The King’s Deep South hometown

Costa Rica

The Mississippi town where the greatest story in Rock ‘n Roll began is worth a two day stop. 2011 marks the 55th anniversary of one of music’s most famous homecoming concerts, when Elvis Presley returned to a King-size welcome to perform at his birthplace. It is also halfway along the serene and little used 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway (right - picture, the author), and an ideal place to break your journey.

Sweet home.

Elvis was born in this Deep South town in 1935, and lived here until the Presley family moved to Memphis when he was 13. The King’s first homecoming concert was held on September 26th 1956 on the Tupelo Fairgrounds, just after Heartbreak Hotel made him a superstar. On that visit Elvis bought back the two-roomed family home, where he was born, for the town and posterity. We took the tour, just us and the guide, edging closer in this tiny wooden house to the authentic Elvis the small town boy, than you ever come to the stranded star in huge, sad Gracelands, 90 miles away. There is an excellent private collection of Presley memorabilia. A new display focusing on the young Elvis opened in 2007.

‘A good choice..’

Then to the Tupelo Hardware Store (114 W. Main Street, Tupelo, MS 38801, free) - scene of one of history’s most sensible shopping decisions. Elvis and mother Gladys were choosing his birthday present. Elvis, like any small boy with a choice, wanted a gun. Instead Gladys, in a modern take on swords into ploughshares, steered him to his first guitar. This has been ‘a family business for over 75 years, owned and managed by three generations of the Booth family.’ Employee Forrest L. Bobo sold it to Elvis for $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. Tupelo stages the annual Elvis Festival in early June, with live performances, the Elvis Tribute Artist Competition, and ‘Running With the King’ 5K run.

Wide open highway.

Tupelo is midway (and the obvious overnight stop) along one of the USA’s most stress-free and rewarding drives, the 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway. Built in the 1930s as a truck-free recreational route, to create jobs in the Depression, this is a road from a parallel universe, where driving is still pure pleasure. For effortless hours we bowled along a wide and winding road, as quiet as a country lane, through open, undulating, flower-fringed farmland. Now and then we stopped for a high view into the shimmering blue-green beyond. The visitor centre is in Tupelo.

Deluxe drive.

The perfect vehicle to drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway would be a Duesenberg or Hispano Suiza. And there are places where you can hire these glorious beasts. Next best is seeing them in the fine new Tupelo Automobile Museum. Rank upon rank of seductive, curvy bodywork and gleaming grilles.

Buffalo roam.

The other big draw is the largest buffalo herd east of the Mississippi River. Almost wiped out, the once abundant beast has a secure future thanks to the Tupelo Buffalo Park and other small-scale projects slowly building up the numbers nationally to 250,000. There is a bus tour of the park, with the opportunity to see some of the 20 or so calves born annually.

Good Southern cooking.

‘There ain’t nothing in the world so good as when it’s cooked right . .’wrote Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn’s Mississippi menu included Corn-dodgers, or Hushpuppies - delicious little dumplings of fried, seasoned cornbread, traditionally taken with catfish. This widely-served, sweet white fish - 80% of US stock is farmed in this state - is a US culinary mystery, a great food that doesn’t need marketing. Actor and state resident Morgan Freeman agrees: ''I’d live here for the food alone.'' His list includes mud pie, cajun fried pecans, sweet potato, fried green tomato, with the added Deep South ingredient of a warm welcome. Tupelo offered a big choice of diners after our day on the Parkway. If you have time, try IV’s Restaurant: ''Traditional Southern cuisine with French touches.'' Such as crusted blue marlin with parmesan and black truffle potato; or tournedos of beef over fried green tomato, topped with lump crab and Cajun hollandaise. True devotees will leave room for that three handkerchief weepie of a pudding. ''Elvis’Last Dessert'' is peanut butter and honey French toast, flambayed bananas, and vanilla bean ice cream.
Vanelli’s offer Greek-Italian cuisine.

Woody’s Restaurant serves game including buffalo and elk. All around £40-£70 for two (001 662 840 0460 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              001 662 840 0460      end_of_the_skype_highlighting).

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