Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Review 1033: Islands West Real Estate, Gypsea
3 bed/2 bath house on Folly Beach near Charleston, South Carolina
June 2003; also June 2002, one week each time
Gypsea is right smack on the beach, in the first row. Folly Beach is a beach town, a barrier island close to Charleston, in the Low Country. We like to stay on Folly since it's so easy to get into Charleston (20 minutes and you're downtown, if the traffic's moving) and yet of all the beaches and islands in the area, it seems to have retained more of it its funky small beach town feel. They have limited high rises - the only one is the big Holiday Inn in the middle of the small town.
Gypsea is on the end of Foly we prefer, away from the Holiday Inn, toward the Morris Island lighthouse, after you cross 13th St. and the island narrows and Ashley Ave. becomes the beachfront road. It's quieter on that part of Folly. You do have to cross a short one-block causeway where there are a lot of cars parked for folks using the beach, but Gypsea is far enough away from that to make passing trhough the parked cars only a minor annoyance. Once you reach the 1600 block of Ashley, generally the only folks using the beach are your neighbors.
Houses are fairly close together, this being prime beachfront real estate, but renters tend to be quiet on this end of the beach - some families with children, some middle-aged couples like us. The most I've ever heard is Mom calling the kids to come in for lunch, stuff like that. The houses are up on a dune hill. Most, like Gypsea, have their own little path down the dune to the beach. Because you're up on the hill, you have an unobstructed view of the beach.
My favorite times at Folly are sunrise and sunset. Dogs are allowed on the beach only in the early morning, so if you take a walk you'll usually see a dog walking local or two, very friendly folks, otherwise you have the beach to yourself. At sunset it is our custom to walk toward the very end of the island to stare out at the lighthouse. At night, you are supposed to dowse all exterior lights and keep quiet if you are down on the beach, because sea turtles nest on Folly. Some nights the beach turns into a hermit crab party, so wear shoes for night walks.
Most of our walking on Folly occurs in the surf, or going down the beach. It's a bit of a hike, a mile or so, into the town, but we do walk in sometimes, but never on the road - it's narrow and doesn't really have a sidewalk. Besides, it's much more pleasant to walk down the beach, dangling your shoes, then put them on and go have a drink at the Folly Beach Pier. There are a couple of mom and pop groceries on the island, but we tend to use those just for things we forgot when stocking up on the mainland. Toward the mainland, on James Island, there are several large supermarkets, at most a 15-minute drive away.
Charleston is restaurant heaven in my opinion, and one of our favorites happens to be right on Folly - Susanne's. During a week's vacation we usually manage to eat there 2 or 3 times, we like it so much. There's a pay parking lot right around the corner from it - necessary, since in town parking is a little tough, but we've never had to do more than make the block once or twice to find a place. There are several more restaurants in town, emphasis on low country style seafood. There's great barbecue around too.
Many of the houses on Folly suffered damage or were destroyed when Hurricane Hugo hit. You can see the evidence of what happened due to all the newer looking houses. Gypsea is one of the survivors, and we prefer the older beachhouses on Folly. They are a little worn around the edges, but they seem to be more in keeping with the character of the town to us. There are posher places to rent, but we love Gypsea's laid-back, family-house-on-the-beach feel. My guess is Gypsea was built in the 50's. It is well-maintained, and in the last 2 years or so they have updated appliances and bought new mattresses for all the beds. We've stayed at another Islands West property, Munster's Folly, and it was a bit larger with a fourth bedroom, but less well kept. I've heard it's recently been remodeled.
If you want to rent on Folly, my strongest suggestions are:
1) Pay the extra for oceanfront - don't stay on the second or third row.
2) Be wary of 2-story houses and bottom halves of duplexes. The lower floors are often damp, lacking air circulation, and you want to be up on the dunes for a view and for the sea air.
3) Head for the 1500 blocks and up - or, go down into the small numbers (in other words, rent on the ends of the island where it's quietest).
We have friends who rented from another agency on the island and broke all three of these guidelines, had an uncomfortable week, and decided from now on to let me find the rental :)
We usually take our little reclining beach chairs down and sit on the beach - but Gypsea has a great feature that many of the houses lack, a large screened-in porch overlooking the beach, and if we're not on the beach, we're sitting out there. I think I could live on that porch - in fact, we've slept on it. There aren't many bugs with the ocean breeze, but it keeps out the mosquitoes and no-see-ums, and gives you a great place to eat meals and take breaks from being out in the sun. There's also room to sit on the deck off the porch, if you want to sit in the sun up by the house.
The furnishings are quite comfortable, nothing too special, but more than sufficient. There's a dining table that seats six in the main room. There's a big comfy sofa and armchair in the living room, a fireplace, a TV set with cable service and VCR, and on the porch a big round table and six or eight chairs, also two reclining deck chairs. We had a little trouble with the dining room chairs one year breaking - but they seemed to have fixed them. The house was quite clean - you pay a cleaning fee with your rent, and the agency has a crew.
They do seem to have a small problem with ants on Folly - every time we stay there, we've noticed that if you leave food out in the kitchen at night, you'll draw ants. Solution: Don't leave food out.
There are three bedrooms: two smaller ones, each with a double bed, and the master with a queen bed. The master room faces the porch and has a door leading directly on to it. There are two bathrooms, each with a shower, also a washer and dryer tucked into a closet. The beds have new mattresses (c. 2003) and are quite comfortable.
Be aware that you must BYO linens and towels - you can rent them, but it's ridiculously expensive, so we never have. Bring a lot of towels - you're on the beach! - and don't forget to toss in a couple of kitchen towels. The beds have a blanket and bedspread, but they are polyester, so we bring our own comfy light blankets as well as sheets.
Gypsea has AC, but many nights we prefer to leave the windows open to hear the ocean and get its cool breeze. The bedrooms have ceiling fans, which, if you turn on high speed, threaten to take the roof off the house - low speed was perfect.
Gypsea has a nice U-shaped kitchen, with breakfast bar looking out onto the main room, electric range and oven, microwave, double sink, large refrigerator, a fair amount of counter space. It's well-equipped - there are a ton of glasses and mugs and plates and silverware, also a fairly extensive assortment of pots and pans, knives, utensils etc. We've done low country shrimp boil on the stove for 12 there - it was a little rough getting enough water boiling on the stove, but you can cook full meals easily. There's a coffee pot (although we travel with our own espresso pot, so we didn't use it much).
You do need to pay some attention to the local news. One day while we were there they had some sort of problem with the water, and folks on Folly were instructed to boil water before drinking it. We heard about this a whole day late, when our rental agents called us to let us know. They had been trying to get a hold of us before, but we were out on the beach. They said it happened every so often, but not too frequently. For what it's worth, we all drank water that we were supposed to have boiled that day, but nothing happened to us.
Problems or Bonuses
The reason we've rented this house twice and will do it again is that you can be in Charleston at the Spoleto Festival watching an international opera and 20 minutes later splashing in the surf. And then there's that porch. We usually go to Folly with other couples, and one of our friends stays on the porch almost the whole time, reading, happy as a clam. He doesn't like the sand; his wife is a beachaholic, part mermaid, so it's a nice compromise for them.
They've started including some installation art on larger scales in the Spoleto festival. One night we walked down to the lighthouse end and were surprised to see way more than the usual amount of people strolling that way, or parked in the lot at the end of the island, dragging beach chairs at sunset. Hmmm. The lighthouse used to be on an island (there are photos of this in Gysea), but coastal erosion has put it out in the middle of the bay (and Gypsea may one day go that way too, sadly - the hazards of being on a barrier island). The Morris Island lighthouse hasn't operated in decades, so the second surprise that evening was that it began to glow - and people on the beach applauded - and then pulse - blue, green, red, yellow. Later we found out this had been an artist's project.
Another surprise: Dolphins are about. Sometimes you see them from Gypsea's porch.
Related, less pleasant: A small shark kept cruising our beach last year. I don't think he wanted to do more than graze on small fish in the shallows, but when that happened, only a few brave souls went out within his range.
Agency and Representatives (and price)
The agency rents a lot of properties, and also sells real estate on Folly. They have an office on your way into town, where you go to check in and out, and the staff is pleasant and helpful. They provide you with a large folder containing your rental agreement, various guidelines, tide chart, restaurant menus, pamphlets for various business like bike and boat rentals, Charleston museums, etc. We paid $1200 the first year we rented it, now it's at $1400 for high season. They list rates of $910 in winter and $1050 spring and fall. There's an additional security deposit and cleaning fee. We've never had any trouble getting the deposit back, usually in the mail the week after we return. The Islands West website has all the info you need, including policies and procedures and a copy of the contract, so there are no surprises. The website also has photos of all of their properties, interiors too.
Do you recommend this vacation rental to others?
Yes, we have stayed here twice, in fact with our best friends, and rented from the same agents another time. We do plan to return, and I would recommend it without hesitation. But I would say to bear in mind that this isn't "resort" - it's a low-key beach house in a wonderful location. If you're more in the mood for resort-poshness, try one of the other islands, like the Isle of Palms - Folly is a little pokey town, with enough long-term locals and surf nuts to give it local texture.
Things to do in this area
The city of Folly Beach maintains a website: www.cityoffollybeach.com
There's also a "surfcam" webcam on the Folly Pier: www.follysurfcam.com
Another webcam at: www.surfline.com
Folly seems to draw surfers - there are surf shops and such. I've never surfed, but the beach has small and moderate sized waves and is good for swimming. We usually take our bocce set and play our made-up version of beach bocce (house rules :)
I always bring a kite! The wind is perfect off the surf for kite-flying.
Also try this for a history of Folly: http://www.vergie.com/follybeach.html
If you're in town in late May through mid-June, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston has great opera, music, theatre and art. The fringe fest always has some delightful surprises. The local paper covers the fest well. Here's the website for Spoleto Fest: www.spoletousa.org
Susanne's Cafe is sublime - try their crab cakes. You can eat at The Starfish Grille, although we never have somehow, we just get a drink at the bar there. We also like the verrrry laid back Bowen's Island eatery on James Island.
My favorite place to eat in Charleston - hard to pick with such an embarassment of riches - is 39 Rue de Jean (at 39 John St.). It's French bistro food, done very well, and they have a great wine list. We call it "the mussels place" because they have the sweetest, most sublime mussels, done in several different sauces - I prefer the pure garlic and butter. Oh my, they are good. I am told they get them fresh from Nova Scotia. They have a very nice onion tart too. They don't take reservations, and it's popular, so go early or you'll have a wait (but one that would be worth it). We also like High Cotton on Bay Street - incredible desserts.
If you eat at the mussels place, stroll over afterwards to Momma's Blues Palace, and listen to Momma, Poppa, and Jo Jo Dupree and the Misfits tear up the joint. Momma puts on an amazing show - think Tina Turner meets Sophie Tucker. Momma's closes when the last person leaves. There are Momma groupies, mainly young women, it seemed, for whom she is mentor and role model. It's campy, but it is also some top-notch blues.
We also rented a boat once on Bowen's Island and puttered around the inlets and river, spying several dolphin, and disembarkeing at a shell-cluttered beach to beachcomb.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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