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Reviewed on 11 Jul 2020
Music runs deep in the veins of Tennessee and draws tourists, some would say pilgrims, in their droves. Even its geography is defined by musical styles: in the mountainous east you will find Celtic folk music and a touch of bluegrass, in the western Delta the bluesy rhythms of African Americans took root and in the rolling hills of its centre the two traditions merged to give us the modern country music that Nashville is famous for. With a hotel in Tennessee you can hike amongst the heather-coloured peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, see where rock and roll began at Sun Recording Studios, look for Elvis’ ghost in Graceland or get down and dirty in a Nashville honky-tonk. Put a dime in the jukebox and let’s dance!
Nashville – The city that defines country is more than just the Music City. Of course, there is the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame but there is also some fantastic history tours to take and vibrant neighbourhoods offering designer stores, art galleries, craft breweries, trendy coffee shops and great hotels. Yet it’s still hard to resist letting out the occasional ‘yee-haah’ in Nashville!
Memphis – Book a hotel in the city where the blues became rock and roll. Sun Records, Graceland and Beale St. still loudly attest to the musical credentials of Memphis. Yet, there’s a lot more here besides. History is palpable and a historic tour of the city reveals layers of the visible past. Barbecue lovers can get more than their fill tucking into smoky pulled pork. Meanwhile regeneration is seeing areas such as South Main, Binghamton and Crosstown becoming trendy party centres adorned with boutiques, bars and outrageously good restaurants.
Gatlinburg – Just beyond Gatlinburg lies the majestic splendour and nature lover’s paradise of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Make sure you stop awhile, however, to enjoy the kitsch delights of fudge, candy floss and pancakes that are served up alongside a steady diet of quirky museums and adorable garish attractions.
You certainly won’t be alone in visiting the Great Smoky Mountains as its one of the most visited National Parks in the country but don’t let that deter you. Amongst the forest here you can find abundant wildlife. Look out for deer, waterfalls and some fantastic panoramic vistas. Whilst sightings of Elvis’ ghost may be taken with a pinch of salt you can enjoy the thrills of a ghost and haunt tour in ever-obliging Gatlinburg. Take in a music night in any of the honky-tonk’s of Nashville or book yourself a seat at the Grand Ole Opry itself. Both Memphis and Nashville offer plantation manor houses and historic architectures to see, so tear yourself away from the blues bars and country get-downs and learn a little about what else informed Tennessee’s past.
Depending on your taste a reverent trip to Graceland or a day on the rides at Dollywood, Dolly Parton's amusement park, may catch your fancy. Beale St. in Memphis, where the blues was born, or Sun Recording Studios, where rock and roll reared its raucous head, offer contrasting experiences. Take a trip on a historic paddleboat on the Cumberland river in Nashville or put your Reb uniform on for a tour of the Civil War sites. Best of all though enjoy the music: there’s plenty to hear.