During our visit to Savannah, we found that it truly lived up to – even surpassed – its reputation as one of the most beautiful towns in the US, and the Azalea Inn was an excellent place to stay for us who wanted the charisma of the city to follow us ‘home’ after our explorations. Our experience of Savannah focused on the town’s more traditional charms – restored old houses, lush green parks, a couple of excellent meals. Full disclosure: for decades I’ve been in love with Savannah’s closest ‘rival,’ Charleston SC, and thought no town – southern or otherwise – could approach it for beauty, history, and atmosphere. I stand corrected. Charleston has its impressive waterfront Battery, and that town’s longer, wealthier history shows in its organic, mazelike streets and eclectic architectural styles. But Savannah was a designed city – designed originally around four square parks (gradually, and logically, expanded to 24 or so) – and the Savannah one finds today is the result of a relatively brief period of immense mid-19th Century wealth and the resulting architectural coherence. We saw magnificent houses in an opulent neo-classical style (ca. 1820) and houses in a flamboyant late-Victorian style (ca. 1890), and of course many homes and other buildings in the transitional styles between. The bulk of the houses in the historic area are grand indeed, in spacious urban yards with handsome gardens and plenty of breathing room. And Savannah’s numerous, gracious parks only add to the sense of space. These parks force the modern visitor to conform to the town’s slower tempo by breaking up all the main north-south AND east-west streets; car traffic can only move in a straight line for a couple blocks before having to detour around the next urban garden, while the happy pedestrian strolls past a dozen or so handsome homes before crossing through the heart of the next leafy park.
The Azalea Inn is close to the south edge of the historic area, quite near the large white fountain in Forsyth Park which is one of Savannah’s most famous images. Trees are decoratively draped in Spanish moss (which, according to one tour guide, is “neither Spanish, nor moss”). Indeed, if Mother Nature were a decorator, she might be accused of having gone a bit overboard with the mossy draperies. But this is part of what makes “opulent” such an accurate word for Savannah; even the gardens are decked-out in their own aromatic boullion fringe and passementerie. Also just a couple short blocks from the Azalea Inn is Mercer House, famous as the lavish home where a certain antiques dealer shot and killed his male prostitute (as so many of us read in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”). So Savannah, like any famous beauty of a ‘certain age’, has a fascinating – even lurid – past. The Azalea Inn is a handsome, well kept Victorian house, painted crisp yellow and white, with attractive small gardens front and back. The interior architecture divides itself into the public and private areas that were typical of the period – you can see the difference on both sides of one particular threshold (now lacking its door) just past the grand stairway, where rich mahogany paneling, intended to impress the well-dressed “front-door” guests, gives way to humdrum bead-board wainscoting, evidently suitable only for the servant classes, my dear. The Azalea Inn’s well-known dining room, with its murals depicting Savannah’s history, is at the bottom of those wide paneled stairs. In photographs, I found the murals to be somewhat kitschy-looking, but in person they are playful and decorative; fun to chat about with other breakfasting guests (everyone sits at one big table), and fun again later when you recognize some of the depicted buildings in the actual town. The murals were painted by students from the prestigious local art college, and contain numerous visual jokes and intentional, snicker-worthy anachronisms.
Our room was on the second floor overlooking the pool – Magnolia Place, it’s called. It’s not one of the rooms that have been redecorated since the new owners, Teresa and Jake, bought the place a little over a year ago. That’s unfortunate – the couple is doing a really lovely job with their newest interiors, but our room hadn’t gotten ‘the treatment’ yet. It was dated looking, with a Cinderella-style lace, ribbon and fake flower “bower” draped over the bed’s canopy frame. The room would be better off without it. And, yes, there was some tired wallpaper here and there – minor concerns. Otherwise, the room was a delight - with its own bathroom and tile fireplace. To the right of the fireplace there was a tall window which, via an intriguing sill that could split to form two small gates, doubled as a door onto a very spacious private porch. That window, a genuine example of one of the ways Savannah’s Victorian-era architects made peace with the steamy local climate, displayed all the real charm that the ‘flower-bower’ unsuccessfully attempted. The porch overlooked the pool area, with a Hopper-esque, gingerbread-y roofscape visible through the leafy trees beyond. (The dusty plastic plant on the porch might give some thought to joining the ‘flower bower’ in permanent exile). Minor decor quibbles aside, the room was in fact very comfortable, and I’m confident it will soon be handsome too.
The owners and staff at Azalea Inn are super-helpful and friendly. There really is such a thing as southern hospitality - a concept regarded with squinty-eyed suspicion here in New York City. Teresa, Jake, and their employees are quick to offer recommendations, make reservations, answer any questions, and, in our case, loan a lap-top computer for checking e-mail. (The house has wireless internet access). Jake and Teresa also highly recommended the Firefly restaurant (I think that is its name) – their own walking-distance favorite. In fact, as a group of us guests were discussing restaurant possibilities late one afternoon, the owners joined the debate just before they headed out to Firefly for their own dinner, saying they’d ‘check out the situation’ (it was a very busy holiday-weekend in Savannah). A few minutes later they called from the restaurant, saying Firefly could accommodate us that evening, and having already made reservations for us. Service! And the restaurant turned out to be exactly what we were looking for – an excellent meal served at a cozy sidewalk table overlooking one of Savannah’s more off-the-beaten-path parks – a great recommendation.
Truly, I would give Savannah absolute highest marks for offering an experience of real southern hospitality and charm in a grand antebellum atmosphere. And the Azalea Inn, for its price-range, would surely be one of the best places to stay. And getting better all the time! Strongly Recommended!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Rendevous at the romantic Azalea Inn & gardens, an historic Savannah Georgia bed and breakfast inn (ca 1889) in the colonial Savannah garden district featuring parking, reinvented southern cuisine, heritage gardens, balconies, courtyard pool, and veranda with rockers. An ideal Savannah Georgia vacation idea, romantic wedding engagement place, scenic colonial coast tour, photographic walking vacation, boutique downtown shopping in the Design District, or just-because romantic or friends getaway. Ask about business travel rate, Sunday - Thursday. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Azalea Inn & Gardens Hotel Savannah
- Azalea Inn And Gardens