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
Plunge into this deep, detailed tour of the southern states. Its musical touchstones range from Delta Blues to Frank Ocean. Fly into Nashville airport and pick up your hire car to enjoy the home of country music. The Country Music Hall of Fame, RCA Studio B, the Johnny Cash Museum and the Grand Ole Opry are all must-sees. 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.
Before you reach Memphis, you must pass through three towns considered absolutely essential viewing by music aficionados. First, turn off the Natchez Trace Parkway at 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 famous Jungle Room you’ll find tourists wincing at Elvis’ choice of deep shag carpet, leopard print and Tiki furniture. Once you’ve had your fill, head on to Nashville’s rival ‘music city'. 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.
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 InterContinental New Orleans sits just two blocks from the French quarter. Above the lavish lobby there’s a great outdoor pool, fifteen storeys up.
Take the Blue Ridge Parkway and admire the hazy, tree-coated slopes. Canoe, climb and maybe clock a coyote.