You'll fall in love with the haunting beauty and haunted history of this Old South town.
Credit: Paul Giamou/Getty

Only 250 miles from Atlanta with nonstop service to 16 U.S. cities direct from Savannah Airport, minus the passports, currency exchanges, and gondolier traffic, Savannah makes a more convenient romantic escape than Venice. It’s no coincidence that both these storied cities inspired John Berendt best-sellers―the Venetian drama The City of Falling Angels and the Southern Gothic intrigue Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt’s account of forbidden romance and society scandal seems sensational on paper, but strolling through Savannah’s mansion-lined streets in the looming shade of oaks draped in Spanish moss, somehow it seems plausible.

Eat smart: Although Savannah has kept its old-world charms, local cooking has evolved from traditional South Coast seafood boils. Opened in 2008, Eos Restaurant & Wine Bar (912-238-2400) serves Southern small plates with cosmopolitan twists: Collard greens arrive whipped into a creamy risotto topped with fresh soft-shell crab, and wild Georgia shrimp are soused in a sake marinade with a touch of honey and balanced atop green tea somen noodles. Though it’s housed in a former bank, Eos’ prices won’t require a trip to a teller; even with a toast of sparkling Venetian prosecco, a romantic dinner for two rings up under three figures. For Southern seafood with Caribbean flair in the single-digit range, head to Sweet Potatoes for cornmeal-crusted catfish topped with fresh pico de gallo or Jamaican-style jerk tilapia salad with a distinctly Southern accent: black-eyed pea relish.

Be fit: The best stretch for your legs and imagination this side of the Atlantic is America’s largest historic district, right in downtown Savannah. Stroll amid restored Civil War–era mansions, down footpaths embedded with crushed oyster shells, into 21 historic squares dating as far back as 1733. By day, many of Savannah’s mansions are open to visitors, including the birthplaces of Southern short-storyteller extraordinaire Flannery O’Connor and Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. When dusk falls over these historic homes, you might witness some of the glowing, spectral forms that helped earn this city a top spot on the American Institute of Parapsychology’s “America’s Most Haunted” list. Around town you’ll notice shutters and porch ceilings painted a teal-tinged “Haint Blue,” which, according to local Gullah belief, keeps ghosts at bay. If you dare, try Savannah’s take on the Venetian giro di ombra, or roving happy hour: the Haunted Pub Crawl, a two-hour candlelit walking tour of Savannah’s spookiest watering holes.

Live Well: Like Venice, this town could easily count on its past glories, but faded grandeur isn’t Savannah’s style. Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art recently completed renovations on antebellum Kiah Hall to house new collections of contemporary photography and African-American art, while the splashy new Jepson Center for the Arts showcases the period-perfect 18th-century Octagon Room alongside provocative contemporary painter Robert Colescott, the first African-American artist to be the sole representative of the United States at the Venice Biennale.

Where to stay: Enterprising hostess Mary Marshall opened Savannah’s first inn back in 1851, and after a $12 million restoration that earned it a place on the national historic register, Marshall House is a credit to Mrs. Marshall’s legendary hospitality. Behind the original guest room doors you’ll find heart pine floors, Savannah brick fireplaces, clawfoot tubs, and rocking chairs. But never fear: With cushy pillow-top beds and a grand wrought-iron veranda painted Haint Blue, Savannah’s resident ghosts can’t possibly disturb your slumber.