Music, history, and the warmest of welcomes – there’s lots to love in the Deep South, says Joanna Booth.

Southern Charm

Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King, Scarlett O’Hara – these are the famous footsteps clients will follow in if they choose to discover the Deep South.

America’s south-eastern states have a turbulent and fascinating history. Its grand plantation houses were built on the dark legacy of slavery, and the region fought on the losing side of the Civil War. It was here that the Civil Rights movement grew and flourished, and where blues, soul, jazz and country music were born. Little wonder it makes fertile escorted touring territory, with plenty to see, and much that benefits from the in-depth knowledge of an expert guide.

Sounds of the south

The bassline running through the majority of operators’ tours of the region is the music. Its heritage is found everywhere, but as with many great songs, you can get the gist in three chords. Basic tours stop off at three cities – Nashville, the home of country music and the Grand Ole Opry; Memphis, for the Beale Street blues clubs, Stax Records soul sounds and Elvis Presley’s mansion Graceland, and New Orleans, where jazz spills out of the bars and into the street, particularly at festival times.

“It was here that the Civil Rights movement grew and flourished, and where blues, soul, jazz and country music were born.”

Most tours include these stops, sometimes using Atlanta as a gateway. Many add in extras to appeal to music fans – Collette’s America’s Music Cities includes a local musician-led tour of Memphis, and there’s a special departure to coincide with New Orleans Jazz Fest. Travelsphere’s The Deep South features a private performance by either Johnny Cash’s brother or son. On Luxury Gold’s Southern Grace tour, client will get an after-hours tour of Graceland from a friend of Elvis followed by dinner served among The King’s car collection.

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Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the biggest event in the region, and Leger Holidays has a special departure to coincide with it. Trek America’s new Mardi Gras and the Sunshine State follows time in New Orleans for the street party with a road trip to Miami.

“Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the biggest event in the region, and Leger Holidays has a special departure to coincide with it.”

For those short on time, Cosmos’ new Tunes of Tennessee just visits Nashville and Memphis, and is eight days long including flights. For a change of pace, Titan has a 16-day trip that pairs land explorations with a cruise on a paddlewheel steamboat between Memphis and New Orleans, and Great Rail Journeys offers a 14-day Tracks of the Deep South trip with train travel on Amtrak and heritage railways. Newmarket offers an option combining a Deep South itinerary with a Caribbean cruise.

Paths through the past

Longer itineraries frequently include historical sights alongside music activities. The South used to be known as the Cotton States, and the successful cultivation of this crop was based on the backbreaking work of millions of slaves. The vast wealth generated paid for grand plantation houses, built in a neo-classical style known as antebellum with pillars, balconies and grand gardens. Tauck’s Charleston/Savannah tour delves deep into this period of history, and Leger’s new Gone with the Wind tour takes inspiration from the classic novel and film, working its way around Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.

The fight for African American equality was centred in the South, and the region is peppered with thought-provoking and inspiring museums and sights. Key stops include Birmingham, Jackson, Montgomery, Atlanta – where Martin Luther King was born – and Memphis, where he was assassinated.

“Leger’s new Gone with the Wind tour takes inspiration from the classic novel and film, working its way around Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.”

Just You’s 15-day America’s Music Heritage features a number of Civil Rights sights, packaged up for solo travellers, and G Adventures mixes up Civil War, Civil Rights and musical history on its 12-day Highlights of the Deep South tour. Mercury’s 10-day America’s Deep South combines music and Civil Rights with space travel, as it also includes a stop off in Houston visiting the NASA Space Centre.

For a wider exploration of Texas, Riviera Travel’s 14-day Deep South plus Texas adds time in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas to the classic Atlanta-Nashville-Memphis-New Orleans route, with visits to the Space Centre, the Alamo and Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated.

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Into the wild

Most itineraries focus on urban areas, but the Great Smokey Mountains – which straddle Tennessee and North Carolina – are contained within America’s most visited National Park. Clients can experience the natural beauty on Trafalgar’s new Heart of the South with Great Smokey Mountains and Tauck’s Bluegrass and Blue Ridges tours, which both combine time among the mountain scenery with visits to Kentucky and Louisville for horse racing and whisky distilling heritage.


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