Southern Charm for Two: A Romantic Guide to Greenville, S.C.
Sure, there’s something inherently romantic about a Euro-leaning little town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But Greenville, S.C., gets extra enchanting in winter, when your horse-drawn carriage rides and outdoor skating sessions come with a backdrop of twinkling trees and snow-dusted peaks—among other local charms.
Adding to the appeal: Greenville is super accessible, with nonstop flights from 16 cities on the East Coast and Midwest—to say nothing of the proximity to I-85. So while you’ll totally have the feel of stealing away together, it won’t come with the travel hassles you may associate with off-the-beaten-path escapes.
As for what awaits you upon arrival, check out these seven romantic greats:
A carriage ride under the holiday lights
Take an activity that’s ridiculously romantic on its own, add thousands of twinkling Christmas lights—and you’ve got a doubly-dreamy night out. But first, fortify yourselves with beloved French fare at Passerelle Bistro on the edge of Falls Park on the Reedy, an improbably lush, riverine tract right in the middle of downtown whose trails, suspension pedestrian bridge and waterfall views you should also revisit by day.
After dessert, which includes the likes of lemon crème brulee with lavender shortbread and meringue, your chariot awaits: Take a horse-drawn carriage ride down the achingly charming—and seasonally twinkle-lit—Main Street, where you’ll spot a million more restaurants you want to try and some boutiques to hit up for good measure.
Finish out the evening with a nightcap at the bar of the Southern-classic Halls Chophouse, where live music and seductively good signature cocktails, from the Hot Pepper Martini to—yes, indeedy—the Hefner (gin, cucumber, St. Germain and bubbles).
Ice, ice, baby
Give pairs skating a whirl at the open-air rink right on Main Street. Even if you’re total newbies, wiping out and cracking up together is a couples’ rite of passage—and this is as lovely a backdrop as you’ll find for it. And when your fingers and toes start to tingle, head to nearby Spill the Beans for a little après-skate—ideally in the form of the cinnamon- and nutmeg-infused Mexican Hot Cocoa, though even the basic hot chocolate is amazing—especially if you take the staff recommendation to drizzle in some toasted marshmallow syrup.
Then soothe your muscles—and senses—with a couples’ massage at the River Falls Spa, where you’ll find a shockingly retreat-like vibe, despite the Main Street address. As fabulous at the treatment itself is, half the fun of being there together is chilling by the water wall and fireplace.
The couple that bikes together…
A bike ride worth bundling up for? The one along the 22-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. Pick up some rental wheels at Reedy Rides, then make your way down this super-atmospheric path—a blend of river, old railroad tracks and parkland.
After catching the sunset behind Furman University’s Insta-gold Bell Tower, reward your efforts and refuel at chef Sean Brock’s Husk—a foodie pilgrimage site where you’ll want to order everything, so you’ll be extra-grateful to have someone along who can be talked into sharing more than is necessarily civilized. Think cornmeal-fried chicken skins with house-made hot sauce and honey or peanut-roasted catfish with creamed collard greens, hominy porridge and potlikker. And don’t fail to leave at least some room for dessert: the apple pot pie with apple ice cream and toasted pecans or the Piedmont Bleus chocolate torte with orange crème anglaise and smoked popcorn.
Drama à deux
Small though it may be, Greenville is home to no fewer than six theaters where—on any given night—there’s enough of a range that even couples with different tastes will find something to agree on and happily hold hands through.
Whether or not you land on the Peace Center (where Hamilton happens to be playing this winter), head there for a pre-theater drink: Genevieve’s—the onsite lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows onto the Reedy River—is open only before and during shows, and would be worth a visit even without the gorgeous views. See: the Baker’s Shadow (a cocktail of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Frangelico, Heering Cherry Liqueur, cream and pumpkin spice).
From there, proceed to your Hamilton-viewing perch, or to another beloved venue—perhaps the Greenville Little Theatre, the Warehouse Theatre or Centre Stage. And when the curtains close, head to the sexy speakeasy Vault & Vator for craft cocktails—if you can find it.
The delights of downsizing
For an even smaller small-town experience, head to neighboring Travelers Rest, where local favorite Farmhouse Tacos—though not technically on a farm—does serve up the likes of locally sourced fried-green tomatoes, buttermilk fried chicken tacos and smokehouse duck enchiladas.
Then stop by for a tasting at Wellborn Winery—where the vintners use grapes, berries and peaches from nearby growers—and check into Hotel Domestique. A modern take on a mountain-view country auberge, this beloved boutique hotel is also home to the critically acclaimed Restaurant 17, where the grits alone (served with mascarpone and tomato jam) are worth the trip.
The art of love
If, as Marc Chagall maintained, “art must be an expression of love,” Greenville is Love Central. To see for yourselves, head to the Art Crossing at RiverPlace, where you’ll find all manner of open studios and art therein (paintings, textiles and—if one of you is moved to propose—jewelry). For bonus romance, take the free downtown trolley there.
Continue the art exploration at the many studios and galleries in the Village of West Greenville—good options include the Artistry Gallery, Art & Light and SE Center for Photography—before dining at the Anchorage, where the food is as artful as the décor (see: Virginia oysters with spring pea and cucumber granita and foraged hemlock).
Classic Christmas, Southern Style
For a truly traditional Southern Christmas, venture to nearby Fountain Inn where you and your honey can climb aboard the trackless train, get your shopping done at the craft fair, and view the gingerbread houses inside the town’s museum. If you’re lucky, you’ll even come across carolers.
Not that Greenville itself wants for Christmas spirit: Check out the hundreds of spectacularly decorated Christmas trees that are on display throughout December for the Bon Secours Festival of Trees.