SAVANNAH TO CHARLESTON
WHY The rivers move slow 'n' easy in the low country between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and you'll want to as well. By the odometer, these genteel rival cities are just 110 miles apart, but it's worth taking a few days between them to poke around the estuarine countryside. Before the war—that's the War of Northern Aggression, darlin'—powerful rice-plantation families ensconced themselves in Gone with the Wind—style extravagance in towns like Beaufort, where visitors today can sample a bygone lifestyle at historical lodgings such as the Beaufort Inn (see Where to Stay). The Penn Center (16 Penn Center Circle W., St. Helena Island, S.C.; 843/838-2432) preserves the history, language, and culture of the Gullah, descendants of the African slaves whose labor made possible their owners' refined luxury. ITINERARY Northeast from Savannah on 1-95 to Route 17, with a detour south on Route 21 to Beaufort. HEAT FACTOR Average December highs are in the low sixties. MUST-SEE Some 350,000 acres of former rice plantation bounded by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers have been turned into a wildlife refuge; find out about the winding, paddle-friendly waterways, alive with osprey, bald eagles, and egrets, at the ACE Basin Visitor Center (10232 ACE Basin Pkwy., Greenpond, S.C.; 843/844-8335; www.theacebasin.net). PIT STOP Located in a former Texaco station, Harold's Country Club (Hwy. 17A-21, Yemassee, S.C.; 843/589-4360; dinner for two $20) still sells gasoline and live bait, but owners Harold and Mary Peeples cook up a hearty potluck dinner on Thursdays and rib-eye steak on Saturdays for area hunters and fishermen. WHERE TO STAY Built in 1897, the Beaufort Inn (809 Port Republic St., Beaufort, S.C.; 843/521-9000; www.beaufortinn.com; doubles from $145, including breakfast) has lavish rooms with bay windows and four-poster beds. ON-LINE INFO www.savannah.com; www.southcarolinalowcountry.com.