Atlanta skyline at night
Hotbed of history
THE southern state of Georgia, USA, has so much to offer the visitor that it is difficult to absorb everything in just one trip. I can’t wait to go back there after taking in the capital city of Atlanta and then enjoying a motoring trip down to its Atlantic coastline some 300 miles or so south.
Georgia is a hotbed of American history, culture and diversity. It is also beautifully scenic in many different ways and has as much to offer, if not more, than its neighbour Florida where British families flock in their droves every year.
The peach state, as it is nicknamed, offers a wonderful outdoors of mountains, lakes and an Atlantic coastline which perfectly complements as a continuation of Florida’s with some enchanting islands thrown in.
The dark days of the American Civil War have left a tourist trail all over the state particularly in Atlanta which was sacked by General William Sherman in 1864 and spawned Gone with the Wind via writer Margaret Mitchell in 1936.
Because of all its contrasts, Georgia is perfect for an exciting family holiday and it is well geared for visitors. A fleet of hotel shuttle buses serve its busy main airport in Atlanta and it’s relatively easy to arrive at the airport from the UK and get quickly to a hotel to get your head down before journeying on.
The downtown area of the city offers a great family attraction, the world’s largest aquarium which includes more than eight million gallons of fresh and marine water and more than 100,000 animals from 500 species, including beluga whales.
Next door is the World of Coke tourist attraction. The Coca Cola company has its headquarters in Atlanta as does CNN. Then there is the Centennial Olympic Park, a permanent reminder of the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta and a big venue for events and celebrations.
The rebels remembered
History is never far away in Georgia and Atlanta is home of the Martin Luther King Jnr. National Historic site. Just 15 miles east of downtown Atlanta is Stone Mountain, the world’s largest free-standing piece of exposed granite, depicting the three rebel figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis, which sits in Georgia’s largest campground and is its most visited attraction.
Though the city has much to offer, the rest of Georgia has more. One of the best ways to enjoy it is to hire a car and head north towards the mountains or south for the coast.
I headed south with friends following the interstate highways to the palm trees, beaches and islands of the state’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline where Americans flock to take their leisure in just the same fashion as Europeans head for the Mediterranean. Henry Ford was once a winter resident.
It is simply a run-on from the wonderful beaches of Florida with lush golf courses and venues galore for visitors. Huge oak trees covered in Spanish moss form distinct overhead canopies to remind you that you are in the deep south of the USA.
The names of some of these venues have you excited before you get there, for instance the Okefenokee Swamp or the Altamaha River kayak and canoe trail. Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth’’ in Seminole Altamaha is a name derived from a Native American chief.
The 312 miles from Atlanta to our destination of St Simon’s Island is a comfortable journey of about five and a half hours via interstate highways 75 and 16 and 95. It is one of the famous Golden Isles that grace this corner of Georgia’s coast, renowned for their climate, beaches and gorgeous sunsets, and has plenty to offer in the way of golf courses, quaint shops and fine restaurants.
An hour’s drive up the road was the historic city of Savannah, where Georgia was founded in 1733 by settlers from Britain led by Sir James Oglethorpe.
It takes a leap of imagination for a British visitor, used to seeing much older historic buildings, to understand the importance of Savannah, which houses one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts and attracts millions of visitors, but it is undoubtedly a charming city, full of examples of 18th and 19th century prevailing architectural styles in America and offering guided tours by foot, trolley bus and even riverboat.
Georgia was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and the local native Indians. The last of the thirteen original British colonies on the eastern side of the New World was named after England’s King George II in 1733 under the terms of the charter granted by the king.
Black civil rights and displaced Native Americans
From quiet beginnings the state’s development went on to directly encompass just about every major issue you associate with the United States of America – displaced Native American settlements, Civil War, and the black civil rights movement to name the most important.
Atlanta had a hard time in the Civil War. The Union’s General William Sherman ordered it to be burnt to the ground. Savannah was spared and presented to President Abraham Lincoln as a gift.
Georgia now makes the most of this episode of its history. The Civil War’s impact on the state was greater than any other event in its history with 11,000 Georgians killed and more than 100,000 total casualties. It boasts a Civil War tourist trail made up of a plethora of battlefields, cemeteries, arsenals, and museums.
As well as Atlanta Metro and the Georgia coast, the state has six other distinct areas to offer tourists – Historic High Country and North East Mountains, Historic Heartland and Classic South, Presidential Pathways, Plantation Trace and Magnolia Midlands.
Historic High Country showcases a one-time Confederate stronghold at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and offers a chance to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
The Trail of Tears – the name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from south eastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 – can also be followed here as much of the area was part of the Cherokee Nation. The 15 forts built during their removal can still be seen.
As well as peaches, Georgia is famous for its peanut and pecan production and cotton and tobacco still form part of the state’s agricultural industry which plays a major role in its economy, contributing billions of dollars annually.
The state also offers great shopping in sophisticated malls and bargain outlet centres.