Although it is has enjoyed a recent renaissance, Savannah has seen its fortunes rise and fall several times throughout history. The city prospered after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin and flourished during the early 19th century, until the bank collapse of the 1820s. By surrendering before the Union army attacked during the Civil War, the city’s elite saved their treasures from certain destruction, but time and destitution took their toll. In the 1950s, some enterprising grande dames on a civic mission banded together to form the Historic Savannah Foundation, and the city began to reemerge as one of America’s most beautiful. Today, Savannah is recognized for its wonderful creativity thanks to the flourishing Savannah College of Art and Design. Beginning as an art teacher’s vision, comprising one building and forty students in 1981, it has expanded to encompass more than 60 structures in the Historic District with more than 11,000 pupils from around the world.

Cheat Sheet

Lay of the Land

“It was gentler here, softer, its seethe the quietest of whispers, as if, in deference to a drawing room, it had quite deliberately put on its 'manners'”
~Conrad Aiken

The best trip to Savannah should mix a dose of history with a glimpse of the creative scene and plenty of time for browsing shops and savoring excellent Southern food. If you can, arrange a visit to a plantation and some time on the water.

Although much of the area around Savannah is known as the Low Country, the city itself sits on a forty-foot-high bluff above the Savannah River. Visitors will want to concentrate their exploring on the Historic District, which has been designated a National Landmark. Historic District areas that you may hear referenced include River Walk, City Market, Forsyth Park and the Design District. You can skip River Walk, which is full of bars and tourist shops, and the equally touristy City Market, where the trolleys start. Forsyth Park, in contrast, is a great place to jog (it’s exactly one mile around), and the Design District is perfect for a quick shopping fix, since most of the city’s interesting fashion and home-design stores lie along the short stretch of Whitaker Street between Jones and Taylor.

Indagare Intelligence: Savannah Accommodations

Occasionally, wonderful places lack a truly wonderful hotel, and Savannah fits that description. In a city with so many historic buildings and worldly inhabitants, you would expect that someone would have come along and created a charming property with service to match the surroundings. After all, Savannah’s nickname is the Hostess City. However, that has not yet happened. You have to compromise. If you want a proper hotel with reliable air-conditioning, an on-site spa and twenty-four-hour fitness-and-business center and room service, one of your few options (other than an international chain like Hilton or Westin) is the Mansion on Forsyth, which itself is now part of Marriott’s upscale hotel group. If you want elegant décor and tasteful antiques, you have to opt for one of the inns or bed and breakfasts in the Historic District, which do not offer a full range of guest services or the privacy of a larger establishment. Remember: many of the historic properties do not have elevators but do have steep stairs, so those who may have trouble climbing many flights should request a room on a lower floor.

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Beyond… Savannah

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