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Gateway to the South

Published: Jan/Feb 2002

Can one location best describe the South? Maybe decide what makes a place “Southern.” Is it culture or heritage–or both? The genteel hospitality, gracious surroundings, warm climates, historic architecture, and lush gardens of cities like Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., St. Augustine, Fla., and New Orleans, La., bring to mind images of the Old South. Other places like Charlotte, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Raleigh/Durham, N.C., are vibrant, contemporary cities of the New South.

A fascinating and varied place

All these images belong in the South –distinct places tethered to a pervasive culture that makes them all part of this very intriguing region. Over the past 150 years, a region that prided itself upon being unique has evolved into a fascinating blend of culture and heritage–old and new, traditional and contemporary.

And now, all across the South, there’s a new appreciation for authentic traditions and heritage, some dating back to the founding of America, coupled with the “new arts,” and contemporary culture. Southern cuisine has been flavored with variety from the Creoles and Cajuns in New Orleans, mountain folk in Virginia, watermen in Maryland, Crackers in Florida, and Latino influences all around. Music–the gift the South gave to the rest of America, in gospel, rock, mountain, country, jazz, and blues–thrives in communities large and small. Historic architecture that set the tone for traditional styles throughout the country stands strong.

A new program from AAA

Now, there’s an easy way for you to explore the fascinating heritage of the South in its infinite variety; the cities and countryside, old towns and new cities, byways and backroads, mountains and coast. A new travel program, Gateway to the South, lets you explore and learn the stories of Southern places, independently and flexibly, while having someone else take care of the details.

In order to make the trips most interesting, experienced travel planners have taken the time to research destinations in order to recommend the best. Quiet, out-of-the-way places, new perspectives, and an occasional little known treasure are also included.

In the countryside, you’ll be meandering on scenic byways and lightly traveled routes. On City Breaks, you’ll discover how to get around in a new city in the most stress-free way possible.

These fully organized trips for independent travelers who want to travel by car can be as short as three days or as long as a week or more. No groups here, you can plan to enjoy your destination on your own and at your own pace. You select the theme or interest that you find most appealing and pick the dates you want to travel. The trips can be taken all year round, starting any day of the week. We do the rest so that you can prepare yourself for an engaging, enjoyable, and effortless experience.

The sandy South

When images of sunny weather, warm ocean waves, white sandy beaches, and sunlight dancing on the water appear in your head, think Florida. Better yet, think Tampa/St. Petersburg. Crystal-clear aquamarine water and pristine beaches surround the two sister cities. First-rate entertainment, professional sports, a strong arts community, and thriving commerce have been thrown in, along with vintage Florida culture.

On the other coast, St. Augustine is America’s ancient city, settled 42 years before Virginia and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed. It was settled by the Spanish, given to the British and taken back by the Spanish, with a few interventions by the French in between. Later, it joined the United States as an American territory, only to become part of a Confederate state 20 years later. Finally, it settled in permanently as an American city.

Southern culture

Traditional Southern culture with a twist is the usual response when visitors are asked their impressions of Savannah. Unique among Southern cities, Savannah’s rich and colorful history––and most recently, lore surrounding “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” gives rise to traditions that pervade every part of life.

Going deeper into Southern territory, the New Orleans, known for its Mardi Gras and Dixieland jazz, is home to Cajuns and Creoles and their renowned cuisine. Visitors have always come to listen to music, celebrate, and be entertained in this energetic and wondrous place. Now, you can also explore heritage that dates back to the founding in 1714.

And that brings us to Charleston, renowned by some as America’s most beautifully preserved city, where you’ll discover cobblestone streets, bask in sea breezes, browse in antique shops and be enticed by delicious fresh seafood and other low-country cuisine. It’s often ranked as America’s most romantic and historic destination.

Traveling around the edges

Southern culture stretches all the way to the hauntingly beautiful landscapes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where, in some places, things haven’t changed for 400 years. For visitors who want to meander the region, there’s the Blue Ridge Parkway, a very scenic highway that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The drive overlooks the Shenandoah Valley. It’s only by driving along the floor of the Valley that one can really appreciate the magnitude of the expansive place.

Choose one or all, your AAA Travel professional can introduce you to each Southern city, allowing you to explore the culture and heritage from a distinctive perspective. Best of all, you can drive your own car and travel at your own pace, while enjoying and savoring this very special American place. Truly, the best of both worlds.

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