You don’t have to be a reality television personality to discover the best of this charming destination, but it surely doesn’t hurt.

Pictures + Words by Richard Pérez-Feria

As someone who’s been fortunate in my life to travel extensively—both within the US and abroad, for work as well as pleasure—it was becoming sort-of an annoying joke that for some inexplicable reason, I had yet to visit the two hottest cities in the American South: Nashville and Charleston. I mean, it’s not like me to ever be behind any you-must-visit-here spot, so when I got the opportunity to knock one of those two pesky destinations off my shame list, I jumped at the chance. Oh, and I happen to be a big fan of Bravo’s hit shows based in what residents call the “Holy City,” the long-running Southern Charm and its more recent Vanderpump Rules-esque spinoff, Southern Hospitality. So, yeah, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about down there.

Best news? Breeze Airways is now flying nonstop to Charleston out of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, a short drive from my home, no exhausting half-day treks to NYC airports this time. Stewart could very well be the easiest and most efficient airport I’ve ever been to. The whole experience—from checking bags to clearing security—took maybe ten minutes. More of that, please. Next stop, Charleston.

My dear friend Thadine Clifton, a New Jersey native who’s made Charleston her home for years, took it upon herself to surprise me with what could only be described as a Bravo lovers’ dream weekend. More on that in a moment. First, we checked in at the impressive Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, a mere ten minutes from town in scenic Mount Pleasant, SC. Our palatial, nautical-themed room had stunning unobstructed views of the marina and downtown. The amenities in the suite were perfection and the staff were, yes, charming. So far, so good.

Thadine was super secretive about our first dinner out and since we were more than a tad late, I walked into Bourbon N’ Bubbles—the luxe restaurant that’s part of Southern Charm star Leva Bonaparte’s and husband, Lamar’s, King Street downtown food and beverage empire—to a decked-out table filled with a dozen of the most gorgeous humans I’ve ever seen, all smiling and happy to see me. Then, I recognized the dude holding a seat for me was none other than Rodrigo Reyes, one of the stars of Southern Charm (he’s the funny interior designer who together with partner, Tyler Dugas, are always the hit show’s voice of reason). Tickle me thrilled. And wait for it, Rodrigo was everything and a bag of chips: funny, smart, handsome, mischievous. This was going to be a very good weekend indeed.

Thadine Clifton (front left) assembled the gorgeous troops at chic Bourbon N’ Bubbles

The day after some late-night shenanigans on (and off) King Street, I caught up with Rodrigo and Tyler at the super chill brunchy/coffee/bistro Félix for a bite (sublime deviled eggs) before we moved on to my favorite spot in this intoxicating town, Citrus Club on the roof of the über-chic Dewberry Hotel (think Manhattan’s Soho House roof deck circa 2005 without the attitude). The 360-degree views were, in a word, breathtaking. Happily, Rodrigo and Tyler were in full flight, regaling me with all kinds of insider-y Charleston tidbits, making the city—and them—that much more delicious.

To top off our evening, we took a short stroll over to Halls Chophouse where we ran into, I kid you not—two of the principal stars of Southern Hospitality, DJ extraordinaire Madison (Maddi) Reese and lady-killer Joe Bradley, having dinner. Did I mention this was on St. Patrick’s Day and the joint was jumpin’? Maddi and Joe were exactly as you’d hope they’d be. And more. A little later, my scallops—I always order seafood in steakhouses and it’s always great—were delish. Of course they were.

It was now time to really explore Charleston and Thadine took it upon herself to make sure we saw it all: The Citadel (legendary military academy), the offices of both Garden & Gun magazine and Charleston City Paper, the award-winning weekly (Owner Andy Brack was extraordinarily gracious with his time); the Market Pavilion Hotel; US Custom House; Charleston City Market and, of course, the iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge were all served up on a platter. Then, we inadvertently discovered The Peacock, the new rooftop downtown restaurant/bar on East Bay Street. By then we had managed to be joined by a small group of Thadine’s co-workers and friends and, boy, did we laugh nonstop for hours. What a day.

The stunning Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects downtown Charleston with Mount Pleasant, SC.

After another late afternoon tour of the city’s more majestic homes and landmarks— including two of my Southern Charm favorites: Patricia Altschul’s famous estate and Craig Conover’s pillow empire HQ, Sewing Down South—we took the ferry back to our beautiful resort. I highly recommend this unique (and life-affirming) short boat ride. Dinner was yet another winner as we stayed in at the Charleston Harbor Fish House and, yes, my shrimp… amazing).

Before making our way back to the Empire State, we smartly booked massages in the resort’s small, but pitch-perfect spa. No surprise at all when Thadine once again ensured we got to the airport on time and had one last opportunity to try to convince us to make Charleston our second home. She made a compelling case. Have I mentioned how much I love this woman for making this weekend so special?

Back at Stewart—the Breeze flight was terrific, and the planes seemed to be brand new—we were in our car and out of there in minutes. Suddenly, we’re back home just in time to receive a pillow I ordered from Sewing Down South, one of Conover’s more inspired designs. I’m looking at the pillow now as I smile thinking how happy I am to check Charleston off my must-visit list.

Don’t worry, Rodrigo and friends: I’ll be back. Boy, will I ever. Southern charm doesn’t begin to explain Charleston’s magic. Maybe it’s a Holy City after all.

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