On the beach, I ditched my shoes, revelling in the warm, gritty embrace of the sand on my toes. Later, I wandered along the strip of waterfront hotels, many of them pastel brick-and-block phantasms of mid-century modern cool. The street wound down from luxurious to tatty, ending in a row of grizzled tattoo shops and a greasy spoon that served an amazing cornmeal-crusted catfish sandwich.
My days were filled with touristy attractions – everything from the shiny new Hard Rock Park to a classic car show to the stunning Ripley's Aquarium. But my favourite sites were older, laden with history and farther afield, in Conway and Litchfield and on Pawleys Island. Brookgreen Gardens was an oasis of green, its stunning sculpture collection tucked in between foliage and fountains. Litchfield Plantation stood at the end an allée of gargantuan, gnarled oak trees bearded with Spanish moss. The wind-scoured dunes on Pawleys beckoned with waving sea grass, and the twisting narrow roads offered views of docks perched among reeds on one side, and weathered clapboard summer houses on the other.
Meals brought the ultimate pleasure: shrimp atop creamy grits, sweet hush puppies slathered with raspberry butter, crunchy fried green tomatoes, velvety she-crab soup, Key lime pie enrobed dark chocolate... all of them true tastes of Southern culture and hospitality.