The opportunity to give free rein to your curiosity and sense of adventure is one of the most exciting parts of travel. In the third installation of our Next Stop column, the Indagare Team investigates three cities in the American South that should be on your radar.
Just Back From: Miami | Next Stop: Asheville
Destination Requirements: Breathtaking natural vistas, stunningly various architecture
Filled with wonders both natural and manmade, Asheville is an ideal weekend destination for those who enjoy hiking, biking, stargazing and picnicking with a side of city strolling and a splash of frontier history. From its beginnings as primitive outpost—when frontiersmen like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett came to town—through its 1920s reign as a playground for international celebrities seeking sweet mountain air, to its current status as a cultural as well as countercultural center, Asheville has appealed to those who love both the outdoors and exploring old architecture.
In addition to being located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs along the highest ridges of the Appalachian Mountains and has majestic views, Asheville offers local craft breweries and wineries and more Art Deco architecture than any other city outside of Miami. The city’s downtown is a veritable encyclopedia of U.S. architecture, including Neoclassical, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts and Gothic buildings that now house restaurants, museums, shops and art galleries. Two miles outside of town is Biltmore, the former country estate of George W. Vanderbilt. The country’s largest private home recalls the grand castles and palaces of France and England and it sits on 125,000 acres of forestland, much of it designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the man behind New York City’s Central Park) in his largest private project and displaying some of his best work.
Indagare Tip: There are two hotels on the Biltmore estate, the new Village Hotel and the more traditional Inn. biltmore.com
What to Visit
- Chimney Rock State Park: Among the plethora of outdoor activities on offer in and around Asheville, exploring Chimney Rock State Park is a must-do. Film buffs will recognize the 315-foot-high granite monolith that gives the park its name from the final scenes of the 1992 Last of the Mohicans.
Where to Eat
- Rhubarb: Run by John Fleer, formerly of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, the restaurant specializes in bold flavors with a Southern accent. rhubarbasheville.com
- Cúrate: Whether snapped up as a quick bite or savored in a longer seating, the authentically prepared tapas at Cúrate (pronounced COO-rah-tay and signifying “cure yourself” in Spanish) will salve what ails you. curatetapasbar.com
Where to Drink
- Oenophiles can sample wines at one of the thirteen wineries near Asheville, including the one on the Biltmore estate and Addison Farms Vineyard (addisonfarms.net), in Leicester. With almost fifteen breweries in the downtown area alone, beer aficionados will easily find a local ale they enjoy. Favorite makers include Highland Brewing Company (Asheville’s oldest, highlandbrewing.com) and Burial Beer Co. (burialbeer.com)
Just Back From: Austin | Next Stop: Memphis
Destination Requirements: Blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll music; American Civil Rights history; slow-cooked barbecue
Located on a bluff along the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee, quirky, historic, Memphis is known for its music, food and important role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
Memphis’s streets are indissolubly linked to its rich musical past and present: Beale Street, still lined by blues, jazz and rock clubs, is where W.C. Handy ran a music business that published the first commercially successful blues song, Handy’s “Memphis Blues.” Union Avenue is home to the legendary Sun Studios, where Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and other music greats recorded. McLemore Avenue was the address of Stax Records, a major player in the development of the Southern and Memphis soul styles on whose site now stands the Stax Museum of American Soul. And, last but definitely not least, Elvis Presley Boulevard is where tourists flock to visit the King’s famous mansion, Graceland.
As important as music to Memphis’s heritage is the Civil Rights movement. The city, of course, was the site of the sanitation strike that buried it under 10,000 tons of trash and brought Martin Luther King Jr. down to support the strikers. He was assassinated at Memphis’s Lorraine Motel (now a museum).
Then there’s the mighty Mississippi, which forms Memphis’s western border. The second longest U.S. river (after the Missouri) is an attraction in and of itself, offering nearly five miles of parks, water activities and riverboat cruises. Beyond all this, Memphis offers world-class cuisine, including its famously delicious barbecue and soul food.
Indagare Tip: The Peabody Hotel hosts the famous Peabody Ducks, who each day at 11 am make their way down from the roof to the hotel’s grand lobby and into its marble fountain. Both guests and nonresidents of the hotel are welcome to witness the mallard parade, which has been a tradition since 1932 (the avian participants, naturally, have changed). peabodymemphis.com
What to Visit
- Graceland: It may be kitschy, but Elvis’s home attracts millions of visitors each year. Wonderfully bizarre, it was decorated by the King himself and reflects his famous over-the-top persona and style. graceland.com
- National Civil Rights Museum: Visiting the museum, which is located in the former motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and chronicles the history and challenges of Civil Rights in the U.S., is a somber but inspiring experience. civilrightsmuseum.org
- The Mississippi by water: Old-fashioned riverboats shuttle visitors up and down the river.
Where to Eat
- Restaurant Iris: Located in a converted house near the historic Overton Square, this restaurant specializing in French-Creole cuisine prepared using local seasonal ingredients, has only thirteen tables, so reservations are a must. restaurantiris.com
- Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy, Porcellino’s: James Beard Foundation Award nominees Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman’s have partnered on three Memphis eateries (so far). The vibes are different, but the food is uniformly delicious across. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen (andrewmichaelitaliankitchen.com) is an upscale option; Hog & Hominy (hogandhominy.com) is a comfort-food spot; and Porcellino’s (porcellinoscraftbutcher.com) is a café/small plate/butcher shop.
- Barbecue joints: Among the city’s best are Central BBQ (cbqmemphis.com), Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, known by locals as ‘Vous, (hogsfly.com) and the Bar-B-Q Shop (dancingpigs.com).
Where to Drink
- Mollie Fontaine Lounge: This proper lounge housed in a Victorian mansion serves spirits among the spirits—rumors of hauntings and things that go bump abound. molliefontainelounge.com
Just Back From: Savannah | Next Stop: Louisville, KY
Destination Requirements: Genteel history with an emphasis on horses and bourbon
The largest city in Kentucky, Louisville is also one of the oldest west of the Appalachian Mountains, founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark and named after French King Louis XVI of France. It is located beside the Falls of the Ohio River and developed into a commercial and cultural hub because of the need for cargo portage around these rapids, a major obstruction (until the construction of the Louisville and Portland Canal) to river traffic between the upper Ohio and the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 100 parks, several designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, cover more than 13,000 acres and provide a wealth of open spaces. Louisville also boasts several National Historic Landmarks, including Locust Grove. This 18th-century Georgian mansion, set on a fifty-five-acre farm site, was once the home of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark and serves as a fascinating example of early Kentucky architecture, with one of the world’s finest collections of Kentucky furniture.
Bourbon has been a major feature of Louisville’s economy and culture since it was first marketed there in 1790, and tourists shouldn’t miss Bourbons Bistro, a restaurant housed in a building dating back to the 1870s that offers more than 130 varieties of the American whiskey. And of course, no visit to Louisville would be complete without a trip to Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, as deeply ingrained in the city’s traditions as bourbon. Those whose trip doesn’t coincide with the Run for the Roses can console themselves with a walking tour of the racetrack.
Indagare Tip: 21c Museum Hotel, located in the heart of Museum Row in downtown Louisville, is a ninety-room property dedicated to luxury, hospitality and contemporary art. 21cmuseumhotels.com
What to Visit
- Conrad-Caldwell House Museum: This masterpiece of local architect Arthur Loomis, of Clarke and Loomis, built for businessmen Theophile Conrad and William Caldwell, is one of the finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. conrad-caldwell.org
Where to Eat
- 610 Magnolia: This intimate spot in the Old Louisville neighborhood has among the city’s most sought-after tables. The six-course prix fixe menu, which combines Southern cooking with urban sophistication, changes based on the availability of market-fresh ingredients. 610magnolia.com
- Jack Fry’s: Established in 1933, Jack Fry’s serves Southern cuisine with a French twist. Live jazz nearly every night keeps the atmosphere lively. jackfrys.com
Where to Drink
- Proof Bar: The bar at the Proof on Main restaurant boasts an impressive selection of more than seventy-five bourbons, in addition to a 100-bottle wine list, to sample while people watching or admiring the art that adorns the walls. proofonmain.com
- Seelbach Bar: This authentically restored, early 1900s bar is located in the Seelbach Hilton. During Prohibition, the bar was a favorite hangout for Al Capone as well as George Remus, a local gangster known as the King of the Bootleggers who was the inspiration for Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel. seelbachhilton.com