By Chris McBeath

Visiting historic Savannah is always like coming home to an old friend, even if you’re a first-time visitor to this elegant city. With its captivating architecture, huge live oaks, and tree-filled squares, every home tells a story, has a ghost, or a quaint bed and breakfast inn to experience. And, like an alluring southern belle, Savannah’s grace and charming hospitality always leaves you wanting more.
But for all that is old in Savannah, here’s an update on some of the newer things you might want to check out:

For the getaway traveler
The new Mansion on Forsyth Park (tel 912/238-5158) can only be described as a luxurious boutique hotel and spa – with plenty of attitude. Chic, sassy and opulent, it showcases more than 400 original pieces of art and a design concept that puts Versace furniture beneath Austrian crystal chandeliers, back lit onyx panels beside 200 year old Verona columns, an Arabian-style canopy over an outdoor patio, and a very good restaurant and lounge in what was once a funeral home. As you might expect, guest rooms are sumptuous and if you stay overnight, request a room on the Bohemian Floor where there’s a personal butler on call 24-hours a day, poised to draw your bath in a freestanding claw-foot tub draped in taffeta with views of the 100-year-old oak trees in Forsyth Park. Little wonder that The Mansion has already made Conde Nast’s 2006 Traveler's Hot List.

For the culinary enthusiast
If there were ever too many cooks in a kitchen, The 700 Kitchen Cooking School (tel: 912/238-5158; ) has to be it. As one of the newest entrees into the world of culinary schools , the state-of-the-art 700 Kitchen is where you can learn the tools of the trade that will inspire you to cook like a pro. It’s a whole lot more accessible than its culinary cousins in southern Europe and you’ll never have so much fun over a hot stove. As for spoiling the broth? Try as students may, it just doesn’t happen. In fact, Chef Darin Sehnert is such an entertaining showman and coach that whether there are two or ten wannabes in his class, the end results are (almost) always akin to culinary art. Classes are approximately three hours in length and cost $90 per person.  

For the culture buff
The Telfair Jepson Center for the Arts (tel: 912/790-8800) opened in 2006 on Telfair Square.  As the first expansion in the Telfair’s 120 year history, it joins the museum’s two 1820 National Historic Landmark buildings, the Academy of Art & Sciences and the Owens-Thomas House. Designed by the noted architect Moshe Safdie, whose projects include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Boston Museum, and Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, AK, the $24.5 million Jepson Center for the Arts is a modern building consisting of two separate structures connected by glass bridges, and with a soaring, light-filled atrium. A sweeping, three-level grand staircase leads to two large galleries for traveling exhibits, southern art and photography, as well as two outdoor sculpture terraces with views across Savannah’s historic rooftops and church steeples.  Note: This art museum is also geared for kids with ArtZeum, an interactive hands-on exhibit including a magnetic sculpture wall.
For movie fans
A Savannah institution since 1919, this piece of whimsical city history is easily missed unless you’re in the know. And without a doubt, Leopold's (212 E. Broughton St., 912/234--4442), is the best place in Savannah for an ice cream soda. It is currently owned by Stratton Leopold, grandson of the original owner and a Hollywood producer whose films include Mission Impossible 3, The General's Daughter, and The Sum of All Fears. Consequently, movie paraphernalia makes for an entertaining sideline to the selection of ice creams and sorbets. Famed lyricist Johnny Mercer grew up a block away from Leopold's and was a faithful customer when he was home from Hollywood.
For getting around
Savannah is the quintessential ‘walking’ city because traveling by any other mode bypasses the finite textures of discovering history at every turn: in its diverse architecture, its quirky obsession with John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or its funky eateries filled with offbeat SCAD students, sophisticated diners and everything in between.  If you packed only your stilettos, or corns have you sidelined, Kinetic Tours (tel: 912/233-5707) has stepped up with a solution with the latest concept in people movers: Segways are stand-up, two wheel individual transporters that are propelled simply by shifting your weight. Two-hour tours cost $65 and sure and heck beat the heck out of traditional foot power.

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