolina. He often identifies specific ones who need mentoring and helps to sponsor them as they create work and seek exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the Low Country. We drive through Charleston’s Art District in the Escape, maneuvering the area’s tight cobblestoned streets to get glimpses of the paintings and sculptures hanging in the windows. We turn down Broad Street, also known as Gallery Row, and have it almost all to ourselves in the fading dusk.
On another evening, we’d get out and walk Broad Street, but tonight we’re in the mood for some good tunes. We land at Royal American, a local tavern and the first bustling spot we’ve seen since we’ve been here. Everyone is here to see the rock ’n’ roll singers who are gracing the bar’s stage. Charleston is home to a vibrant music scene, full of bands that howl at the stars and sing about their love for the South, imperfections and all.
Food: True Grits
Of course, the most delectable part of Charleston is its Low Country cuisine. So we head to Minero, the Mexican eatery with star chef Sean Brock in the kitchen. Foot traffic is light in the winter, the bartender tells us, so we manage to snag a table and sit down to a plate of Brock’s world-class burritos, each one wrapped in a skin of burnt cheese.
Hominy Grill, owned by beloved chef Robert Stehling, is also lightly populated when we pull in the next day in the Escape. The restaurant is known for its shrimp and grits, fluffy and warm with a creamy consistency. When Stehling first moved to Charleston from Brooklyn, N.Y., around two decades ago, he was surprised to find that not many local chefs were cooking traditional Low Country food. He opened Hominy to put the history back in people’s mouths. “The recipes I cook always have deep roots and good stories behind how they got to be on our table,” he says.
Many of the dishes at Hominy feature ingredients brought over by slaves from Africa, such as eggplant and okra. According to local lore, some of these ingredients thrive in the wintertime, as they get sweeter after the first frost. Stehling, a North Carolina native, is a little skeptical of the claim. But one thing he’s sure about is that the maturation of Charleston’s culinary scene over the past 15 years can be traced back to the area’s decision to embrace its heritage. The idea makes sense; almost everything in the Low Country seems to thrive on tradition.
An available 2.0L EcoBoost® has an EPA-estimated rating of 23 city/30 hwy*.
The available panoramic skylight tilts up or opens fully, so regardless of where you’re sitting you’ll see more of the world above.
A foot-activated, hands-free power liftgate makes it easier than ever to load and unload heavy cargo.