America’s southern states offer a unique experience, says Ella Buchan, and the trio of New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville is a multi-centre not to be missed
From the jazz that meanders through the streets of New Orleans to the blues of Memphis’ Beale Street and the honky-tonk bars of Nashville, music is the soul of America’s south.
And the region is more accessible than ever – British Airways launched direct flights to New Orleans this March, followed by a Nashville route from May 2018.
“We have recently seen an increase in bookings and enquiries to the south from our wide range of twin and multi-centre itineraries,” says Clare Harvey, sales manager for USAirtours.
“Our team is well travelled and knowledgeable in putting together great holidays to Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana.”
Here’s a glimpse of the exciting happenings in three of the region’s key destinations.
It doesn’t take long to feel the music in the Big Easy. It rises from the cobbled streets of the French Quarter, floats from the saxophones of street musicians on every corner and pours through the windows of lively bars on Frenchmen Street.
Within the dimly-lit stone walls of Preservation Hall, jazz lovers gather for twice-nightly performances by the famed inhouse band. At Palm Court Jazz Cafe, guests can enjoy live jazz with their dinner.
Against this soulful soundtrack is a city always at play, with about 130 annual festivals including the epic Mardi Gras, the culmination of two weeks of parades that takes place next year on February 13, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which takes place from April 27to May 6.
Food is just as important, from Creole dishes at Antoine’s, Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s to 24-hour beignets at Cafe du Monde in the French Market, located steps from the broad Mississippi River.
Between meals and music, visitors can learn about the bayous that wind through Louisiana on a fun swamp tour, cycle along the riverbank to burn off the soul food, or take advantage of the tax-free shopping across the city and State. New Orleans celebrates its 300th year in 2018. Tricentennial celebrations begin with fireworks and a Mardi Gras preview for King’s Day on January 6, followed throughout the year by special exhibits and events – making The Crescent City an even livelier place to be.
When walking in Memphis, it can be a challenge to keep Marc Cohn’s classic hit from playing on a loop in your head. Particularly when weaving between the bars of famous Beale Street.
Visitors might have a different ear worm at Elvis’ home, Graceland, where interactive tours reveal secrets in each room and the Fashion King exhibit pays homage to his unique, often flamboyant, style. March 2017 saw the opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis. The most significant expansion in the history of Graceland, this $45million entertainment complex immerses fans in everything Elvis, exploring his deep connection with the city that inspired his life and music.
Elvis recorded many hits at Sun Studio, which visitors can tour to learn more about the King and other huge artists such as Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
Next year will also focus on another King. April 2018 marks 50 years since Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum. The exhibits chronicle the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present day.
Visits include a glimpse into Room 306, where Dr King spent his last hours. A year-long programme of events celebrating the Civil Rights leader began this April with concerts, talks and special exhibits on his legacy and its lasting impact.
Music City has always been honky-tonk heaven for country fans. Amazing performances can be found everywhere, with live bands in downtown bars, up-andcoming local musicians at the Bluebird Cafe and some of the biggest stars belting out classics at the Grand Ole Opry. Then there’s the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, tracing the fascinating history and roots of country music.
But you don’t need to be even a little bit country to fall for Nashville’s charms. This friendly, walkable city is home to jazz, blues, folk and rock musicians, performing everywhere from street corners to tiny bars and urban parks.
Beyond the music visitors will find historic neighbourhoods like hip Germantown, vibrant university area Vanderbilt, and The Gulch, known for its lively nightlife scene and popular restaurants like Whiskey Kitchen.
New hotels include 21c, a former warehouse that now houses an art museum, restaurant and bar along with 124 contemporary, pet-friendly rooms. The rooftop pool and lounge area at industrial-chic Kimpton Aertson Hotel will be particularly inviting to guests recovering from the night before.
The new British Airways route from London to Nashville, launching next May, means it’s easier than ever for clients to discover this rhythmic city – and begin a musical journey through America’s spellbinding south.
USAirtours offers a nine-night New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville itinerary from £1,139, for travel between May 30 and June 20, based on two adults and two children sharing and including flights from London.
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