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Experience the Southern Soul of America's Deep South

Even though it was May in New Orleans, Mardi Gras beads still hung from traffic lights, street signs and trees, three months on from Carnival season. And as we toured the city learning about shotgun houses, Louisiana plantation homes and above-ground cemeteries, I began to hear it: the faint sound of music, carried on the wind from Jackson Square and Frenchmen Street. That’s what it’s like in the Big Easy – someone, somewhere, is always playing jazz.

The air is thick with the mouth-watering scent of Creole and Cajun cuisine here; the next morning we feasted on powdered sugar-covered beignets – the forerunner of the doughnut – before hitting the road. It didn’t take long to realise these musical-infused roots reach beyond the Crescent City, spreading into the heart of the Deep South.

In Mississippi, we sampled fresh catch – red snapper at Maison De Lu, Ocean Springs – before heading to Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. The walls were dressed with lights and pictures of Morgan playing various instruments; we lingered for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Not that it mattered: with an atmosphere that electric, we didn’t want to leave.

But there was more music to be discovered. We travelled on, stopping at Elvis’s childhood home in Tupelo before crossing the Tennessee state line and heading for Memphis and Graceland, one of the world’s most renowned rock ’n’ roll residences. As it was a Sunday, we went to worship – southern style. At Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, a thrilling choir immersed us in the beauty of gospel music. We stopped at Leonard’s Pit Barbecue before taking a tour of Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and BB King all recorded.

Further north in Nashville the excitement was palpable, with live music in most bars and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum drawing in music lovers from all over the world. Up-and-coming songwriters performed at the Bluebird Café, while legends took to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. We ate and line-danced the night away in the Wild Horse Saloon. It only felt right to drink Jack Daniel’s in its home state.

In neighbouring Kentucky we sampled some world-class whiskey paired with delicious fried chicken – the Colonel did set up shop here, after all. The Bluegrass State is all that and more: it’s the horse-racing capital of the world, home to the longest cave system on Earth, and is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali and Bill Monroe. Its shining star is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We followed it from Louisville to Lexington before heading south again to Birmingham, Alabama. The Civil Rights Movement has its origins hereabouts. Montgomery is where Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat ahead of the Bus Boycott of 1955, and where Martin Luther King Jr gained his foothold as the leader of the movement.

Our Journey came to an end in Mobile, where Mardi Gras originated. But for me, the seafood is the star of the show – particularly the incredible soft-shell crab at Ed’s Seafood Shed. And, as I contemplated the wonderful food and music we’d enjoyed, the sound of live music drifted across our table and out into the bay. With the sun setting behind us, I knew there was no better place than here to discover the flavours and sounds of America’s Deep South.

Explore the rhythm of the Deep South on our Deep South Highlights Journey, 17 days from £2,625pp, taking in Nashville, New Orleans and Montgomery – to name a few. Make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts to find out more.

Written by Alexandra Cronin (Gregg)

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not getting up close to animals and sea creatures, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. 

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