With its rich heritage, tasty cuisine, soul-stirring scenery and unique traditions, Dixie calls for romantic retreats, family getaways, and outdoor frolicking. Steeped in myth and sunshine, the region rambles over a million square miles of terrain, from windswept barrier islands to mist-shrouded mountains. Common notions cultivated in film and literature have alternately presented the South as a rarefied landscape of moonlight-and-magnolias or a country-fried carnival of NASCAR races and Nashville tunes. The truth is: There are many Souths, which you can hear in the varying accents and taste in the smorgasbord of regional foods.
Over the centuries, Native American, African, Caribbean and European peoples have all added their particular flavors to the South’s cultural gumbo. Antebellum mansions along the Mississippi River, like Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, carry you back in time with historical tours and lodging among lovingly preserved antiques. Sophisticated coastal cities such as Charleston and Savannah beckon with architectural gems dating to the 1700s, while timeless mountain villages offer traditional handicrafts and bluegrass music. Proud to welcome visitors, Southerners share their hospitality like they share their food—with relish and a sense of abundance.
There are places in the South—the coastal Lowcountry of she-crabs and shrimp, the Louisiana lands of crawfish and jambalaya, the eastern North Carolina region of peppery pulled pork—that send gastronomes into orbit. Get beyond biscuits and gravy: Southern foodways are wide and varied, ranging from African-rooted soul food to innovative wild-game cookery and New Southern Cuisine. The wealth of locally sourced ingredients and long growing seasons bring joy to creative chefs and gourmets.
At Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm, guests can explore heirloom gardens, enjoy tastings with the master gardener, and attend sheep milkings with the cheesemaker and dairy team. During your southern sojourn, you might be lucky enough stumble upon a full-tilt feast—a “pig pickin’” featuring a whole hog in North Carolina, or a “Lowcountry boil” of shrimp, sausage and corn in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Across the South, oyster roasts, fish fries and backyard barbecues lure crowds of hungry people to celebrate food as a sensual pleasure and bonding experience.
Naturalists head south for close encounters with exotic flora and fauna—insect-eating plants, flying squirrels and gape-jawed alligators. Birdwatchers find bliss in the profusion of avian life in the salt marshes of South Carolina and the birding trails of the Gulf Coast. The white clapboard cottages of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, situated between Savannah and Hilton Head Island, are the perfect base for exploring outdoor sanctuaries, from guided nature walks to canoeing trips through the uninterrupted waterways.
The southern stretches of the Appalachian Trail are legendary for their spectacular waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes and eye-popping vistas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, has 800 miles of well-maintained trails; the Blue Ridge Parkway, winding through western Virginia and North Carolina, is one of the most famous scenic drives in the country. April through July is prime wildflower season, the time when rhododendrons bloom along mountain streams and goldenrods shoot up beside sandy beaches. Springtime guests at Asheville’s Inn at Biltmore Estates are treated to Biltmore’s Annual Festival of Flowers, which runs through May 18. Explore the gardens, walk the trails and check out exquisite floral arrangements inside the opulent halls of Biltmore House, the country’s largest privately-owned residence.
The South has always been a sporting paradise—at almost any time of year, you can help yourself to world-class fishing and hunting. If you’re an angler, try trout fishing in the Smokies or get your trophy bass in tournaments throughout the Southeast. Deep sea fishing can be enjoyed from Virginia all the way to Florida. Sporting enthusiasts in the South take part in traditions passed down through generations in famous game areas like the Delta region of Arkansas and the hunting plantations of Georgia and South Carolina. Stately Keswick Hall, located near Charlottesville, sits smack in the middle of Virginia’s celebrated hunt country, the realm of thoroughbred farms and scarlet-coated fox hunters. Keswick organizes customized hunting excursions on a nearby private estate preserve for guests wishing to try their skill at quail, pheasant and Hungarian partridge shooting.
Naturally, golf is a main attraction in the southeastern United States, with a full roster of magnificent courses from the mountains to the coast. Several rank among the world’s best, from the challenging Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Greenbrier Course in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Guests at The Sanctuary, Kiawah’s stunning 125-million dollar resort and The Greenbrier, a favorite retreat of presidents on holiday, have these stellar courses in their backyard. Georgia’s Sea Islands lay claim to two golf resorts especially revered by those dedicated to the game—The Cloister at Sea Island and The Lodge at St. Simons Island.
Each spring, Spoleto Festival USA fills the theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces of Charleston with performances by top artists and up-and-coming performers in a whirlwind of events, including opera, musical theater, choral productions, jazz concerts and symphonies. Set yourself up in one of the city’s fine hotels, such as the luxurious Wentworth Mansion, and you’ll enjoy top-drawer service plus fantastic pre- and post-event dining. A few hours away, the Appalachian Summer Festival, hosted by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, is also a big draw, and features classical, jazz and folk performers, as well as ballet, dance, drama and visual arts.
Whichever South you choose, whether it's antebellum charm or the breezy modernity of, say, the brand new W Atlanta-Midtown, you’ll be charmed by the laid-back approach to luxury and the welcoming vibe. We’ve put together a list of the top 10 retreats—from storied grand hotels to small inns—that deliver unforgettable vacation experiences in high Southern style.