Savannah, an easy 40-minute drive from Montage Palmetto Bluff—where guests can grab a Cadillac through the resort’s Ride & Drive program—promises centuries-old architecture, ornate ironwork, elegant quiet fountains, 22 picturesque squares, galleries galore, world-class performing arts and, of course, Southern hospitality. With so many opportunities for exploration, dining and shopping, planning a day in this historic city requires laser-sharp focus.
For a local’s take on the alluring city, Montage Magazine sat down with Peter Shannon, the artistic director and conductor of the thriving Savannah Philharmonic. Shannon moved to the low country city 10 years ago from his hometown in Ireland to help shape the fledgling ensemble. This year, the Savannah Philharmonic celebrates its 10th anniversary and is known as a cultural and artistic main staple of the city with regular concerts at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, Johnny Mercer Theater, Lutheran Church of the Ascension, as well as periodic shows in the historic Forsyth Park.
Here, Shannon shares his favorite stops in his adopted city, which is ripe with enticing cafes, restaurants and artistic hubs.
Shannon suggests starting with Architectural Tours of Savannah, where the peppy and knowledgeable Jonathan Stalcup will greet you like a long-lost friend and wander with you through the narrow streets pointing out glimpses of no fewer than 15 types of architecture. His conversation is peppered with truth and lore about the city’s founding fathers whose cottages were built in the Georgian, federal and Greek revival periods. Queen Anne mansions from the 1890s hold court on the shady streets (and Stalcup has scouted out the shadiest spots for discussion along the walking tour route). Rather than taking one of the many horse-drawn carriage tours (which are sweet, but not quite as immersive), this 90-minute architectural tour provides context and narrative from over 300 years of Savannah history. (architecturalsavannah.com)
For a latte and butter croissant in the morning before your tour, Shannon suggests heading to Café M on East Bay Street. Sit at one of the patio tables outside overlooking River Street and plan your day. If you’re pausing in the late afternoon, order a glass of French wine and a charcuterie board. Café M offers a view of the busy Savannah River, where pleasure craft, ferries and cargo traffic provide entertainment, as does the foot traffic on animated River Street. (cafemsavannah.com)
Be sure to include a stroll down Bull Street, which dead ends at Forsyth Park, the hub of the historic district. The 30-acre green space first laid out in 1840s is home to the Saturday farmers market, monuments and a majestic fountain.
For lunch, Shannon recommends the Chive Sea Bar & Lounge on historic West Broughton Street for pan-seared snapper risotto or the crab cake Benedict and a bohemian cocktail (gin, St- Germain, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a dash of bitters). (chivelounge.com)
Preston Russell is a beloved author and artist in Savannah and his book, “The Low Country: From Savannah to Charleston,” is Shannon’s pick for the best keepsake to remember your day. The gorgeous book includes 70 full-page landscapes, streetscapes and interiors that take you even deeper into the beauty and history of this special place. And, you can meet the author by visiting his 1860s home and studio to pick up your copy of the book. (prestonrussellart.com)
Afternoon caffeine? Shannon sings the praises of James Spano, a well-known coffee purveyor in the area. His company is Cup to Cup Coffee Roasters, a small-batch roaster with a quaint cafe in the heart of downtown Savannah. (cuptocupcoffee.com)
Powered up, head to Savannah’s Downtown Design District, where a cluster of locally owned shops and boutiques in the middle of the historic district offer a walkable shopping spree for antiques, gifts, clothes, fabrics, specialty papers and furniture. “Watch for contemporary art from students and staff at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) or visit the SCAD Museum of Art on Turner Boulevard,” Shannon says. Other impressive museums include the Savannah History Museum, Jepson Center for the Arts, Telfair Academy and Georgia State Railroad Museum.
Before heading back to Palmetto Bluff, settle in for a memorable meal at Local 11ten, an elevated eatery featuring beautiful menu options prepared with local seafood and produce. Seasonal dishes like the smoked and grilled quail served with deviled egg, grilled corn, cherry tomato, pea purée and Alabama white barbecue sauce will have you planning your next trip to Savannah in between courses. (local11ten.com)
By Sue Collins
Feature image: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com