Music legends may have put Tennessee on the map, but the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the home of country music also offers outdoor adventure, historical charm and great Southern hospitality.
The King may be dead, but like many of his musical forefathers, the legend of Elvis’s music lives on in Memphis, Tennessee. Each year thousands of devoted fans flock to the gates of Graceland to walk the hallowed paths of their beloved icon.
Meanwhile, queen of country music Dolly Parton pays homage to her birthplace with the aptly named Dollywood theme park. But surrounding all of this music medley is a varied wilderness, including the snaking Mississippi river and the Smokey Mountains, both of which have inspired many a song.
If you want to experience the Presley story then head to the Graceland Mansion. With an audio-guided tour featuring commentary and stories from Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie, the trip takes in the King’s 14-acre estate, a tour of his infamously kitsch house, car collection and two private jets.
If that’s not enough to satisfy your lust for Memphis music, American Dream Safari offers a three-hour Greatest Hits Tour of the city in a retro 1955 Cadillac.
See where it all began for Elvis at the Sun Studio. Presley recorded his first ever demo here and it also started the careers of many other stars including Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
Beale Street is the home of blues and live music and a drink can be enjoyed at BB Kings. Being the ‘pork BBQ capital of the world’ there is no shortage of great Southern food. Leonard’s Pit Barbeque offers good honest home-made grub.
If Memphis is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll then Nashville is the home of country. Nowhere illustrates this better than the Country Music Hall of Fame. Take the ‘Sing Me Back Home’ tour and be immersed in the sounds of country music through a treasure trove of artefacts, photographs, films and original recordings as well as live performances.
The Grand Ole Opry is home to the longest running live radio show in the US, and has launched many a career, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton all started out here. It is also the place to take in a show with the best country performers from Nashville and beyond.
Spanning 125 acres and nestled in the lush foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, Dollywood is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the US.
Although Dolly Parton’s rhinestone Barbie image may not appear to blend with nature on paper, Dollywood is more a monument to the singer’s life and her love for the Smokey Mountains than a tacky homage to the star. However, fans won’t be disappointed as they are bound to still catch the odd glimmer of a pink Stetson or two.
As well as amusement park rides, Dollywood’s live entertainment showcases the best in country, bluegrass, mountain and gospel music with more than a dozen stage shows.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
As Dolly Parton wistfully chirps, ‘The greenest state in the land of the free,
And the home of the Grand Ole Opry, is calling me back to my Smokey Mountain home’.
It’s no surprise then that the traditional Tennessee gal has been named as the ambassador to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
The country singer clearly isn’t the only one to fall under the charms of the Smokey Mountains. It is the most visited national park in America. Renowned for its diverse plant and animal life, and ancient mountains, there are 800 miles of hiking trails along which you are likely to catch a glimpse of bears, deer and elk.
The only accommodation in the park itself is Le Conte Lodge. Perched atop 6,593 ft (2,009m) Mount Le Conte, the third highest peak in the park, the lodge offers basic accommodation in log cabins, complete with covered porches and rocking chairs.
For more information: Visit the Tennessee Department of Tourism.