Atop The Blue Ridge

Driving the Great Appalachian Road

It began with a simple goal: put Depression-era men and women back to work. Quickly.

In the early 1930s, the world’s economy had collapsed. Unemployment in the U.S. alone stood at 25 percent. Many states, even higher. As they viewed the shanty towns and “Hoovervilles,” as homeless communities were then called, many feared that a revolution was coming if something wasn’t done.

Then some forward-thinkers, including a then-young Army officer named Dwight Eisenhower, had a transformative, and innovative, idea. Why not change America’s highway infrastructure from mud-rutted roads to paved highways as a way to put people back to work?

From the CCC and the ERA to the WPA, Congress and the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration worked through their differences together and saw to it that the men who would move the rock and dirt, and lay the concrete and steel to create what began as the Appalachian Scenic Highway, came from the poverty-ravaged “hollers” and mountains from Tennessee to Virginia that the road’s route would take.

When it was finally completed in 1987—yup, it took that long—this work of beauty winding through, around and over the country’s eastern mountains that became the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) would rank as one of the greatest public works projects in American history.

The world’s longest, at 469 miles, and narrowest—as narrow as 200 feet—national park would be free except for camping. A free national park that today is the most-visited in the National Park Service, mainly because stretches are often used by locals. It is ranked No. 3 in one list of Great American Drives, and should be on yours, too.

Linking two great other eastern national parks, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountains, it may not be on your radar to visit. But it should be. And, last fall, we headed “Lucky Us,” our 2015.5 Leisure Unity MB south from our Michigan home base to first spend some time in the Smokies, and then at Cherokee NC, hop aboard the Blue Ridge at its southern end/beginning.

I was aware of some of what we’d see and do driving the bottom 200 or so miles on this trip. Denise wasn’t. But following spectacular vista after spectacular vista, interspersed with craft shops and Appalachian towns through three states that tempted with both scenery, history and food, we both were convinced to plan another trip to do the top half, plus a bit more. More on that in an upcoming article. We’ll also concentrate on the Smokies in a near-future story.

This is about The Blue Ridge.

The drive, the destination, The Blue Ridge.

Most printed guides you’ll pick up actually begin at Milepost 0, logically enough, at Shenandoah National Park, to the north. Since we began in the Smokies, we went backwards, but we didn’t care. You shouldn’t either.

You’ll enjoy the journey, and the incomparable mountain overlooks, quiet trails leading from eight rustic (your $20 nightly fee–$10 with a senior access pass–buys no power; our 200w of rooftop solar kept us going), but all have flush toilets, and some with showers, albeit some a bit dated, victims of years of federal park service de-funding, campgrounds conveniently built about every 58 miles, and glimpses of the lives of some of the residents here, from moguls to mountaintop nearly self-sufficient farmers, who gave up their lands to create this park.

On the first day, you’ll quickly gain an appreciation for those reservable campgrounds—there are private camps also sprinkled along the way too, if the national park sites are filled. And those incomparable views. You’ll soon be doing an “ohh, let’s stop here….wait, pull over here…how about pulling off here…I need to get a shot of this…” to each other as we did, as the changing overlooks of the blueish ridges of this part of the Appalachians ripple and fold before you. Among other things, you’ll be seeing, passing or going through:

And hundreds upon hundreds of scenic pullouts, so many that after Day 1, you’ll be simply overwhelmed at what you’re seeing. That’s the reason to take your time.

Remember this above all: most drives get you to your destination. On the Blue Ridge, the drive IS the destination.

Plan on about 50 to 110 miles a day to stop, poke around neighboring towns, walk trails, and light a campfire or two. The BRP’s speed limit is 45, but considering the multiple stops you’ll be making, plan on a 30 mph average. Or, even less.

Don’t rush this. Because by the second day, you’ll begin hearing the history encased in these ancient ridges whisper to you, from the waterfalls and trout streams, to hooting owls and eagles, to the echoes of voices of the fathers, mothers and children in the lone cabins still standing, where mountain families lived out their lives a long wagon ride from any town.

Here are our highlights on the southern half.

Mile 469.1

We hopped on the southern end of the BRP at Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center, at Mile 469.1, near the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the area’s first human inhabitants. The guides quickly caught our attention: height restriction warnings about some tunnels in the first 50 or so miles from that entrance.

No worries for us, however, at least after we double-checked at the lowest tunnel, at 10 feet, 6 inches. That’s because it’s measured from the side of the tunnel, not the center. So with me walking behind just to be sure, we were feet below the tunnel’s rounded side, where many large RVs would be in danger of ripping the roof off if they didn’t stick to the center. One more advantage of a smaller RV.

Once that was out of the way, we got down to some serious rubbernecking. I was familiar with the BRP, but Denise was wondering what all the fuss was about. She quickly found out. As soon as we hopped on, we were climbing. Through, around and alongside mountains upwards of 6,400 feet. Not high by western standards, but in the east, almost Everest-like. At Mile 451, is Waterrock Knob, named for a spring that quenched travelers from the Cherokee onwards. You’ll be looking at four states from here.

Once past those low tunnels, we climbed another 20 miles to Richland Balsam Overlook, highest point on the parkway at 6,047 feet, or 6,400 feet, depending on the source, and who’s counting.

Highest point you’ll drive to on the parkway.

Looking out at the vistas of the Nantahala National Forest ahead and the Smokies already miles behind, we realized why we were here. “The layers of mountains and valleys, with the blue hue of it all, is simply spectacular,” Denise said. Well put.


While we could have camped at private and state parks neighboring the parkway, we chose to stay within the park, at, for us, $10 per night with our senior parks pass. And we could have first stayed in the ridges at 4,900 feet at Mount Pisgah, formerly part of the vast Biltmore Estate of the Vanderbilt family, but the weather in September-October can be tricky that high. We opted instead to only take in the views. Besides, we just had to stop at the Parkway Visitor Center, mile 384, with exhibits about the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area we were traveling through.

Typical of the park’s campgrounds are Julian Price Park and Doughton.


Located just off the parkway, they, like other campgrounds, are well-marked, and we had no problem finding a site in early fall. Julian Price at mile 295 or so, features 193 sites. Price Lake, with canoe rentals and a hiking trail, is across the parkway from the campground. There are also other hiking trails in the area.

Doughton, near mile 239, has 31 sites. Our paved campsite featured a natural rock barrier between the circle drive and our spot, which overlooked more of the BRP’s beauty.

Take the mile or so walk through fields and woods, or drive instead, to Brinegar Cabin, where the Brinegar family literally carved out a farm homestead atop the mountain here in 1876 to raise crops and livestock. Martin and Caroline built the cabin around 1889, raised flax, and had an apple orchard and a granary.

The sound of water still trickling from the homestead’s springhouse is just a sample of what it must have felt like to live here, miles from anyone else, with just the trees and wildlife for neighbors. In summer, the National Park Service uses the site for interpretive programs.

Quirky Sidetrips

Trade ya! Pick up a unique RV like this outside Wild Woody’s in Laurel Springs, NC, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, unless someone beat ya to it!

Laurel Springs, NC is about as quirky little stop as you’ll find along the Blue Ridge. Catering mostly to motorcyclists who find the parkway’s corners, dips and overlooks as appealing as we do, it’s a great little diversion near Doughton campground. Here are two places to duck your head into:

Wild Woody’s. Think Sturgis Rally year-round with a campground attached. Park yur hawg—or LTV– step inside for a brewski or two. Woody’s was empty when we visited in October, but I’m sure it’s packed in summer.

If it’s still there, check out the custom crystal metallic blue Caddy-turned RV parked nearby, replete with a chopped travel trailer bolted behind the front seat. It may still be for sale unless some lucky adventurer put a ‘sold’ sign on it after his or her fifth Bud. There’s also a campground, and you can preview your visit here.

New River. You’re close to the New River at Laurel Springs, which is a misnomer. It’s recognized as the world’s second oldest river, 10 million to 360 million years new. You can take a leisurely canoe trip on the New—It’s also famous elsewhere for sphincter-tightening whitewater raft trips—at Dusty’s Trails Outfitters, which also has primitive camping.

Other Must-Stops

Everything from bluegrass and country, to rock-n-roll, owes its heritage to what happened in these hills, when Scots, English and others came to live here and brought their music and cultures. Those broadsides and  ballads evolved over the centuries into the mountain tunes many of us know, then changed again by greats, including the man considered the father of modern bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and others like Doc Watson and the Stanley Brothers.

It’s all told at the Blue Ridge Music Center at mile 213 on the parkway. If you’re lucky after touring the museum stick around for a concert (at least July through October), or take part in one of the free, local mini-events from noon to 4 p.m. every day the center is open. Which basically is every day.


Do you play? Maybe they’ll even let you sit in.

If you’re either a fan of NASCAR, or mountain music and bluegrass, come to Galax, VA, pronounced ˈ’ɡeɪlæks,’ maybe 15 minutes from the music center and about seven miles from the parkway.

The town, named for an evergreen groundcover found across the Blue Ridge, is considered to be the center of “old time” mountain music, has a type of dulcimer named after it, and carries on that tradition with Friday night concerts at the theater downtown. It also is a destination for strummers and pickers following another famed route, The Crooked Road, a.k.a. Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.

The annual Old Fiddler’s Convention has taken place each August here since 1935. The annual Leaf and String Festival takes place in mid-June. Downtown’s Rex Theatre broadcasts a music show weekly live and online. If you get the idea that music is in the town’s soul, you’re right. So’s barbecue. The state BBQ championship, Smoke On The Mountain, takes over downtown in mid-July.

If you can’t make it, a good place to sample what’s cookin’ at the festival is downtown’s Galax Smokehouse. Where? Just follow your nose to the corner of Main and Grayson. St. Louis-style ribs, pulled pork, smoked brisket, chicken and the like are all on the menu in this unpretentious and tasty stop. Parking your LTV is easy downtown. Check out the NASCAR memorabilia, and also if the Wood Brothers, the oldest active team in stock car racing, are checking out the menu. They’re regulars here.

Linn Cove Viaduct


This was the last piece of the parkway to be completed and was also the most complicated. In fact, when it was built it was considered the most complicated bridge ever attempted. The main issue: How to protect Grandfather Mountain, one of the world’s oldest peaks, and around which the viaduct bends.

Started in 1983, its only 1,243 feet of precast concrete pieces on piers, but it  took four years to build. Stop at the Visitor Center to understand the hows and whys of its construction.  It affords sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, as well as making for great photo ops at either end, where you can park while your partner stands by to snap a perfect shot of your LTV rounding the “S” curve.

Plan a stop at the Park Service’s Visitor Center at mile 384, and the Folk Art Center near Asheville, NC at mile 382. It’s not only a museum of mountain crafts but you can also buy to your credit card’s limit here. During the tourist season, talk with local craftsmen.

Hiking is another draw. At almost every stop and overlook there’s a trail, including the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which runs, well, from these mountains, to the Atlantic coast, leading to the woods, a trout stream, or other feature.

Asheville’s Biltmore estate, built by the Vanderbilts from 1889-1895, opened for tours in 1930 to increase tourism which crashed like everything else during the Depression. There’s even a hotel there now.

That’s just a preview of the parkway’s southern half. We’ll be sure to take you along when we do the rest.

When You Go

Yup, Hurricane Florence had its way with the entire southern Appalachian area. So before you go this year, check for updates by calling the park, or monitoring its website, or other associated sites.

We found the parkway’s reservable campgrounds most accessible in fall despite expected the fall color rush. Camping is open mid-May through October for $20 a night, but $10 with a National Park Service senior lifetime pass. There are also lots of private campgrounds within a few minutes of the route
For information on many of the spots mentioned, just click on the provided links.

Just Add Saltwater, Then Steep

Our top picks and tips for a Florida winter escape

If you’re seeking respite from Old Man Winter you may find your Leisure Travel Van pointing its nose toward Florida, with good reason. Lots of sunshine, pristine beaches, and challenging golf courses. Plus, fresh local seafood and saltwater fishing are just some of the reasons why people choose The Sunshine State as their winter destination.

Bill and I have traveled to Florida for the past four winters, each year refining our choices on where to stay, eat and play. We quickly learned a few lessons on how to plan a winter trip here, too. We’ll share some of our tips, as well as a few little-known facts and some of our favorite spots (such as Oscar Scherer State Park campground pictured above) to go.

For us, it’s all about the Gulf Coast, and most of the places we stay are located along Tamiami Trail (US 41). Yup, we’ve stayed in the Keys and several cities along the Atlantic, including Hollywood Beach, Sebastian Inlet, and St. Augustine. All those places are fine, but for us, we prefer the Gulf.

So, here’s our “Best of” list of campgrounds, beaches, eateries and more.

Lovers is My Key

“Lucky Us,” our 2015.5 Unity MB, at Koreshan State Park

Campground: We’ve found there’s no reason to stay any farther south than Koreshan State Park, north of Naples near Estero. Drive any more south to a state park on the mainland and you risk registering “run” on the mosquito meter that’s at the entrance to Collier-Seminole State Park, near Naples.

Campsites at Koreshan are nestled among the palms and palmettos, offering shade and privacy. The bathrooms are a little dated, but functional, and have laundry facilities as well. This past winter, we happened to be there during the park’s annual car and craft show, which also featured a small farmer’s market.

Coffee with the hosts on Saturday brought us a pleasant exchange with other RVers on why we chose Leisure, as well as tips on places to go as we head north. And if you like to paddle, bring your kayak – or rent one at the park. The Estero River provides a gentle, scenic trip.

The Hollow Earth

A visit to the historic Koreshan Unity Settlement explains this failed cult and their belief in cellular cosmogony, or the hollow earth.

Walking north on the beach, Lovers Key State Park

Best Day Trip: From Koreshan, it’s about 11 miles to Lovers Key State Park, home to one of our favorite beaches in Florida. The four barrier islands that make up this park provide a haven for wildlife, including West Indian manatees, bottlenose dolphins, osprey and bald eagles. RV parking is convenient in their big overflow lot. Concession stands offer food and kayak tours and also rent bicycles, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, beach chairs, and umbrellas.

Shell decorated tree

Heron on the beach

From the parking lot, walk or take the tram to the two-mile-long beach; from there, walk north along the shore to discover the shell-decorated tree stump, ospreys nesting, and shorebirds. Bring a bag if you like to collect shells. If you go a second time, walk south along the beach to get a different view.

Driving Tip: Avoid the traffic jams in Fort Myers Beach by taking US 41 south from Koreshan State Park, then west on Bonita Beach Road to the coast and then north to Lover’s Key. If you travel with a dog, your pooch might want to visit the dog beach south of the Lovers Key entrance instead.

Best Seafood Market: Skip One Seafoods, along with US 41, doesn’t look fancy, but it has the goods, as in fresh, local seafood. We picked up stone crab claws (in season) and a piece of red snapper to cook later. In addition to their market, they also have a small restaurant, which typically is packed.

Cape Coral/Fort Myers

Flamingos reign at Tamiami RV Resort.

Campground: Once we start to head north from Koreshan State Park, we like to stay a few days at Tamiami RV Resort on US 41. It usually has a few nights open if we call a week or two in advance, and it’s a convenient spot for us to stay when visiting friends in Cape Coral. The campsites are tight and there is not a lot of shade here, but kitschy decorations, like flamingo-themed campsites and lots of home-state pride, prevail here among this clean, well-kept, private campground with daily trash pickup. Most folks hang out at one of the pools in the afternoon, and potlucks, campfires, and pancake breakfasts bring this small community together. Statues honor veterans from Canada and the U.S. With our Good Sam card, our site was less than $30 per night, an unbelievable deal for a nice campground in Florida.

Main Street, Matlacha

Day Trip: Head for Matlacha, west of the Cape Coral/Fort Myers area on Pine Island Road. Pronounced “Matt-LaShay”, this Seminole name is reputed to mean “big warrior, junior warrior or knee-deep water.” It’s a fishing town, a shopping town, but most of all, it’s a small town, population just over 700, with whimsical, brightly painted homes and shops flanking the main street. Park at the Matlacha County Park where it’s an easy walk to visit a few shops. Lunch at the Blue Dog Bar & Grill, sample their crab cakes and other delights, and then walk across the street to Barnhill Seafood Market for their fresh catch for dinner, along with Karen’s Key Lime Pie, made locally. YUM!

Edison Winter Estate

Day Trip: Plan to spend the day at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, where 20 acres of historic buildings, historic gardens, the Edison Botanic Research Lab and the Edison Ford Museum will open your eyes to hundreds of inventions, artifacts, special exhibits, and the award-winning Moonlight Garden. Picturesque banyan trees and tree-lined walkways give a glimpse into the winter estates for these two inventors who were winter neighbors.

Some of the seafood – dine in or take home to cook – at Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro.

Best Seafood Restaurant: If you don’t mind nixing a waterfront venue for some really great seafood, try Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro, nestled in a shopping area on Cape Coral Parkway West. Reservations are recommended at this popular restaurant, where waits up to an hour or two are not unusual during peak season and peak times. We go there for lunch instead. A glass case filled with lobster, clams, mussels, fish and more will tease you with what’s about to be served; bring a cooler so you can also buy some fresh, local fish to cook later.


Campground: Continuing north along US 41, our next stop is Oscar Scherer State Park, near Osprey (Our campsite is featured in the top photo). By now, we are ready to park Lucky Us to settle in for a week or two while we ride our bicycles on the Legacy Trail, a 10.7-mile paved route linking Venice and Sarasota, with plans for expansion into downtown Sarasota.

Legacy Trail

Dona Bay

Legacy Trail Surry

Bicycle to the trail from the campground, and then travel north toward Sarasota or south to Venice. It’s an easy-to-pedal asphalt trail with one steep slope, encountered when you head south and traverse the US 41 overpass. We prefer the southern route, as it passes by more water, including Dona Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway near Venice. Look down from the Dona Bay bridge to see oysters, and maybe even a passing manatee. If you’re not up for cycling, the Friends of the Legacy Trail Surry is available, free, for a 45-minute guided tour along the trail. In 2018, it ran Tuesdays and Wednesdays, January through March.

Casey Key Fish House

Best Eats: Casey Key Fish House, 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey. This “Old Florida” waterfront restaurant offers a casual atmosphere where dogs are welcome to sit with their owners. Novelist Stephen King frequents this eatery, although we have yet to spot him. Grab a beer, crab cakes or a grouper sandwich at this moderately priced venue, as you watch boat docking and pelicans hoping for a morsel or two.

King’s Key:  King lives on Casey Key, just a short drive from the Fish House. To almost see where he lives, continue west on Blackburn Road from the restaurant to Casey Key, then turn north and drive to the end of the road. He lives in the last house on the right, but plenty of “do not enter” signs will warn you to go no further. Heed the warning.

Lime/orange and pure orange ice cream – orange you glad you tried each?

Sweet Treat: Nokomis Groves sells everything citrus – valencia and honeybell oranges, ruby red grapefruits, jellies, candies and some of the best, freshest orange juice I’ve tasted.  You can order up to three flavors of soft serve ice cream in your cone, choosing from orange, lime, vanilla, and chocolate. Try the lime, my favorite. The store is open November – mid-April, but the ice cream cones are sold year round.

Siesta Key

Turtle Beach Campground sunset from our campsite

Campground: If you want to stay on the ocean on the Gulf, about the only place to camp is Turtle Beach Campground on Siesta Key. With a trolley running daily, once you park your rig, you can get just about anywhere on this Key. Their 39 campsites are pretty tight (they call it “intimate”), but if you want to walk to the ocean, during the day or for sunset conch shell blowing, this is the place.

Siesta Key Beach

Day Trip: Siesta Key Beach. Take the trolley to spend the day on the powdered-sugar soft sand, always cool on your feet. Rated the #1 Beach in America, plan for big crowds on hot, sunny days. If you drive there, arrive early to get a spot in their large, open parking lot.

Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto campground

Campground: Fort De Soto Park, made up of five interconnected islands (keys), south of St. Petersburg, almost looks like a mangled hook on a map. The campground, on St. Christopher Key, has good-sized sites with plenty of trees and bushes for privacy. Many are located along the water. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a gecko or two in the bathrooms and herons and egrets along the shore.

One of the beaches at Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto’s 500′ pier on Tampa Bay

Day Trip: Once we arrive at Fort De Soto, we don’t leave the park until the end of our stay. Run by Pinellas County, you’ll find the historic Fort De Soto at the heart of the park where the Gulf meets Tampa Bay. It’s just a few miles along the flat, paved bicycle trails from the campground to three miles of pristine beaches; several parking lots provide ample space to park your rig if you prefer to drive. We were surprised to discover that fishing licenses are not required if you fish from either of the two piers, where we saw anglers catching yellowtail snapper, grouper, and other saltwater fish. Frozen squid and live shrimp bait are sold at the concession stand on the piers.

Go Fish? Go Salty

We took a three-quarter day charter out of Sarasota

Denise catches two-on-one

Bill holds the day’s catch

Each year, we typically book a half- or three-quarter day group charter fishing boat. This winter, we chose a trip out of Sarasota, which gave us a beautiful day on the water, with stunning views of the shore, and even a Portuguese Man O’ War sighting. And, some 20 fish to bring back for dinner.

When You Go

Plan Ahead: Although you may luck out and grab a last-minute cancellation, we plan our trip one year in advance. Florida State Parks accept reservations 11 months in advance, and Fort De Soto, run by Pinellas County, accepts reservations six months in advance for non-residents. Turtle Beach, run by Sarasota County, accepts reservations 12 months in advance. Florida’s State Parks offer an entrance fee discount to Veterans. Even better, disabled Vets are eligible for a free entrance card.

Savannah on My Mind

If you’ve ever shied away from visiting a large city because you want to avoid navigating, parking and driving within, shy no longer. A resort-like campground with a convenient shuttle service to Savannah, Georgia’s fifth largest city, just opened and is ready to serve a 5-star resort-quality stay.

So, first I’ll take you to the campground, and then move in and on to the city once gifted to a president, and where Forest Gump sat on a bench waiting for that bus with his box of chocolates.

CreekFire Motor Ranch

CreekFire Motor Ranch, a 105-acre facility, boasts roomy full-hookup sites, a clubhouse, pool pavilion, a 35-acre lake and more. You can choose from 103 level, back-in, pull-through, gravel and paved pad sites. Just opened in October 2017, this multi-million dollar facility is so new that we could still see the newly-laid turf patterns in the grass. An Airstream trailer serves as a food truck, currently open for events, weekends and holidays.  Their shuttle service, at $10, takes you to the Savannah, a service to be appreciated as the Savannah Visitor Center recently changed its policy and no longer allows RVs to park in their lot past 6:30 p.m., or overnight. Bill is pretty comfortable driving our 2015.5 Leisure Unity MB in crowded cities, but this shuttle service lessened our work.

Cabins and RV spots by the lake at CreekFire Motor Ranch.

“This campground was designed with the guest experience in mind – and we can’t wait for visitors to create lasting memories here,” said Matthew Lipman, owner, and president. “CreekFire’s location is one of the elements that make it so special,” added Lipman. “Guests have easy access to Savannah, but at the same time, our amenities make the campground a destination in itself.”

Our spacious campsite.

Relax at the pool and hot tub.

Little ones can play in the kiddie pool.

And, there is more yet to come at CreekFire. A grill and bar for the pool area and will be open for Memorial Day weekend. Under development is a Lake House to open summer 2018.  Phase II will start construction next year and will include a driving range and golf putting area as well as a lazy river around the pool house.

Now, about Savannah. The oldest city in Georgia, founded in 1733 on the Savannah River, it’s the place where low country boils (I’ll explain later), hand-made pralines (depending on your region, pronounced prawlines or praylines), and southern hospitality are served with a smile, and just a hint of a drawl. It’s the place known for its ghost tours and hauntings. Some say it’s one of the top 10 haunted cities in America, and it is certainly up for boasting rights for #1. And, it’s the place with museums, period architecture, those picturesque city squares seemingly on every block, art galleries and more. The city’s downtown area, including the Savannah Historic District and Savannah Victorian Historic District, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark districts in the country.

Foodies will want to sample handmade pralines made with pecans, butter and sugar and other ingredients found at several candy stores. And, even if you’re not a sweets lover, you’ve gotta try’em. Savannah’s diverse cuisine includes locally sourced seafood, fried chicken, barbeque, grits and more. But if you’re coming here for food, make sure ‘sea’ is the prefix, as you’re on the Atlantic, and close also to the Gulf.

Watch pralines being made.

Pralines and other goodies at the candy store.

Let’s pause for a bit of history here. In 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman “gave” Savannah as a Christmas present to President Abraham Lincoln, rather than burn it all down. It thus remains as one of the few cities in the South that escaped the Civil War’s carnage. You can research several stories on how the city was saved, and decide which story sounds most plausible. There are several. It’s also a place where slaves were sold, and sadly, in 1859, was the site of the largest auction of slaves ever, known as “The Weeping Time.”

On to our visit. We arrived at CreekFire Motor Ranch on a Thursday afternoon, settled in and grabbed the 6 p.m. shuttle to the city. Dropped off at City Market, from there we strolled toward River Street, stepping down one of several historic flights of steep stone steps, remnants of the 1800s, onto the old cobblestone streets. You can practically breathe in the history here as you imagine a time when horse-drawn carriages, riverboats, and smoke-belching steam trains were the modes of transport.

Wear comfortable shoes to stroll River Street.

The refurbished warehouses, once home to King Cotton, nowadays are filled with hotels, shops and spots for dinner. Fiddler’s Crab House, set in a historic 1850’s cotton warehouse, was our choice. We dove into a Low Country Boil for two, with oysters raw and steamed, littleneck clams, crawfish, shrimp, and crab legs, plus our pick of sides, including cheesy grits, Caesar salad and redskins, for about $26 each.

Low Country Boil Dinner: Crab legs, oysters, littleneck clams, crawfish, and shrimp, plus cheesy grits, broccoli and potatoes.

After dinner we walked along River Street, tasting a sample of fresh-made pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, buying one chocolate and one regular of these pecan delights to savor later in our trip. We then sauntered back to City Market, with just enough time to share a dish of ice cream and listen to live music from the Tree House Savannah restaurant. The shuttle picked us up as scheduled at 9 p.m. and brought us back to CreekFire.

The next morning we took the 9 a.m. shuttle back to the city. After walking through City Market again, we wandered toward Forsyth Park, a little more than a one-mile walk, admiring the turrets, towers and decorative trim of the historic homes and churches, and tree-lined E. Oglethorpe Avenue, one of the city’s most famous sights, that trademark live oak-canopied street the city is known for. We stopped at several city squares, including Chippewa, where Tom Hanks, aka Forrest Gump, sat on a bench in that movie (the bench was placed there only for the movie and is now in the Savannah History Museum).

Madison Square

Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences

Another 10 blocks and three city squares down, we arrived at Forsyth Park, with its live oak-lined walkway beckoning us to Forsyth Fountain, modeled after a few other fountains found around the world, including fountains in Paris and Peru.

Forsyth Fountain

In the park, we watched a “plein air” artist painting the way Monet would have, and young mothers exercising together. Tourists posed for photos at the fountain, named for Georgia’s Governor John Forsyth, who led the state during the city’s expansion in 1851.

Continuing our walk back to Market Street, we stopped to ask about lunch at Belford’s because of its inviting outdoor patio. With accolades from Bon Appétit, Southern Living and The New York Times, this is one of THE places to eat in the city. Sitting outside to watch the passersby, we each chose a Low-Country tradition, She-Crab soup, and shared an order of fried green tomatoes and baby kale salad with bourbon-soaked peaches. We missed the crab cakes, which were described by all we met as “the best in the world.” Next time.

Baby Kale Salad

Outside dining at Belford’s

She-Crab Soup, Fried Green Tomatoes

When You Go

Contact CreekFire Motor Ranch at[email protected], or 912-897-2855 to make your reservation. If you are a Leisure Travel Van owner, mention this blog when booking and use promo code VANS20 to be eligible for a 20% discount within the month of April 2018. Rally groups can also be accommodated. CreekFire Motor Ranch, 275 Fort Argyle Road, Savannah, GA is just one-quarter mile west of I-95 exit 94. Discounts are given for Good Sam Club, Family Motor Coach, and military veterans. One discount per visit.

Get acquainted with Savannah by taking a Hop-on, hop-off trolley tour or a horse-drawn carriage ride. There are several trolley lines, and our favorite is Old Town Trolley Tours, where people in character come aboard to give you a bit of first-person fun, or history. If you’re lucky, Forrest Gump and other characters might join you on the tour.

After visiting Savannah, consider head south along the coast, to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the nation. But, someday, you must visit Savannah.