Delve into Dixie with Katie McGonagle's guide to the southern states
Home of the blues, bayous and bewitching southern belles, America’s Deep South is famed for its old-fashioned hospitality.
But other than receiving the warmest of welcomes, what else can your clients expect when venturing south of theMason-Dixon line?
Finger-licking cuisine, for one thing. They might need to adjust the belt buckle a notch or two after tucking into Cajun and Creole-inspired dishes, fried chicken, barbecue ribs, gumbo, crawfish and a helping of Mississippi mud pie to finish.
Then there are the sizzling cities of New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta, vast landscapes such as those in Georgia-set Gone with the Wind, and historical sites at every turn.
Target it at the right market: it’s more likely to appeal to those who have visited the more obvious US destinations and now want to get under the skin of the country.
MUSIC TO MY EARS
Jazz, soul, rock ’n’ roll, country – think of any iconic American music and you can be sure the land of the Delta Blues had a hand in it. It’s no coincidence greats such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles and the King himself, Elvis Presley, hailed from these parts.
Devotees flock to pay homage to their heroes, so there’s a huge selection of music-themed tours. Some cover a lot of ground: America’s Music Cities from Collette Worldwide and Grand American Adventures’ 12-day Deep South and Delta Blues (from £1,399, excluding flights) visit country music capital Nashville, Elvis’s Graceland mansion and jazz fest New Orleans.
Collette Worldwide also offers a tour of RCA Studio B in Nashville where Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton laid down tracks, a seat at the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running country music show on US radio, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Grand American Adventures features Cajun music in Lafayette and Beale Street blues bars in Memphis. Try Hayes & Jarvis’s Rhythms of the South for a similar self-drive option (13 nights from £1,099, with flights and car hire).
There are options that focus on just one or two states, such as Hayes & Jarvis’s Music Trails of Tennessee escorted tour (£1,359 including flights), and there are tours that combine music with other hobbies.
North America Travel Service’s most popular fly-drive is Simply Southern Music and Golf, taking in New Orleans, Pensacola, Nashville and Memphis, plus stops at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail of championship courses (from £1,879 including flights).
HISTORY AND HERITAGE
The Deep South was a key battleground in shaping America’s history, with some of the most defining moments of the modern world taking place on its soil. From the American civil war sites to the civil rights movement, there’s plenty to keep even the keenest history buffs happy.
Montgomery, Alabama, was briefly capital of the Confederacy during the civil war, and the place where Rosa Parks was arrested, sparking the bus boycott and protests by Martin Luther King.
Thomas Cook Signature’s Dixie Dreamin’ and Virgin Holidays’ 14-night Cajun Capers self-drives include Montgomery, plus the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and cultural mixing pot of Lafayette.
Thomas Cook Signature’s tours include Chattanooga, Tennessee, the site of numerous civil war battles, while Virgin Holidays’ self-drive features two nights in Natchez, home of the most impressive antebellum mansions in the south.
Vacations to America has this year introduced an eight-day escorted tour, Bayous and the Big Easy, which gives visitors the chance to meet volunteers involved in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up operation in 2005 and visits a former sugar cane plantation (from £2,445 including flights).
UNDER SCARLETT’S SPELL
Epic adventure Gone with the Wind is probably the greatest advertisement ever made for the region.
Bring out your clients’ inner Scarlett O’Hara by visiting key settings such as Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston with Travel 2’s Dixie Finery self-drive (£1,159 for eight days including flights) or Kuoni’s Southern Experience self-drive (from £1,455 with flights).
Titan Travel’s Southern Sights and Sounds includes a visit to a Gone with the Wind-style mansion in Atlanta.
KICKING BACK, SOUTHERN-STYLE
Who says your clients have to be on the move all the time? Touring is perfect for seeing the sights but if your customers want a handle on the southern way of life, they need to slow down. If they end up watching the world go by from a colonial-style porch, glass of iced tea in hand, they’ve cracked it.
Hayes & Jarvis recommends a twin-centre break divided between the Big Easy – New Orleans to you and I – and a grand antebellum mansion in rural Louisiana, on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel at Graceland is also a great choice for single or twin-centres. Vacations to America offers a week’s B&B with flights from £1,449, while Funway suggests teaming three nights there with four at Maison DuPuy in New Orleans, from £925 with flights and car hire.
Cash in on the current True Blood-fuelled fad for New Orleans’ spooky side with Attraction World’s Ghosts and Spirits night-time walking tour (£17 adults/£9 children), or savour the city’s skyline from a dinner and jazz cruise on board historic Steamboat Natchez (£46/£23).
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