'The Music Triangle': A journey between Nashville, Memphis and Tupelo that has been years in the planning- to visit an old friend, and to road trip with a new friend. The sort of travel heavy trip that would never get the sign off from my three children, and so subsequently evolved to become a rarely attempted solo mission. The criteria? We had 6 days to fit in literally EVERYTHING these cities (and everything in between) had to offer. Yes we were fuelled by berocca and bloody marys. Yes we had jet lag the whole week. But it was the most spectacular trip. One that ticked a huge bucket list destination, and now has me pondering the appeal of 1970’s wall to ceiling carpet a la Graceland as an interior choice. here's how we did it.
DAY 1- NASHVILLE We fly into Nashville at 6pm, grab a hire car and whizz straight off to the Grand Ole Opry- listed in most travel guides as a 'must see' in Nashville - that just happens to be ten minutes from the airport. Yes it involves an outfit change in the carpark after a 9 hour flight and yes it’s a slightly surreal mix of royal festival hall vibes in the carpark of a huge shopping mall. But it’s great fun: a rotating mix of acts (we see a ukulele player and a las vegas comedian amongst others) that is still broadcast live as a radio show. And the history that comes with it, with everyone from Elvis to Johnny Cash playing the venue over the years, makes frantically running through a Nashville shopping mall carpark with post flight hair worth it.
Day 2/3/4 GRACELAND AND MEMPHIS Four hours sleep later we are off on the first leg of our road trip - Nashville to Memphis. It takes around 3 hours to reach, along route 40, that is far prettier than its UK equivalent- all wide open space and and autumn colours. We make a stop en route at Loretta Lynn's ranch ( she recently passed away but performed here into her 90's) Cue appreciation of an excellent kitschy cowboy gift shop. We then head straight to Memphis, and launch ourselves into Elvis's Graceland in all its retro fabulousness. They say allow 5 hours for a visit- but we do it in half this. Totally achievable if you whizz around the accompanying museum with sights set on a Memphis cocktail.
TO STAY : We stay at ARRIVE Memphis, a new PaliSociety property that is aesthetically gorgeous and in the heart of Downtown: think mismatched sofas, cement floors and vintage rugs. It’s housed in an old industrial building, and the staff wear Andy Warhol-esque Breton tees and thick rimmed glasses. I immediately love it. We only appreciate it for around 12 hours but can vouch for the beds being amazing, the furniture lustworthy and the coffee excellent.
TO SEE: The Civil Rights Museum, created around the Lorraine motel where Martin Luther King Junior was shot, is opposite our hotel, and sobering and essential. Sun Studio where Elvis and every other megastar of the era recorded, is a ten minute cab ride away. We manage a drive by as we prioritise midtown with its vintage stores like Fox + Cat Vintage. Our hotel is close to the Mississippi and the steamboat sightseeing trips look amazing but we get a quick Mississippi fix by driving over the bridge instead.
To EAT: We eat Southern fare downtown at converted silent cinema The Majestic Grille which appeals for it’s history, but there are lots of options near the hotel ( Disclaimer- The Southerners like their meat- which does rule some places for us vegetarians) For lunch we seek out Beauty Shop restaurant: a converted salon where Priscilla Presley used to get her hair done, which ticks the meat free box. Plus did I mention the excellent coffee, and cakes at ARRIVE's bakery Hustle and Dough.
DAY 3/4 TUPELO AND THE NATCHEZ TRACE
Memphis highlights checked off, we continue our road trip to Tupelo, a quick hour and a half down route 22. The town’s draw is often linked only to it being Elvis's birthplace, but these reviewers are CLEARLY not vintage lovers. We visit Relics Antique Market- an enormous Americana warehouse full of stands selling everything from Elvis memorabilia to vintage china. (I make a bad decision that a retro Lucille Ball esque vase won't fit in my case and afterwards am consumed with regret)
TO STAY/EAT: We stay at Hotel Tupelo, the town's most recent addition, with a buzzy ground floor bar and restaurant, crittall style floor to ceiling windows, and free bikes to explore the area. Again we are there for one night only, but we make the most of the excellent cocktail list (if not the bikes) The main high street has lots of restaurant choices,: we stop at the authentic feeling Nautical Whimsey, with it’s check tablecloths, moody lighting and walls of stag heads. (PS The portions are all American and HUGE)
TO SEE: A trip to Tupelo is not complete without visiting Elvis Birthplace: a bijoux blink and you'll miss it wooden shack on the outskirts of town. We do an early morning stop here pre setting off on the scenic Natchez trace back to Nashville- which is beautiful but doesn’t get you there in a hurry. However accompanied by our country playlist, and a roadside stop at an American yard sale of dreams we are not unhappy about it.
Day 4/5/6 NASHVILLE
And Just Like That we are back in Nashville (did I mention i binge watched this entire series on the outbound flight? Thank you no children) for 3 days of music, sights, food and much standing in front of murals. Nashvillians love a mural. I stay with my old friend in the lush Green Hills district of the city, with its expansive ranch style houses and front gardens bigger than my children’s school playing fields. However we stop at Noelle hotel when downtown and I mentally earmark it as a future Nashville stay.
TO SEE: We visit: Downtown, with The Country Music Hall of Fame (brilliant but a LOT of information and a little hard on the jet-lag), the Johnny Cash Museum (small and perfectly formed and easier on the jet-lag) and cowboy boot stores (yes I buy some- from French's); East Nashville for tattoo watching and small independent stores; 12 South for mural heaven, iconic doughnuts from Five Daughters Bakery much pumpkin action and and general kitsch fabulousness. We also take a day trip to the art gallery filled Leipers Fork, and swishy suburb Franklin with its plant shops and Islington vibes.
TO EAT/DRINK/LISTEN A visit to Nashville isn't complete without music, which pretty much adds soundtrack to anywhere you eat and drink. We have lunch in East Nashville at the Instagrammable Cafe Roze with live music trailing around the neighbourhood, we eat devilled eggs and pulled pork on the roof top of the Bobby hotel, above the strains of the honky tonk bars below. We have 'biscuits' ( scones) at the famous Loveless Cafe with cowboy hatted musicians, and local catfish accompanied by songs from the most amazing singer and her guitar in Pucketts Leipers Fork. But my favourite is the lunchtime gig on my final day in Nashville: The iconic Bluebird Cafe in situ at the 3rd and Lindsley music venue, drinking sweet tea and watching musicians who have written for some of the biggest names in the business. FAB-U-LOUS.
TO CONCLUDE So- i’ve tried (and possibly failed) to be succinct about six days packing in what could realistically take three times as long with children travelling around the music triangle, and yes it was as amazing as I had hoped. I am now home, listening to country on repeat for the foreseeable future and refusing to take my new cowboy boots off. My husband is ecstatic.
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