Take the charm and courtesy so typical of the South, the history of a city founded in 1843 by a British General who was also a social reformer, hospitality as only Southerners know how to give it, museums, magnificent architecture, incredible cathedrals, free trolleys, ferries, and maps and signs that make it easy to use them. Put it all together and that’s Savannah, Georgia.
Next, add in some wonderful people from Texas and Virginia, Michigan, and Germany and more, all who come as guests to what has to be the very best Inn in all of Savannah. Blend in a B&B staff that treats a casual request as their own personal mandate, complimentary wines, sherry, desserts and breakfast to die for. That gives you a bit of a description of the Eliza Thompson House, an Inn that has to be the best bargain in all of the South. And that’s without even mentioning the spacious yet cozy rooms with fireplaces, the comfortable King size beds, lovely paintings on the walls, and windows looking out to gardens with koi pond, fountain, lush greenery and adorable statuary.
A 16-hour Amtrak ride from Newark gets you all of this and so much more in the state known as much for its peaches as it is for its friendliness, warmth, that charm I mentioned, and natural beauty. Because the city has done so much to preserve and protect its historic district, it’s a $10 cab ride from the Amtrak station on the outskirts to the front door of the Eliza Thompson Inn at 5 W. Jones St. in the Historic District.
The Inn was built in 1840, with some changes and additions over the next century or so, and was once the home of Joseph and Eliza Thompson, who raised their six children there. Eliza became the Grande Dame at her husband’s death and was a most prominent and respected socialite of the 19th century. Today it is one of the six Historic Inns of Savannah, and a MUST place to stay for convenience, cleanliness, comfort, price, and yes, more of that charm.
For me, that Southern charm and genuine niceness all began just after dawn when Amtrak’s Silver Meteor arrived on time at its Savannah station. A waiting cab took me to the Inn where I had made reservations for that evening and two more. Jessica, a friendly staffer, was at the door before I even climbed one of the two sets of curving stairs leading to the entrance. I had practically the whole day in front of me to explore before my check-in time. But I wanted to see if I could leave my luggage at the Inn until check-in so I could immediately begin visiting this wonderful historic city.
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“Of course you can leave your luggage,” Jessica said, “but you can’ t go off exploring until you stay and have some breakfast with us.” After breakfast, she continued, she’d help me find my way to whatever I wanted to see. And my luggage would be in my room when I returned.
Breakfast this time of year is served at the lower level, at white cloth-covered tables behind glass doors looking out to the garden. It’s more a Help Yourself to what ever you want buffet that always, I learned over the next four days, includes toast, muffins, fruit, juices, coffee, teas, and naturally grits and gravy. But the main breakfast entrée varies by the day and was as taste tempting as pancakes with cranberries baked in, scrambled eggs and home fries, Eggs Benedict casserole, quiche with mushrooms, or my personal favorite, Praline French toast. Oh, yes, there’s always bacon or sausage patties as well.
I wasn’t seated for more than five minutes before I met the first of the guests, Bruce and Nancy , from Williamsburg, Va. or Minnesota, depending on the time of year. Traveling with them was one of their friends, Rhonda, another charming and fascinating lady. There were Ginger and Jeff, he a retired Army colonel from Pennsylvania. And Chris and Liz, a charming California twosome. Breakfast for all of us turned into a wonderful hour or so of casual, friendly conversation among what seemed like friends we had known for years. Is it the Inn and its staff that makes a place so friendly or is a place like the Inn the kind that draws friendly, smart, outgoing, wonderful people? Either way, I felt blessed and fortunate from the first second I arrived.
Back in the lobby after breakfast and conversation, with assurances we’d all see each other at the late afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres fete in the parlor, Jessica asked my interests and based on that, suggested I take the Savannah Tours Trolley with a guide aboard to get a feel for the city and some of the stories that make it fascinating. As if her suggestions were not enough, she also made the reservation and had a Trolley driver pick me up at the Inn’s front door. You’ll only need to take the Tour Trolley for the one day, Jessica continued. Because we also have DOT here in Savannah.
DOT is this incredible public/private partnership in Savannah designed not only to reduce downtown traffic congestion for visitor and resident alike, but also to develop and implement a very brilliant mobility plan to ensure a “Savannah Experience.” The DOT trolleys appear every 10 minutes or so at their well-signed stops to pick up and drop off passengers; they operate from 7 a.m. to midnight every day but Sunday, when they only operate until 9 p.m.….. and have three different routes, all easily accessible from each other, including the one that takes you to the ferry which they also run, to take you to Hutchinson Island, where there’s a huge Convention Center, and some more hotel and resort accommodations. Not only are the trolleys that convenient, their maps easy to find and follow, their drivers downright pleasant , and yes full of more of that courtesy and charm, but…and I’ve saved the best until last….they are all absolutely free! No matter where you get on or off, no matter how many times during the day you get on or off, no matter if you stay on one for its entire journey then hop off and get on another for its entire journey….the DOT system is free!
No wonder Savannah receives so many visitors regardless of the time of year. They know how to move their guests around without annoying the residents and they do it at their own expense. Add that to the charm, warmth, welcoming attitude and pride they all exude, the people of Savannah prove they hold tourism in high esteem!
NEXT: Overnight at the Eliza Thompson Inn