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Day 1: Memphis
Arrive in Memphis, home of the Blues and the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Check into your hotel, then make your way to Beale Street, where live music pours out onto the sidewalks from such landmark clubs as BB King’s, Rum Boogie and the Blues City Cafe.
Day 2: Memphis
Follow in the steps of the King this morning with a tour of Elvis’ Graceland mansion. In addition to the house, you’ll see Elvis’ collection of automobiles and tour his private planes. Afterwards, visit the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll at the legendary Sun Studio, where not only Elvis made his early records, but also Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, BB King, and many others. Return to Beale Street for a walking tour of the musical highlights, then visit the Gibson Guitar Factory to see how the instruments are made.
Day 3: Memphis
Start fresh this morning at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for an excellent overview of the Memphis revolution in American popular music. Soul fans will also want to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, dedicated to Stax Records and the artists who recorded here, such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and the Staple Singers. Memphis is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1968. The exhibits are comprehensive, visit them now, or just make a stop to reflect on the history made here and return at the end of your tour.
Day 4: Memphis - Clarksdale (110 m / 175 km)
Depart this morning for the Mississippi Delta on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Cross the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas, and visit the Delta Cultural Center, where most weekdays you can watch a live blues broadcast of King Biscuit Time, America’s longest-running daily radio show. See where Muddy Waters was discovered on your way to Clarksdale, the blues capital of the Delta. Visit the Delta Blues Museum, then check the calendar for live music and dinner this evening at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club.
Day 5: Clarksdale - Greenwood (220 m / 350 km)
Depart this morning for the blues murals at the old Tutwiler train depot, where WC Handy first heard the music before he became the “Father of the Blues”. Pass by the prison at Parchman where many musicians spent some time, then stop at Dockery Plantation, regarded as the Birthplace of Blues. Visit the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in his hometown of Indianola, and in Greenwood, follow the legend of Robert Johnson, said to have sold his soul to the devil so he could play the way he did, with a visit to his three (!) graves.
Day 6: Greenwood - Natchez (200 m / 320 km)
Continue down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg at the southern end of the Delta, where a National Military Park commemorates a decisive Civil War battle. Arrive in Natchez this afternoon, one of America’s richest cities before the Civil War, and still one of its prettiest. Visit the elegant Southern mansions and enjoy the river views high above the Mississippi, have some hot tamales at Fat Mama’s, then go riverside for an evening of music or casino entertainment.
Day 7: Natchez - New Orleans (225 m / 360 km)
Cross into Louisiana this morning to see the capital buildings in Baton Rouge, then follow the Mississippi River to Oak Alley Plantation, famous for the 300 year-old trees that line the approach to the majestic Greek Revival mansion. Tour the house, then continue to nearby Laura Plantation, still with the original slave cabins. Arrive in New Orleans, then make your way to the French Quarter for a first taste of the restaurants and nightlife in and around Bourbon Street. Stop at Preservation Hall for traditional jazz, the Maison Bourbon for Dixieland stylings, or one of the many other music venues in the Big Easy.
Day 8: New Orleans
Begin the morning in the heart of the French Quarter, with a stop at Cafe du Monde or a Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. Make your way to Congo Square, influential in the development of jazz, as it was the only place in New Orleans where slaves could officially sing, dance, and keep alive their African and Caribbean traditions. Appropriately, a self-guided jazz walking tour begins here, part of the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. This evening, rest your tired feet during a jazz dinner cruise on the Steamboat Natchez.
Day 9: New Orleans
Today, hop on the St Charles Avenue Streetcar to explore the leafy streets and opulent mansions of the Garden District, then learn more about New Orleans’ unique culture at the Voodoo Museum and the Mardi Gras exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum. Afterwards, shop for crafts and curiosities in the French Market, then rest up for an evening at one of New Orleans’ upscale venues, or in the edgier clubs along Frenchmen Street.
Day 10: New Orleans - Lafayette (200 m / 320 km)
Depart this morning for Cajun Country, the name given to the descendants of French refugees who settled here. Their relative isolation and strong community ties allowed them to keep their heritage and dialect to the present day. Stop in St Martinville to visit St Martin de Tours, the mother church of the Acadians, and the Evangeline Oak that figures so prominently in Cajun lore. Continue to Breaux Bridge and Mulates Cajun Restaurant, where you should arrive just in time for the live music and dancing offered seven nights a week.
Day 11: Lafayette
Lafayette is the capital of Cajun Country, and their story can be traced at Vermilionville, an open air living history museum with costumed interpreters and a Cajun restaurant. This afternoon, head out to nearby Henderson and watch for alligators on a swamp tour of the Atchafalaya Basin, then return for more music and dancing this evening in Lafayette.
Day 12: Lafayette - Natchitoches (175 m / 280 km)
This morning, tune your radio in to Zydeco for the drive to Opelousas and Eunice, and visit the Savoy Music Center, a local institution. Visit the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center and the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, then stop at Floyd’s Record Shop for Louisiana’s best music selection. Continue to Natchitoches, Louisiana’s oldest town, to tour the reconstructed French colonial Fort St Jean Baptiste, then stroll among the shops and restaurants along Front Street, whose brick facades and iron balconies are reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Day 13: Natchitoches - Hot Springs (270 m / 435 km)
Head north this morning and follow the legend of Bonnie & Clyde, the gangsters who met their bloody fate on these Louisiana back roads. Continue through forests and farmlands to the little town of Hope, Arkansas, where you can visit the boyhood home of Bill Clinton. Stop for lunch in a historic tavern at Old Washington Historic State Park, then drive on to the resort town of Hot Springs, America’s Las Vegas before there was a Las Vegas. This evening, try McClard’s Bar-B-Q, then have a drink at the Arlington Resort Hotel, Al Capone’s hangout when he was in Hot Springs.
Day 14: Hot Springs - Eureka Springs (200 m / 320 km)
Begin the day in Hot Springs with a classic American breakfast at the popular Pancake Shop, then walk it off with a hike to the observation tower overlooking the town and Hot Springs National Park. Return to the historic spas along Bathhouse Row to try an old-fashioned spa experience at Buckstaff Baths, complete with the steam cabinets that leave only your head sticking out. Depart for an afternoon’s drive on the Highway 7 National Scenic Byway to Eureka Springs.
Day 15: Eureka Springs - Little Rock (240 m / 385 km)
This morning, enjoy a bit of small town America in Eureka Springs, the 19th-century Victorian-era resort which Southern Living magazine calls one of the Top 10 Small Towns in America, and American Style magazine names a Top 25 Arts Destination. Depart this afternoon for the drive to Little Rock; possible stops along the way would include Blanchard Springs Caverns with its underground river, or the Ozark Folk Center State Park where artisans, crafts people and musicians practice and preserve traditional music and folkways.
Day 16: Little Rock - Memphis (140 m / 225 km)
The center of action in Little Rock is the River Market District; the restaurants, shops and clubs around Ottenheimer Market Hall. Stop in for breakfast, then tour the architecturally-striking Clinton Presidential Library. Make a stop at the Arkansas State Capital and visit Central High School to learn about the dramatic events that ended segregation in America’s schools. For dinner, drop by Doe’s Eat Place, a Clinton favorite, where you can order a 6 lb (2.75 kilo) steak (!). Continue to Memphis, and be back on Beale Street in time to celebrate a final night on the town.
Day 17: Departure
A last chance in Memphis to see the National Civil Rights Museum after breakfast at the nearby Arcade, Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and a walk around the shops and galleries on nearby Main Street. Otherwise, visit one of Memphis’ other attractions, or just relax while you get ready for your return flight home.
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