The Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, SC, provides travelers with the best of two worlds: old world charm inside, while just outside the Upper King Street Design District offers shops and restaurants catering to the most contemporary of tastes.
Opened in 1924 as the largest and grandest hotel in the Carolinas, the Francis Marion was named for the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution. Apparently, General Marion consistently evaded capture by the British through his knowledge of the “low country” in which Charleston sits. In the early 1920s, a group of local investors got together and hired noted New York architect W.L. Stoddard to design a building that would become a cornerstone of Charleston’s historic district. In fact, following a $15 million renovation in the 1990s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Francis Marion one of the Historic Hotels of America.
While providing guests with a sense of stepping back in time, the Francis Marion also gives them such modern conveniences as wireless internet access, flatscreen TVs, business and fitness centers and room service. At the hotel’s Spa Adagio, guests can indulge in facials and body treatments, nail care and massage therapy.
Located at the corner of King and Calhoun streets, the Francis Marion rises 12 stories and has 230 guestrooms and suites. During a brief stay in April, I appreciated the friendly, “hominess” of my room. I especially liked that the doors were “real,” as in solid wood, and had decorative glass knobs. Further enhancing the coziness of the room were the solid wood tables, a generous assortment of nicely designed lamps, an overstuffed reading chair, and plush drapes. European bedding created a welcoming refuge after a day of sightseeing and long walks and the plump pillows allowed me to create a comfy spot from which to watch television.
My Deluxe Bedroom had two phones, one at the desk and one beside the bed, each equipped with data ports and voice mail. There was an in-room coffeemaker, hairdryer, iron and ironing board. In the marble bathroom, there was a full-size tub and charming pedestal sink.
Many of the Francis Marion’s rooms offer spectacular views of the city and its antebellum buildings, especially the Presidential and Penthouse Suites. From my 8th Floor room, the easterly view extended well beyond the city to the Ravenel Bridge that soars over Charleston’s active harbor. An aircraft carrier sat docked across the way while large container ships passed it by on their way out to the Atlantic.
In addition to tourists, the Francis Marion caters to business travelers and large groups. There’s 18,000 square feet of meeting space in three grand ballrooms and eight break-out rooms equipped with modern A/V equipment, lighting and wireless internet.
Charleston is known for the quality of its food and beverage establishments and only steps away from the Francis Marion are a panapoly of restaurants that include Basil (Thai), Fish (Seafood), La Fourchette (French), Monza (Italian), Raval (Spanish) and Chai’s Lounge & Tapas (Thai).
You can travel to any of these restaurants via horse-drawn carriages that stop at the front door of the Francis Marion. The guided tours available take a meandering trip through the surrounding neighborhood that provides a glimpse of the best of “Old South” architecture.
But why leave the building when The Swamp Fox Restaurant and Bar awaits? I was only able to sample one dish, the delightfully named “Shrimp and Grits Martini.” It was so good I became convinced that the Swamp Fox chef might be a master at combining seemingly disparate food into a mouth-watering sensations. Served in a warm, oversize martini glass the S&G Martini is shrimp, tasso ham, bell peppers, and onion smothered with a rich lobster gravy and served over stone-ground pepperjack grits. Yum.
Also on the menu at the Swamp Fox are other Southern favorites with tasty twists, including Fried Green Tomatoes served with goat cheese and roasted pepper jelly, Chicken and Dumplings and Vine-Ripened Tomato Pie. Side dishes include Carolina Red Rice, Pepperjack Cheese Grits and Braised Collard Greens.
And the best part of it all is that The Swamp Fox provides room service meals so many of their dishes are available for an intimate, in-room dining experience. All in all, the Francis Marion offers an opportunity to relax, refresh and reflect on the lovely surroundings of the hotel and Charleston itself.
The Francis Marion Hotel
387 King Streeet
Charleston, SC 29403