A road trip through the Deep South


Eloise Barker

Title photography by Ken Canning

Skip to Navigation

September 2017

The local radio twangs and warbles and your stomach grumbles at every barbecue shack you pass. Down oakmoss-strewn driveways, along a lazy Mississippi and across the Blue Mountains, drive into the depths of the Deep South on one of our three epic road trips.

Nashville – Memphis – New Orleans

Best for: If you can’t hit the road without a playlist

The journey: 887 miles

Nashville

Plunge into this deep, detailed tour of the southern states. Its musical touchstones range from Delta Blues to Frank Ocean. You’ll start in Nashville, home of country music. When you’re ready to leave, duck off the highway and take the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s a scenic route, once used by Native Americans.

Where to stay:

Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown is a smart hotel built around a towering atrium. Rooms are spacious and light and the hotel is conveniently near all the main sights.

Memphis

Turn off the Parkway for your second Music City – Muscle Shoals, home of FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and, of course, the Rolling Stones all recorded in ‘America’s Abbey Road’. Listen to ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Mustang Sally’ as you roll on through. Proper Elvis fans stop in Tupelo, to see a tiny shotgun house (so named because you could shoot a bullet right through it) where you can take a cramped tour – because this is the house where Elvis was raised. Going from here to Graceland, the mansion he bought for his family in Memphis, you’ll re-enact a rags-to-riches journey. In Graceland’s Jungle Room, wince at deep shag carpet, leopard print and Tiki furniture. Memphis itself is for blues fans. Walk the city in the shadow of the King and discover Memphis barbecue – try this porcine-centric feast at Central BBQ.

Where to stay:

The Peabody Memphis is a grand old dame of a hotel with chandeliers and marble fireplaces. It has a strange tradition: ducks are permitted in the lobby fountain at 11am and 5pm every day. Out of respect, ‘canard’ isn’t served at Chez Philippe, the hotel’s upmarket French restaurant.

New Orleans

On to Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta, which you know is a good place to go as soon as you find out that Morgan Freeman has a share in the local Ground Zero Blues Club. In the centre of town, look out for the Devil’s Crossroads, which marks where Robert Johnson sold his soul to be a musician. Take a paddle down the lazy Mississippi by canoe to enjoy a delta cruise as well as the area’s famous delta blues music.

Stop off at Natchez and Lafayette if you want battlegrounds, plantation mansions and Creole cuisine before parking up in New Orleans. And this is your final stop because, with all its good-time fun, you won’t want to leave.

Where to stay:

The Troubadour is a design-led boutique hotel with modern, classy interiors. Don’t miss the panoramic rooftop bar, where there’s often live music alongside the food and drink.

Start planning your trip

Take the Blue Ridge Parkway and admire the hazy, tree-coated slopes. Canoe, climb and maybe clock a coyote.

  • Tennessee Tornado rollercoaster at Dollywood. ©Dollywood.

    Twister and shout

    In Dollywood’s Craftman’s Valley, you’ll find the Tennessee Tornado, the Blazing Fury coaster and the Daredevil Falls flume ride. It’s just one area of this thrills and spills park.

    Visit Nashville
  • The Jungle Room in Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee ©Karen Cowled / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Welcome to Graceland

    The King’s mansion is filled with riches, including a TV room in the basement where Elvis habitually watched three sets at once. Book flights to Nashville to start your road trip from£1660 one-way

    Book flights
  • Exterior of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. ©Jonathan Hillyer.

    In the frame

    Don’t be alarmed by the ominous Rodin statue lurking outside. The High Museum of Art is stuffed full of impressive art. Look out for work by Anish Kapoor and Romare Bearden, Dorothea Lange and Claude Monet.

    Visit Atlanta

Nashville – Charleston – Atlanta

Best for… Those seeking a wild ride

The journey: 987 miles

Nashville

After strutting yourself down Music Row in Nashville, go chasing nature east towards Georgia and South Carolina. In Chattanooga, you’ll find a friendly tourist spot (its tourist board calls it the ‘best town ever’) tucked around the Tennessee river. From the top of Lookout Mountain on a clear day, you can see seven US states at once. Just beyond it, at Pigeon Forge, families can stop off in Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s cheery country music theme park. Ride Drop Line, new for 2017 and buy hot cinnamon bread to share.

Head on into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beautiful and beloved by Americans, take the Blue Ridge Parkway and admire the hazy, tree-coated slopes. Canoe, climb and maybe clock a coyote.

Where to stay:

The Residence Inn, Chattanooga is a handy stop for travellers, with a full hot breakfast every morning.

Charleston

On to Charleston, a quaint coastal town with its own dance, and more than its fair share of history – including the colourful historical houses on Rainbow Row. It was here that the American Civil War started, where you can buy a woven sweetgrass basket on every corner and where Porgy and Bess, and Rhett Butler himself all lived. Wander down the Battery or the atmospheric pathway to Boone Hall Plantation, which is lined with 18th century oaks. Visit the Old Slave Mart for a sobering history, told in a place where humans once changed hands. And, as you are on a road trip, stop in a converted Esso gas station, Fuel Cantina, for a sloppy dinner and drinks.

Where to stay:

Belmond Charleston Place is a fancy downtown hotel with an indoor pool, sweeping staircases and grand furnishings. There’s nightly live music at the hotel’s Thoroughbred Club and Charleston Grill.

Savannah

This coast is famous for excellent golf resorts and pleasant beaches. Folly Beach is close at hand, with its washed out seafront houses and pale sands. Meander down to Savannah, where the antebellum mansions are complemented by the jingle of horse-drawn carriages. It’s said to be one of the most haunted cities in America (take a late-night adults-only tour or visit the Olde Pink House). The atmospheric, moss-swathed oak trees certainly lend a solemn shadow. Walking through Lafayette Square and Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump was filmed, should lighten the mood. Queue up at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room or just grab a quick bite from the Back in the Day Bakery.

Atlanta

Fly back from Atlanta, which is huge and business-like compared to the coast. Shop in the Junkman’s Daughter for forgotten treasures in a curious gift shop or go mass market at the World of Coca Cola. For other ‘pop’ culture, hang out in the High Museum of Art, where you can Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art sculpture.

Where to stay:

The Ellis Hotel is an independent, boutique hotel in downtown Atlanta – a rare find. It was completely renovated in 2017 and has a new fitness centre.

Start planning your trip

Atlanta – New Orleans

Best for… Those who love a good story

The journey: 674 miles

Atlanta

Delve deep into southern history. It’s a murky one, swampy with wrongs and wars. Afterwards, have some light relief on one of the lesser-visited southern beaches around Pensacola.

In Atlanta, you can’t miss the important African American history. The Ebenezer Baptist Church is where both Martin Luther King and his father preached, and is part of a cluster of MLK sites in the district, including his birthplace and final resting place. The city has a wonderful botanic garden with painted trees and rare orchids.

Where to stay:

Many of the great hotels in Atlanta are in Buckhead, north of downtown, and the St Regis is no exception. Rooms decked out in powder blue and marble, a swanky bar, and a glorious pool, are all housed in an eye-catching period building.

Birmingham

Get a car and start driving, skirting the town of Loveless along Highway 59 to Birmingham. Here you’ll see the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with its stories of the brave Freedom Riders. Suddenly, all the lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, which refer to Birmingham’s old racist governor, George Wallace, all make sense. You’ll be forgiven if you’re tempted by the all-American pursuit of watching NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway, just outside the city. Brace yourself for breakneck speed and bashed-up bumpers.

Montgomery

On to Montgomery, where Rosa Parks, ‘tired of giving in’, didn’t give up her seat on a segregated bus and made history for the civil rights movement. Go to the Rosa Parks museum, which has a friendly children’s wing, or the Hank Williams museum. F Scott Fitzgerald has influenced the road names here – look out for Zelda Road, and a house filled with her dedicated husband’s love letters. Selma is a short distanceaway. The town was made world famous by the 2014 film about a protest march by King and his congregation from Selma to Birmingham.

New Orleans

For a bit of outdoor air pass through Mobile, Alabama, and rent bikes to cycle through Fairhope. Then land on Florida’s panhandle, where Pensacola Beach provides a sandy retreat. This area is often voted as having the best beaches in Florida, which proves you don’t have to go onto the peninsula for Floridian sunshine.

Finally, pootle along to New Orleans, and stay for as long as you possibly can.

Where to stay:

To make the most of the beach, stay nearby at Hampton Inn for a pool and a bit of sunbathing.

Start planning your trip

  • The beaches around Pensacola ©Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Who ordered a flat white?

    On the barrier island of Santa Rosa, Pensacola beach is a quiet escape. Head to the shops on the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk if you ever get fed up of the view. Book flights to Atlanta from£1653 one-way

    Book flights