FOOD & FUN IN THE BLACK BELT

Travel the back roads of Alabama for some Southern country cooking and unusual places, places with a history of ghosts and legends, of tall tales that might have occurred as well as happenings beyond belief that are, in fact, historic fact.

Day 1:
Visit the Interpretive Center in Selma, just yards away from the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge–the site where the struggle for civil rights began more than 45 years ago. Here, we’ll meet Joann Bland, our guide along the 12 Steps to Freedom Tour of the Voting Rights Movement. Joann travels throughout the U.S. to speak about her knowledge of the Voting Rights Movement.

Check in at the historic St. James Hotel. Built in 1837 atop the banks of the Alabama River, it was a home-away-from-home for visiting plantation owners, businessmen and even occasional travelers of less illustrious repute. (Notorious outlaws Frank and Jesse James reportedly spent time here in the 1880’s.) Enjoy an easy dinner in their dining room or perhaps an adventure to Major Grumbles Restaurant or the New Orleans Bar and Grill, both nearby.

Day 2:
Breakfast at the St James. Tour Selma’s historic Live Oak Cemetery and hear amazing stories of the people buried here. The Spanish moss hanging from the many hundred year old Live Oak trees is spectacular, as are the beautiful marble gravestones.
Take a windshield tour of historic Selma with brief stops at Selma’s museums. A stop for lunch will be made at White Force Cottage on the grounds of Sturdivant Hall. This was the home of Abraham Lincoln’s sister-in-law during the Civil War Era. Called the finest Greek Revival Neo-Classical antebellum mansion in the Southeast by the man who built the White House, Sturdivant Hall is both a mansion and a museum. This site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers tours that include the house, detached kitchen, gift shop and formal garden.

Dinner will be at the Talley Ho, a local restaurant that was once a hunting lodge (and speakeasy). It is locally famous for its food, especially steaks, and the zucchini muffins served with every meal. It is also famous for its ghost, Betty. A young woman who frequented the place during its roadhouse days, she is highlighted on the Ghost Trail, as are ghosts at the St. James Hotel and Sturdivant Hall. Nestled in a small grove of trees on Mangum Avenue in historic Selma, the Tally Ho has a history that stretches back to the 1920’s. Though you may miss Betty, the ghost, you shouldn’t miss the New York strip steak, one of the “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die” meals.

Day 3:
Visit Old Cawhaba, an early Alabama state capital. Legends, ghosts, several cemeteries and some long-abandoned homesteads are all that remain. Board their story wagon for a tour and ghost stories. Next, we’ll travel (45 minutes) to Gees Bend, founded in the early 1800s, to meet the modern-day Gees Bend Quilters. After the Civil War, the freed slaves became tenant farmers and founded an all-black community isolated from the outside world. The women of the community developed a bold quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, but also reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art.

From here, we’ll travel to nearby Camden. A 20 minute ferry ride on the Gees Bend Ferry offers spectacular scenery along the Alabama River. Once in Camden, we’ll have a delicious soul food lunch at Miss Kitty’s. Then, we’ll visit Black Belt Treasures, a non-profit gallery serving over 300 local artists and craftsmen. Black Belt Treasures offers an extraordinary variety of high-quality arts and crafts: white oak baskets, vine baskets, jewelry, decorative gourds, duck calls, sculptures, quilts, and specialty foods.
We will also visit the Antioch Baptist Church, a headquarters for Dr. Martin Luther King during the Voting Rights Movement and Coast to Coast Hardware, a genuine old-time hardware store. End the day with dinner at Gaines Ridge Supper Club, built in 1837.  Featured as one of the 100 Places to Eat Before You Die, they are renowned for Black Bottom Pie. Over dinner, hear the story of its resident ghost from the owner.

After dinner, we’ll travel to Demopolis (a 70 minute drive) for the night. Located on the white bluffs just below where the Tombigbee River and Black Warrior River come together, Demopolis was founded in 1817 as a “Vine and Olive Colony”.

Day 4:
Breakfast Driving Tour of Demopolis. Grab a snack at the Holiday Inn to bring on board the bus with you. We’ll take a short tour of Demopolis, home to Gaineswood, a beautiful Greek Revival Mansion built before the Civil War. We’ll also see Bluff Hall, an antebellum home built in 1832 that exemplifies two major architectural trends in the Old South. After the driving tour, we will travel 35 miles to Livingston to the Taste of Home Bakery Café (on the 100 Places to Eat Before You Die) for its homemade breads, pastries, cakes and pies. You can eat here and get a loaf of bread or sweets to go. We will go to the University of West Alabama campus for storytelling at the Center for the Study of the Black Belt. We will travel to Greensboro (1 hour) for a late lunch at Pie Lab. Pie Lab, renovated by the Auburn Rural Studio, offers a variety of pies, coffee, sweet tea and several savory lunch items each day.

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