By Sandra Potter on Jul 15, 2017 in Alabama, Events, Featured, Food and Drink, Georgia, Leisure Travel, Louisiana, Mississippi, North America, South Carolina, Speciality Travel, Travel Miscellany, USA
There are dozens of reason to visit America’s Deep South, all of them valid. The first thing is to decide which States comprise the Deep South. For me, and this is totally subjective, they are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. I think these typify the sense of fun, the music, the variety of delicious food and the history which separates this part of America from the rest. It is strange but true to say that visiting any of these Deep South States does not feel like being in United States. There is a melange of the best of Europe and South America mixed in with North America which combines to make a unique destination.
The South knows how to party! One of the world’s biggest partiesand surely one of the most colourful is Mardi Gras. New Orleans is renowned for its Mardi Gras Carnival with its dazzling floats, jazz and masked balls which takes place each February and lasts for a week. Dedicated krewes take at least a year to create each intricate float the design of which is a closely guarded secret. But New Orleans is not the only spot to celebrate Mardi Gras. The first Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile in 1704, a tradition which continues today all across the South. Away from Mardi Gras, there are Music Festivals in Alabama and Tennessee, Food Festivals in Mississippi. South Carolina boasts over 100 festivals each year including the Black History Parade and a Seafood Festival.
Music oozes from every pore of the South. Just about every genre is represented from Elvis to classical music; jazz is huge as is Country and Western, obvious really since it was born here. The lovely thing about it is that you do not have to make any special arrangements as live music is performed in restaurants and bars throughout the area. Of course, like any where else, if you want to go to a concert you will have to get tickets in advance. There are fascinating museums dedicated to music such as The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee and Graceland, the home of Elvis in Memphis. You can visit working studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and make your own recording.
If music runs through the veins of the Deep South, it is put there through the history of the area. Starting with the original Native Americans, settlers or immigrants as we might call them today have been coming for nearly 400 years. They started with the European explorers and continued with those brought in as slaves. All sides have contributed to the history and you can visit the battlefields of the War of Independence. the American Civil War and more recently the site of Civil Rights protests. Although the area’s history is dominated by the conflicts, there is a more peaceful side of these mainly agricultural states. Look at the growth of cotton and tobacco, the Antebellum Period of prosperity for some and the Railroad which shapes so much of the US’s history.
Writing this, I am struck by how much the history of an area influences its food. Obviously with its long coastline, fish is an important ingredient in many local dishes but it is the way it is treated that is fascinating. The wonderful spices that were introduced by the Creoles and Cajuns; grits which are such a staple were first used by the American Indians and so it goes on. One of the most popular dishes is Shrimp and Grits. You can eat this 100 times in 100 difference places and it will taste different as each family and chef has their own recipe handed down through the ages. You will also be offered fried alligator meat, boudin – a spicy sausage with rice at its centre, barbecued everything, chicken and dumplings and perhaps best of all: gumbo. Originating from West Africa, gumbo is technicallya stew but that small word does not begin to do it justice. Created from shellfish or meat, the Louisiana trio of bell peppers, onions and celery, it is thickened with okra among other ingredients; it is reminiscent of a bouillabaisseand I can promise you that you will not leave the table hungry.
Art and architecture
The whole area is full of glorious houses. The rich families of the north such as the Vanderbilts built vast residences to escape the northern winters. Several of these still exist and some have been turned into glorious hotels such as the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia. The plantation owners built fabulous ranch style homes, the richest filled with European antiques and paintings, others used regional furniture often created with a high level of expertise by slaves and local artisans. These exist throughout the Southern states and again many have been turned into boutique hotels and inns; others are museums. Two that are of particular interest arethe Whitney Plantation in Louisiana whether the story is told from the viewpoint of the slaves and the Magnolia Plantation where much of 12 Years a Slave was filmed. One piece of advice: most of the houses have timed entry and prebooking is highly recommended.
I hope this has inspired you to visit one of my favourite parts of the US: I look forward to reading your comments.
Sandra Potter is Founder of Frontier Travel.
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