top of page
< Back

North America

The Sunny South East

Jonathan van Bilsen



March 19, 2023

The Sunny South East

With winter not quite ready to release its grip on us, I thought it might be nice to travel to the American South East, in search of a warmer climate. I have always been fascinated by history, and decided to begin my trip to historical Charleston and Savannah. I flew with Porter into Savannah, and began my adventure.

In Savannah, be prepared to be immersed in history. Large antebellum houses line most of the streets in the old city. Many have been restored, and are worth a visit. Davenport House may be the most famous, as it is fully restored, but my favourite was the Harper Fowlkes House, with its interesting history. The house was built in 1842, and was neglected for many years, but is now fully restored.

Savannah has a pedestrian area known as the City Market, where one can find many eateries, boutiques and of course, pecan shops. It is next to Broughton Street, the main shopping street of the city.

Continuing on to Charleston is a pretty drive, especially if you stay off the Interstate highways. Small farmhouses dot the countryside, and quaint villages appear around bends. Beaufort is worth the stop, as it is a seaside town with a spectacular beach. Unique shops and eateries are found among many souvenir haunts.

Steeped in history, this area is great for strolling along old city streets and visiting amazing plantations. Boone Hall, one of America’s oldest, working homesteads, has been continuously growing crops for more than three hundred years.

Another plantation, Middleton Place, is also worth a visit, as it has been in existence for over 250 years. There are two lakes with unique outbuildings, and many giant oak trees. The mansion has been fully restored, and the furniture dates back to the original time. Guides explain in detail the workings of the plantation, and at times, it seems you have travelled back to a bygone era.

I won’t stop at Walt Disney World in this article (see – 2018-04), but there are many picturesque towns that are worth a second glance. One such city is Mount Dora, located about an hour north of Orlando.

With a population of 13,000, this small, picturesque village has several streets lined with unique clothing boutiques, art shops and restaurants. The drive from Orlando to Mount Dora is pleasant. Winding roads lined with trees take you on a leisurely trek, passing horse farms and century homes. 

Once you arrive in Mount Dora, simply park your car, as the entire town is within walking distance. I found it similar to Port Perry, including the friendliness of the people who owned the shops.

Start your visit with a tasty lunch in either One Flight Up, which has a balcony on the second floor, overlooking Donnelly Street (the main thoroughfare), or enjoy tasty soup and sandwiches at Let's Do Lunch, also located on Donnelly street. Both are great, but there are numerous other eateries as well.

If you want a more formal lunch, make your way toward the lake (about three blocks), and enjoy a wonderful meal on the porch of the Lakeside Inn, a hotel, built in 1921. 

A few steps from the Inn, stands a lighthouse and a gazebo, both of which overlook a wildlife refuge. There are fish and birds, and even a small alligator or cayman, a viewing which is a must for a trip to central Florida.

When you have thoroughly exhausted your stay, continue west to St. Armand's, located outside of Sarasota on Florida's gulf coast. Like Mount Dora it is another 'must see' destination, especially if you want to escape the tourist bustle for which Florida is so famous.

A little more popular than Mount Dora, St Armand's is also quite a bit larger. The central part of the city, which caters to tourists, is divided into four quadrants, each of which centers around the fountain. During severe rainstorms, the centre area floods, however, this does little to distract from making your visit a fun experience.

Depending on your tastes, the Shoppes of St Armand’s should fulfill everyone's desire. There are many clothing stores, most of which, cater to sunshine patterns of brightly coloured floral designs. Men's shops carry the latest fashions to look your best on the golf course or on the beach (no, I did not buy a Speedo).

I continued south, bypassing Miami but stopping at the Coral Castle, near the town of Homestead. The castle was constructed by Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant, who built it to entice his sweetheart to marry him. Sadly, she was not interested, and never made the trek to be with him.

The structure is made of numerous large stones, each weighing several tons. They have been painstakingly sculpted into a variety of shapes, including walls, tables, chairs, a water fountain and a sundial.

Coral Castle is noted for legends surrounding its creation that claim it was built single-handedly by Leedskalnin using reverse magnetism or supernatural abilities, to move and carve the stones.

It took more than 28 years to build, and was finished in 1920. Visiting will take an hour or two, but the uniqueness of the site makes it well worthwhile.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

bottom of page