Native Brit and honorary Kentuckian Sarah Ivens, the launch editor of OK! Magazine in America and regular Jaunt Magazine contributor, takes us around the sassy South on a road trip to remember.
Grits trampled into the carpet and porters high on Moonshine. That might be the kind of thing you are expecting of a Southern hotel – but things have changed, and things are good.
Not only do the down-home states offer great tourist attractions (and of course great Gumbo and Mint Julips) but they have some remarkable historical hotels which combine world famous Southern hospitality with luxury amenities and 24 hours room service.
Atlanta is the first stop on our mini adventure. We check-in to the gorgeous Glenn Hotel to find smiley staff and a hot delivery of Georgia’s favorite takeout waiting for us. No, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t need a Colonel to spice it up – it’s delicious enough with their all-natural, homemade lemonade and potato waffles. ‘You are gonna eat good, girl,’ the receptionist warns me – as she helpfully tells us where else to dine (Mary Macs and The Landmark Diner are must-eats and Gladys Knights’ Chicken and Waffles is a great place to people watch on Sundays) and takes us up to our suite.
Unpacked and raring to go, we head for the other great C’s of Atlanta: CNN and The World of Coke. Both companies offer great behind-the-scenes tours, so whether you want to see if you could cut it as a newsreader or become a taste expert for Coca-cola (yes, there are over 100 sodas for you to tease your tongue with), you’ll be amused. Expect to see the CNN stars at some point during your tour – and expect to be scared at the brilliant 4D Coke cinema (at some point during the film, you will get soaked with water and look ridiculous as you try to swat away an imaginary dragonfly. Or at least, I did). As we learnt, you can calm down and dry off back at The Glenn. Their rooftop bar offers great views and a mean Peach Mojito. Hey, we are in the Peach State – it has to be done.
The Glenn from $159/night
Next stop is Nashville, the home of Country music. Even if you think you don’t like songs about cheating husbands and tractors now, you’ll be singing and dancing to them when you hit downtown’s Broadway – or Honky Tonk Alley as it’s known to locals. I got so excited, I bought a cowboy hat. Find fuel at Jack’s BBQ (don’t miss the Mac ‘n cheese) then walk up and down the strip until you hear a live band that appeals.
Tootie’s offers a little more than just Country – their performers delve into a bit of rock and pop too – and has a party atmosphere every night of the week. If you want to try line dancing (hey, you need to wear in those new cowboy boots, right? Yep, I bought those too), head to The Stage. The moves you see in there are indescribable… let’s just say, there might be a few too many empty Jack Daniels bottles out back. When you’ve lost your voice and your feet ache, take the five minute stroll uphill to The Hermitage. And relax. The hotel has been the premier home-from-home for 100 years now – and the team there will do everything they can to help you get over your crazy partying and playtime. They even have a bath concierge who will discuss your needs then run you the most decadent, dreamy soak of your life, complete with oils, flowers and candles. Sleep will come easily until your tummy rumbles the next morning. Head downstairs to the Capitol Grille for some sweet onion bisque, local beet salad with blue cheese and – you’ve waited long enough – their deliciously tangy shrimp and grits.
Walk off the country cooking with a trip to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Highlights include Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood’s most glamorous stage outfits and Johnny Cash’s guitar.
The Hermitage from $199/night
Our trip comes to an end in Memphis, a city with many sad stories to tell but a good soul that makes every visitor want to return. Check in to The Peabody. Not only will you get to sip your Maker’s Mark in the extraordinarily beautiful Grand Lobby, listening to the piano man play classic tunes while watching the famous ducks splash about in the fountains, but the hotel is conveniently placed in the heart of Blues City.
Take a fairy-lit, horse-drawn Cinderella coach, to Beale St. Sample the music – not just in the bars, the streets are full of great singers putting on free shows too – then meander back up towards The Peabody, cross the street and head downstairs into Rendezvous, which is possibly the most famous BBQ joint in America. It may sound strange but do start your meal with the house specialty, a sausage and cheese plate. Dip the delicious meats into a kaleidoscope of sauces and I promise you, you will be craving this weird mix for ever more.
No trip to Memphis is complete without a trip to Graceland. And it is worth the long lines and the $30 entrance fee. Seeing everything from his wedding outfit to his grave is a moving tribute to The King – and if you weren’t an obsessive before, the pan-piped hits will hypnotize you into a state of worship after an hour through those famous musical note gates. A less-known tourist attraction which is just as moving is the brilliant National Civil Rights Museum, set up in the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically assassinated.
Allow at least three hours here. You’ll learn, you’ll cry, you’ll leave wanting to make the world a better place. Not bad for $13.
The Peabody from $199/night