The South is not just a geographical distinction in the United States: it is a unique culture within the nation. Southerners’ hospitality is legendary, as is their cuisine, music, literature and style, with its fusion of French, Spanish and American cultures. But there is a troubled history of race, cultural clashes and a spirit of independence behind today’s Southern culture, which further distinguishes Southerners from their northern cousins. This 15-day tour of the South samples the best this fascinating region has to offer, whilst exploring its deeper history.
The Antebellum South: private tours of plantations, manor houses and colonial Charleston
The South’s incredible music, from blues and soul to rockabilly and jazz
The unique mixture of French, Spanish and American culture in New Orleans, from the French Quarter to post-Katrina recovery
Follow the Mississippi, lifeblood of the South, and stay in an Antebellum mansion in Natchez
Signature meals showcasing the South’s distinctive cuisine, from Low County to Cajun and Creole
The South’s complex history, with special lectures and tours including the Whitney Plantation and the National Civil Rights Museum
Days 1–4: In Charleston, visit Nathaniel Russell House, Middleton Place and Drayton Hall. Day trip to Savannah, Georgia, including the Bonaventure Cemetery and Fort Sumter.
Days 5–10: Fly to New Orleans. Explore the French Quarter and its jazz. Visit the Lower Ninth Ward and enjoy a private tour of the Jean Lafitte bayou. Day trips to Oak Alley and Whitney plantations.
Days 11–12: Transfer to Natchez Antebellum mansion, touring a working cotton plantation and Vicksburg Civil War battlefield.
Day 13–15: In Memphis, explore Sun Studio, Elvis’s Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum. Blues and soul performances.
The tour begins in our hotel in Charleston and ends in our hotel in Memphis. Qantas, American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Air Canada offer suitable connections to and from the USA, from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday October 12: Welcome and introductions
Meet your tour leader and fellow travellers for a welcome reception in the hotel. Overnight Charleston
Tuesday October 13: Beautiful Charleston
Our tour starts by exploring the gorgeous city of Charleston, famous for its beautifully preserved antebellum architecture, including stately townhouses, broad streets and bustling markets. We’ll do a walking tour of the city’s highlights in the morning, including its iconic churches and most beautiful streets. We’ll also have a guided tour inside the Nathanial Russell House, one of the best-preserved antebellum manors in the city. In the afternoon there will be the option of a visit to the Gibbes Art Museum. In the evening, there is an introductory lecture, as well a sumptuous welcome dinner showcasing Low Country cuisine and seafood. Overnight Charleston (B, D)
Wednesday October 14: A day on the Ashley
We set out today for the Ashley River Plantations for a taste of the Old South. We’ll take private tours of Middleton Place, with some of the oldest and most impressive landscaped gardens in America, and Drayton Hall, a stunning example of colonial Palladian architecture that survived both the American Revolution and the Civil War. Our tour at Middleton Place includes a traditional Low Country luncheon. After lunch, we’ll return via the Citadel, one of the nation’s premier military colleges, for a peek into the martial culture of the South. The evening is free, perfect for mint juleps on the hotel terrace overlooking Charleston harbour. Overnight Charleston (B, L)
Thursday October 15: Savannah
A day trip today further south to Savannah, an iconic planned city of the South famous for its history of tolerance and its beautiful architecture. We’ll go on a walking tour of the city, taking in its stately homes, unique architecture, famous parks and squares. After lunch, we’ll tour two important sites. Firstly Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and a stunning natural site replete with willows and flowers. We then have a guided tour at the Pin Point Heritage Site, which tells the remarkable story of the Gullah people, who have preserved a language and African-influence culture that is unique in the United States, despite centuries of slavery and oppression. We return to Charleston in the evening. Overnight Charleston (B)
Friday October 16: A house divided
This morning, after a morning talk on the Civil War, we’ll take the ferry out into Charleston Harbor for the first visit of the day to Fort Sumter, the famous coastal battery that was the scene of the opening battle of the Civil War. We’ll raise the flag over the fort and discuss the war and its effect in the region. Afterwards we’ll transfer to the airport, where we’ll fly to New Orleans. After checking in to our hotel, we will enjoy dinner at one of New Orleans iconic restaurants, and for those eager, there is the opportunity to make a first sample of NOLA’s nightlife afterwards. Overnight New Orleans (B, D)
Saturday October 17: The French Quarter
Our exploration of New Orleans starts today with the French Quarter, the celebrated heart of the city famous for its Franco-Spanish architecture and vibrant street life, day and night. Our walking tour will touch upon the many diverse cultures that have found a home in the city, from Catholics to Creole, and from the vaunted to the voodoo. Major sights include Jackson Square, the Saint Louis Basilica, Bourbon Street and the Cabildo. In the afternoon, we’ll have a private cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, a chance for everyone to learn some of the techniques used in Creole cuisine. Afterwards, we’ll attend Preservation Hall, one of the most authentic jazz venues in New Orleans, for our first major performance. Overnight New Orleans (B, L)
Sunday October 18: Swamps and bayous
New Orleans sits upon an extraordinary ecological area of deltas, swamps, bayous and waterways. After a morning lecture on the ecology and geography of the South, we’ll take a special tour today that takes us right into the heart of the Jean Lafitte National Preserve, with a boat ride through this area of stunning natural beauty, rich in avian and aquatic life, and perhaps even a few alligators along the way. Our Sunday afternoon and evening is free after our return to New Orleans, giving everyone time to explore the city on their own, and with the option to join the tour leader to visit one of New Orleans’ best Creole restaurants and take in one of NOLA’s great music venues outside of the French Quarter. Overnight New Orleans (B)
Monday October 19: Plantations on the Mississippi
A short drive north of New Orleans are some of the most beautiful plantations of the Deep South, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, and we’ll get to visit two today on private guided tours, with very different perspectives presented on the life of the Southern plantation. Firstly, the iconic and endlessly photogenic Oak Alley, where the Greek Revival-style great house continues to preserve a window into the era before the Civil War, amidst beautiful formal gardens. After lunch, we’ll then visit the Whitney Plantation nearby which seeks to tell the stories of the lives of African Americans on plantations, with important collections of oral histories and art by African Americans, and explores the ongoing legacy of slavery in the South and the United States. After returning to New Orleans, our evening is free. Overnight New Orleans (B)
Tuesday October 20: The modern city
This morning we’ll take a driving tour through some of the outer districts that tell the modern story of the city. Firstly, we visit the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where some of the local efforts to rebuild and restore what was lost can be seen, as well as the levees protecting the city from flooding. Afterwards we’ll tour the Garden District, one of the most beautiful areas of the city and a perfect spot for lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll visit the New Orleans Museum of Art with its excellent collection of Southern Art, set amidst the City Park. And finally, tonight we’ll farewell the city in style with dinner and performances at the Snug Harbor Jazz Club. Overnight New Orleans (B, D)
Wednesday October 21: The mighty Mississippi
After a leisurely checkout, we farewell New Orleans late this morning and make our way north along the Mississippi River. Our drive will include detours along the way to see some of the Mississippi River and its unusual geographic features up close. As one of the world’s great waterways, the river is still alive with commerce and industry today. We’ll stop for a late lunch in St Francisville and take a wander in its beautiful historic district, before transferring onto Natchez, historically one of the major ports of the Mississippi river. After arrival we will check into our hotel, a grand Greek Revival mansion formerly occupied by a governor of Mississippi. We’ll have a formal dinner in the dining room in the evening. Overnight Natchez (B, D)
Thursday October 22: Natchez
Today we’ll take a leisurely day exploring Natchez and its environs. After a morning lecture, we’ll start by crossing the river over to the Frogmore Plantation. Unlike our previous encounters with plantation estates, Frogmore is a working cotton plantation showcasing both traditional and modern techniques for the growing and harvesting of cotton, traditionally one of the most important exports of the South and intertwined with its cultural history. Afterwards, we’ll tour some of the incredible residential architecture in Natchez and have a special guided tour at the Grand Village of the Natchez, one of the few Native American sites of size on the Mississippi. The late afternoon and evening are free to explore this gorgeous southern town. Overnight Natchez (B)
Friday October 23: Vicksburg
Today we depart from Natchez and head towards Memphis. On the way we stop and spend part of our day in Vicksburg, another major port of the Mississippi and the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War, when in 1863 Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant defeated the Confederacy and captured the city, effectively seizing control of the Mississippi River and now considered a turning point of the Civil War. We’ll take a private tour with an expert guide of the exquisitely preserved battlefield, as well as the USS Cairo, one of the first ironclads, which is preserved on the site. After lunch we continue on to Memphis. After checking into our hotel, we’ll venture out to the B.B. King’s Blues Club for a meal and an evening of blues. Overnight Memphis (B, D)
Saturday October 24: Rock and Roll
Memphis had few rivals when it comes to its modern music pedigree. We’ll have a chance to explore this incredible history this morning, with a private tour at Sun Studio, the ‘birthplace of rock and roll’ and the studio that first recorded Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many others. Afterwards we’ll visit the old Stax Studios, now the Museum of American Soul Music, which tells the incredible story of soul music, also with deep roots in the city. No visit to Memphis is complete, however, without seeing Graceland, a veritable modern pilgrimage site as the storied home of Elvis Presley. We’ll do a special private VIP tour of the estate this afternoon. Our Saturday night is free to explore the great blues, roots and rockabilly clubs of the city on Beale Street. Overnight Memphis (B)
Sunday October 25: The Civil Rights Movement
In the morning there will be the option for an early start to visit the Full Gospel Tabernacle of Memphis, where soul legend Al Green himself leads the congregation every Sunday in a service replete with gospel singing and devotions. Afterwards, there is a walking tour and time for lunch in downtown Memphis. In the afternoon, we will take an extended tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and have a final talk focusing on the modern South and its successes, as well as the continuing struggles of race and culture in the region. In the evening, there is a farewell reception and dinner at one of Memphis’ best restaurants. Overnight Memphis (B, D)
Monday October 26: Departure
Our tour concludes after breakfast (B)
Dr Matthew Laing
A political scientist and expert in US history, with a doctorate on the history of the United States presidency.
Dr Matthew Laing is a historian and political scientist at Monash University who has led tours to the Americas and Europe with Academy Travel for five years. He has a strong personal interest in architecture, cultural history and modern art, with a particular expertise in the United States.
Matthew holds a BA and PhD from the Australian National University, and wrote his doctorate on the history of the United States presidency. He has worked as a lecturer and research fellow at the Australian National University, Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and now at Monash University in Melbourne. He is an accredited ADFAS lecturer and frequently holds public lecture series in Melbourne. He currently teaches United States history and leadership, and has published on both topics.
Matthew’s tours strive for intellectual engagement and to reveal the stories, both big and small, that can bring history to life. A voracious reader and traveller, Matthew strives to be a generalist and draws upon a wide range of subjects – from politics to architecture – to develop his understanding of a place. Matthew’s passion for the United States started as an intern in the United States Congress in 2007. Since then he has made dozens of trips across the country, for both work and pleasure, and is closing in on his goal of visiting all 50 states. He has lectured and written on a wide variety of US subjects, including the American Revolution, the Gilded Age, and American Modernist architecture. Matthew also lived in the Netherlands for two years and has travelled widely there, and has a particular interest in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Matthew has been tour leading for Academy Travel annually since 2013, with many tours to the United States and Europe, and is now taking on a greater role managing and developing further tours in these regions, including developing new tours to areas like the Southern United States.
We asked Matthew, what do you enjoy most about leading a group tour?
“As an academic, the personal joy of leading tours for Academy Travel is that I get one of the best classrooms I could ask for of intelligent and attentive global travellers who share my passion for learning about our world. And yet often I also find myself the student – with intellectually-engaged travellers from all walks of life, some of the most stimulating debates and discussions I’ve had are with my clients on tours.”
“I think those who come on tour with me benefit most from my enthusiasm, energy and passion – whether it’s a giving a morning lecture or having a causal chat at lunch, I’m always striving to draw out new insights and connections that can further understanding and increase engagement.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity