Charlotte, North Carolina, May 2015:
Our new Princess Charlotte has a warm welcome waiting in the American city that bears her name.
As you might expect, Monday’s royal announcement was greeted with great delight in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We were thrilled to learn that our city shares a name with Princess Charlotte of Cambridge,” said Mayor Dan Clodfelter. “We hope the princess will someday visit our beautiful city. After all, our nickname is the Queen City, so we would welcome Princess Charlotte and her family with open arms.”
I spent three days in Charlotte just before William and Kate’s daughter arrived and it’s a place where they treat every visitor like royalty.
It was named after Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), wife of King George III. And when you go back in history it turns out that the locals weren’t always so keen on royalty… but more of that later.
British tourists often pass through here on fly-drive tours because it’s a perfect entry or exit point for trips ranging all over the east coast and southern states.
But the city itself more than repays two or three days of your time. It’s a clean, well-kept place with lots of visitor attractions and one of the best standards of living in the USA.
It also has more trees than most forests. Flying in over the suburbs on a direct American Airlines flight from Heathrow there seemed to be at least 10 for every house.
One of the easiest ways to begin exploring is on a Segway tour. It’s easy to scoff when you see a swarm of bike-helmeted tourists riding these ungainly-looking machines, but don’t knock it until you try it.
I’d never set foot on one before but found it easy and intuitive to control and much more fun than walking. A two-hour Taste & Glide tour with genial guide Rod included food samples from three distinctive restaurants plus a guide to local history and customs.
My favourite spot was the historic Fourth Ward, a quiet oasis of pastel-coloured wooden homes just a few steps from the steel and glass towers of the city centre. Here we had fried pickles at Alexander Michael’s restaurant, a former grocery store with a vintage pick-up truck outside. Segway tours start at £26pp. charlottenctours.com
Another first for me was a baseball game. The family atmosphere as the Charlotte Knights edged a 7-6 victory over the visiting Toledo Mud Hens at the city’s brand-new ball park was a revelation. With an ironic jingle after every pitch and cameras putting members of the crowd on a big screen, this felt like a good-natured game show when compared with the tribal rites of Britain’s national sport. charlotteknights.com
The baseball game also provided my first taste of local craft beer. The city’s oldest microbrewery opened only eight years ago but now there are dozens and every bar in town has a dizzying choice of beers.
I spent an entertaining two hours at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, America’s shrine to a motor sport that began in the wild country around Charlotte when 1930s bootleggers held races to find out whose souped-up whiskey wagons could best outrun the law.
You can try to stand up on a 33-degree section of banked track called the Glory Road and race other visitors on simulators built into full-size stock cars. My souvenir printout records a dismal last place with only two laps finished out of five.
I tried explaining to my expert rivals that I hadn’t played a video game since the Commodore Amiga went out of fashion in 1992 but my English accent proved too much of a distraction. Admission £13, nascarhall.com
I fared better at steering a real-life Chrysler 16 miles out of town to the US National Whitewater Centre. US hire cars always have automatic transmission and after you learn to stop stamping on the brake with your clutch-deprived left foot it really is a better way to drive.
The centre is billed as “the world’s largest and most complex recirculating whitewater river” and what that means when you join an eight-man team on an inflatable raft is that you get soaked to the skin while having the time of your life.
This was a superb experience on a solo visit with seven strangers – sharing it with family or friends would be beyond brilliant.
Anyone skilled with oars can tackle the same course in a kayak, and this beautifully-designed centre also has kayaking and paddle-boarding on the Catawba river, rope climbing in the forest and a choice of zip lines. usnwc.org
Back in town to refuel, my sat-nav refused to find the recommended 5 Church Restaurant and I circled it twice in each direction before finding the right one-way streets that led to a parking spot opposite the door.
Apart from top-notch food and an in-crowd clientele, the 5 Church is notable for having the text of a 2,000-year-old Chinese military manual called The Art of War, painted on the ceiling. It’s in English, which gave me something interesting to read while waiting for my tasty beef tacos (£8.50). 5church.com
Another great place to eat is the non-profit King’s Kitchen, where chef Jim Noble trains disadvantaged locals to hold down restaurant jobs. It’s like a more affordable version of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and it also offers free food to the city’s needy. This being the South, there are Bible classes too, but it’s good food they push down your throat, not religion. And their £6 breakfast set me up for the whole day. kingskitchen.org
After eating like a king, I slept like a duke. The wonderful Duke Mansion in the leafy suburb of Myers Park has Greek columns at the entrance, stately gardens behind and when the sun in shining the fountain in front will magic up its own little rainbow as you walk by.
Staff greet you by name and you’re likely to rub shoulders with the city’s great and good. The Duke is a beacon of the local social scene as well as a lovely place to stay. dukemansion.com
And what was that piece of royal history? Well, it’s claimed that in 1775 the fathers of Mecklenburg County (which contains the city of Charlotte and is also named after the queen) were the first to break away from the British Crown – a full year before the American Declaration of Independence.
This is hotly disputed by historians – but it won’t stop Charlotte giving a charming southern welcome to the new princess if her folks are wise enough to drop by one day.
When to go: Winters are mild, summers red-hot, spring and autumn just right.
Where to shop: Hunt for bargains at boutiques in the Dilworth, NoDa and South End districts. I found Ben Sherman desert boots for £26 at Revolution in Dilworth. shoprevolution.com
Don’t miss: Ask for a “tasting flight” of local craft beers at bars including Duckworths on N Tryon St. duckworths.com And try the local Queen Charlotte rum. muddyriverdistillery.com
Getting there: American Airlines fly daily direct from London Heathrow to Charlotte.
Book it: A four-night city break staying room-only at the Sheraton Charlotte is from £735pp including non-direct Heathrow flights (book by May 31). Or try a 13-night fly-drive package to North Carolina starting at £1,380pp. See myamericaholiday.co.uk for both or call 020 8290 9797.
An edited version of this article was first published in the Holidays and Getaways section of the Sunday Mirror on May 9, 2015.