|by JD Rinne||Art + Culture, South Carolina, Charleston||2|
Charlestonians are used to being gracious hosts—the charming, old-fashioned city sees more than a million visitors a year. But they truly open their doors in spring, with the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens.
Starting this weekend and lasting a month, the festival will showcase 150 historic homes in 11 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. More than a dozen different three-hour tours hit eight to 10 properties, each of which often span several decades of design. There are two new tours this year: Architectural Gems, which will feature six homes, and Secret Gardens of the French Quarter, with guest lecturers. The very popular Glorious Gardens tour takes you through some of the most impressive gardens in town, with a specialized guide in each (March and April are peak blooming season, so the colors will be popping).
The Historic Charleston Foundation puts on the show with the help of 650 community volunteers; this is its 62nd year. The foundation, started in 1947, protects buildings and landscapes important to Charleston's heritage.
The tour cost might seem steep ($45 per person for each tour), but all that goes into education, advocacy, and maintaining and restoring the old houses. The foundation also leads two-hour morning walking tours of Charleston's Historic District. Although you won't see inside any private homes on these tours, you will get a good sense of the area and its traditions at a price that might fit your budget better ($20 each for adults).
Tours sell out fast—last year, the festival attracted more than 12,000 guests.
Tickets available at historiccharleston.org or 843/722-3405.