Savannah, Georgia: An Education in Southern Hospitality

I prefer to travel when places are not jammed with tourists, so I went to Savannah, Georgia, in the middle of December.  Yes, it rained, but it rains all the time there.  Cold? Not really. Empty? YES! Savannah is famous for two reasons.  The first is that during “that little conflict between the States” (as Savannahians prefer to call The Civil War), General Sherman, after burning down Atlanta and cutting a fifty-mile-wide swath of destruction on his way to the ocean, spared Savannah. The city surrendered only on the promise from Sherman that he would not destroy it.

The second reason that Savannah is famous is because of “The Book”, as Savannahians refer to John Berendt’s “Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil”. “The Book” has really put Savannah on the map as a tourist destination. Paula Deen hasn’t hurt their economy either.  Her restaurant, “The Lady and Sons” is a must-go. Her down-home style extends across her culinary empire.

There is a definite gentility about Savannah.  All the ladies are address as “Miss” and manners long since gone from other parts of the country are still used, such as when a doorman or porter bows to you.

The architecture is spectacular in the approximately square mile block Historic District. It is not just a bunch of tourist shops, people really live here. Within the Historic District, a car is unnecessary. Walking about any of the twenty-three small squares will reveal homes of all distinctions and hidden gardens that will enchant you.

The food in Savannah is magnificent.  Our first dinner was at Paula Deen’s Restaurant.  We were seated right away, something that doesn’t happen during the hot Summer months when tourists wait for hours in line for a chance to dine here. Many faint or are overcome by the heat while waiting, so there is another reason to go in the off-season.

Not to be missed is the ‘Olde Pink House’ (23 Abercorn Street) dating from the 1700’s.  One of Savannah’s most famous restaurants, it serves regional cuisine in seven different dining rooms. It is perfect for a special occasion.

It’s important to read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” or see the movie version of it before setting out on a Savannah tour since there will be so many references to it, even on the tours that do not specifically feature the book.

One of the most visited sites for all tours is Bonaventure Cemetery, aka “The Garden of Good and Evil”.  Many famous people, like the songwriter Johnny Mercer (“Moon River”) are buried here and instead of a creepy feeling, The Garden is more like an outdoor sculpture museum, with gorgeously carved pieces that date back to the 1800’s. The older part of the cemetery is covered in a canopy of oak trees with gray-green Spanish moss dripping down from their boughs, and exotic Sago palms growing wild in the plots.

The most famous home, Mercer House (429 Bull Street) is the only mansion of its kind open to public tours. It is also the site of Danny Hansford’s 1981 murder.

Savannah has been voted as one of the top ten tourist sites that people would like to revisit. There is a very personal feeling here and one can easily be seduced by the combination of atmosphere and true Southern hospitality.

Greg Zompolis Written by:

Greg Zompolis is the author of three books, Operation Pet Rescue, Images of America: San Mateo, and the upcoming novel, ‘Boomeraria’. He holds degrees in both Marketing and Graphic Design. He most recently studied Creative Writing at Stanford University. He is a fifth-generation Californian who has wandered through thirty two countries and thirty five states. He has lived in places as varied as Houston, Hollywood and San Francisco. Greg currently resides in San Francisco.