The beauty of travelling to America is that you if you plan your journey right you can explore quite a few different cities in an ultimate US fly-drive trip.
Fort Lauderdale is finally getting its shine as an attractive destination following the launch of a British Airways service from London Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale’s Hollywood International Airport.
Not only does this Floridian fave of a city offer a laid-back charm of luxury and all-year-round sun, it has become one of the exciting gateways into the southern comforts of Georgia.
Being introduced to a new Fort Lauderdale
I was well acquainted with Fort Lauderdale’s party town of a big sister Miami but exploring
the city nicknamed the ‘Venice of America’ filled with me with intrigue.
Friends of mine were convinced I’ll be mixing with the elderly and living life in the slow lane on a touristy beach town. But little did they know that this city has evolved into a hip metropolis with a vibrant arts scene, a plethora of restaurants and action-packed adventures.
The perfect welcome to Fort Lauderdale was being introduced the city’s Venetian style Intracoastal waterways (hence the nickname “the Venice of America”) with Gondola West.
After a 9 hour flight it provided a much needed tranquillity as we glided through quiet canals and passed through multi-million dollar yachts and opulent mansions. Our tour guide answered our questions while giving us a brief history of the Fort Lauderdale canal.
Two hours and a couple of glasses of wine later we we’re dropped off in the heart of Fort Lauderdale at Las Olas Boulevard. Being the shopaholic I am I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the twinkling lights of South Florida’s most architecturally unique, authentic, and eclectic shopping and dining district.
Strolling the palm-dotted boulevard can leave anyone spoilt for choice, 30 al fresco dining options, 10 major international art galleries, 2 world class museums, 65 unique shops filled with fashion, accessories, gifts, and more. Louie Bossi’s Ristorante Bar Pizzeria was the perfect choice for dinner as we enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner choices in a relaxed seating area outside.
Waking up in Fort Lauderdale’s Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa was a heavy dose of tropical tranquillity as the hotel is situated along a quarter-mile of a private beach.
As I drawed open my curtains I was greeted with a panoramic view of the Atlantic ocean and the sounds of cascading waves gushing onto the shore.
Pretty scenes aside, breakfast was fit for a queen with the hotel’s Riva restaurant providing a bountiful buffet worth putting the pounds on for.
In between Florida and Miami you’ll find the city of Hollywood, a bursting and vivid arts hub within the district. Leading the way for this colourful creativity is the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project.
Heading to the Downtown Hollywood mural project was a good way to burn off some of the breakfast calories as this is one of Florida’s most exciting walking tours.
The art movement is a collection of curated outdoor murals by both local and internationally recognised artists, who have revamped nearby businesses with their designs.
The 18 murals are the perfect backdrops for countless selfies and are all within an easily walkable four to five block radius.
My favourites is the impressive Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat mural by Brazilian artist Fabio Onrack and the psychedelic head spinner of a mural by Kenton Parker.
Our tour was led by a guide but you can actually do it all yourself by downloading the walking map from the project’s website.
After an artistic morning it was time to get active with a spot of paddle boarding at BG Whiskey Creek Hideout nestled in Dania Beach.
If you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of Fort Lauderdale paddle boarding through the Mangrove trails into the beautiful calm waters will whisk you away to a more calmer and serene side of the city.
Our paddling adventure began with our guide giving us insight about local history while pointing out the multitude of animals that reside inside the park’s borders.
Being a first-timer to paddle boarding I didn’t feel too confident to stand up so I decided to do it on my knees which was equally as fun.
I got a bit too carried away with my blissful state of mind and ended up steering a little bit of course and heading towards a tree where I was greeted by an iguana. No visit to Fort Lauderdale is complete without spotting one of these exotic lizards.
Paddleboading might not be fast-paced cardio but your arms and legs will surely get a work out.
The perfect place to refuel is at GG’s Waterfront Bar and Grill which is considered one of the stand out restaurants that has raised the bar in the South Florida dining scene.
It has certainly earned its Hollywood stripes as in the 50’s and 60’s it was the famous Rat Pack hangout of Frank Sinatra and his buddies.
It’s a seafood lover’s paradise as on offer there is an amazing selection of locally sourced fish, fresh seafood, lobster and stone crabs and a raw bar.
When in the Sunshine state you will rarely want to dine inside and GG’s is a place for an unforgettable lunch with a view.
Chomping on my Lobster Roll and sweet potato fries ended up playing second fiddle to me jaw-dropping at world class luxury yachts cruising through the beautiful waterfront.
Internally I was thinking what a sight and what a gem of a city to visit.
Flying down south to Atlanta, Georgia
During my two hour Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I start having flashbacks of all those history classes in high school where we taught Georgia was one of the key birthplaces of the civil rights movement.
I ponder on all of the gritty rap videos I used to watch as a teenager showing me America’s dirty South or as others will call it, the capital of Black America.
My inner foodie takes over my thoughts and I start day dreaming about all the soulful Southern cuisine I was about to indulge in over the next 72 hours.
After touching down in ATL I kick start my foodie adventure at Twin Smokers BBQ, which is not a restaurant for the nibblers or the light-hearted eaters. A hearty meal of a 1/2 rack of St Louis ribs with a side of Mac’ N Cheese is a meaty welcome to one of the world’s home of soul food.
A short walk from the venue leads me to the Center for Civil and Human Rights which is located in the heart of Atlanta on Ivan Allen Jr Blvd.
Upon entering I’m greeted by a large colourful freedom fighters mural featuring Nelson Mandela and splattered with the word such as justice. It sets the tone for the immersive world of history I was about to discover.
The fight for worldwide social justice is brought to reality with the use of motion, sights and sounds. Wandering through these high-tech exhibits is like stepping into a time machine and coming face-to-face with human rights activists from around the world.
On the ground floor I have a lesson on segregation and get insight into America’s dark past of white segregationists and Jim Crow laws.
I move on to the second floor to get a snapshot of Martin Luther King Jnr fight for equality for black Americans during the civil rights movement. Seeing video footage of Martin Luther King Jnr’s speeches to viewing his dead body laying outside of a hotel is pretty gripping for even the hard-hearted of museum goers.
After an intense visit we lightened the mood with a visit to the Georgia Aquarium, which is home to more than 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water, a hundred thousand animals and a regular dolphin show.
Atlanta is also the birthplace of Coca-Cola and next to the aquarium is the world of Coco-Cola, a museum dedicated to showcasing this beverage’s fascinating history.
As night dawned my foodie adventures in ATL continues at Mary Mac’s Tea Room which is also fondly known as “Atlanta’s Dining Room.” Since it was opened by Mary McKenzie in 1945 it has been serving made-from-scratch Southern cuisine with staples including fried okra, chicken pot pie and cheese grits.
When you visit Mary Mac’s you can’t help but notice the pictures adorning their walls with all of the celebrities & famous faces who have dined at this legendary soul food establishment. Their waiting staff are very charming with their hospitality and their constant referrals to our group as ‘y’all’, a Southern vernacular for you all, reinstates our change of location from Florida to Georgia.
I feast on Chicken Fried Chicken with white pepper gravy, Hoppin’ John ( black-eyed peas and rice) and fried okra.
In hindsight I wish I wore my stretchy leggings for the meal as my stomach expands to the point where I have to unloosen my trouser button.
I have no food regrets whatsoever as I jump into my cosy bed at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown, the city’s arts district.
Breakfast is a foodie’s delight at Highland Bakery, an ever-popular neighbourhood café known for its homemade cinnamon rolls and curried chicken salad sandwiches.
While in Atlanta I just can’t get enough of the fried chicken so I order a Fried Chicken Benedict – egg poached medium and fried chicken topped with Jalapeño cheddar cheese on a grilled biscuit with grit (porridge).
It was a wise choice to fill up on brekkie as our final pit stop in Atlanta was the Eastside Atlanta Segway Tour with ATL-Cruzers. This two and a half hour tour is one of the most exciting ways to explore the city as it shows you all of the historic sites and cultural highlights via segway.
Learning to get to grips with the segway was pretty easy as our group was given a 30 minute training session before we glided off into the streets of Atlanta.
The 8-mile tour, was led by Patrick from the team, who provided background information to some of the places where we stopped.
Some of the highlights included Inman Park (Atlanta’s 1st Planned suburb est 1890s), Oakland Cemetery (the city’s oldest public cemetery) and a whizz by the Atlanta BeltLine, an old railway track being transformed in a similar way to New York’s High Line, and the funky Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
April 4th 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination and Atlanta is gearing up to mark the occasion with memorial events.
During the tour it was a personal highlight of mine to pay my respects to him and his wife Coretta Scott King, who are buried at the Martin Luther King Jr National Site on Auburn Avenue.
We also made pit stops at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was pastor, and the home of his birth, and where he played as a child. Retracing Martin Luther King Jr’s footsteps ended up being an emotional journey into the past but one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.
Driving to Savannah, Georgia
The drive eastwards from Atlanta to Savannah is full of endless highways and scenic sights of rural landscapes, towering trees and open fields. We arrive in late in the evening and check in to our hotel, the Marshall House, which is located in Savannah’s Historic District on Broughton street.
It is set in a landmark building dating from 1851 and is ideally located a 5-minute walk from the galleries, bars and eateries along the famed River Street, and is a 7-minute walk from the bustling 4-block City Market.
From the outside this nineteenth-century hotel is a beautiful site to look at with its romantic green balconies and vintage old-world architecture. Inside is equally as impressive as we’re greeted with warm hospitality from the bellmen to the front desk.
With the building being over 200-years-old it’s not surprising the interior is very pleasantly dated with much of the woodwork either original or restored in period style. The hotel is perfect for a guest like myself who loves stepping back into time as it lacks modern amenities like a gym, spa and modern bathrooms.
Beyond Marshall House’s charm, it is said to be one of the spookiest buildings in the city. It has an interesting back story as it was the former wartime hospital during the Civil War and through two yellow fever epidemics.
Rumours and reports include guests seeing ghosts in the hallways and foyers, hearing children running down the long, narrow halls late at night, faucets turning on by themselves and much more.
Savannah is one of those places where I end up embracing all things sinister and shadowry so much so I find myself going for an early morning walk through Bonaventure cemetery.
This elegant cemetery is somehow stunningly beautiful and deeply creepy at the same time. It was made famous by the Southern gothic novel and film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.
Walking in Savannah feels like being transported to a film set, everything looks makeshift from the cobblestones, to the elegant European-style streets and squares.
I instantly fall in love with the Live Oak, the most iconic tree of Savannah. They are instantly recognisable with their drooping, curvaceous branches, draped in Spanish moss which add to gothic feel of the area.
Talking about films, the town is also renowned for one of the most classic one-liners in film history. Savannah’s Chippewa Square is where Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, sits upon a park bench and tells us “life is like a box of chocolates”.
The best thing about travelling in Georgia is that you get to experience and honour the state’s rich black heritage. Savannah was one of the first pit stops where slaves brought in after being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean from West African countries including Ghana, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
We kick start our day on the Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour, led by Vaughnette Goods-Walker, who is a bit of celebrity in town and is almost greeted by everyone even before we head off. This three hour tour gives me another side of the story to slavery, the perspective of the institution of slavery in Savannah leading up to the American Civil war.
Skimming past the atrocities, the Footprints tour focuses on the business of slavery its brokers and their profits. Tracing the steps of the of ancestors, we walk along the forgotten footpaths Savannah where this business of human sale made its mark in the 1850s.
Its a sweet ending for the tour as we finish at Savannah’s African-American monument which honours the contributions of its black citizens to its history, economy and culture and acknowledges the city’s role in the institution of slavery.
After walking all over town we had certainly worked up an appetite, so for lunch we head to Tybee Island, a 20-minite drive east of downtown Savannah.
The island can be compared to the beach town that time forgot, this island’s residential streets are lined with candy-coloured cottages sporting wide porches and lazy hammocks strung between trees.
It also has a rich culinary seafood scene, which is perfectly showcased at CoCo’s Sunset Grille, where we have a delightful lunch with a view on the shores of Lazaretto Creek.
Once we arrive back in Savannah I head to Forsyth Park, which is one of the most photographed beauty spots in town thanks to its lush greenery and iconic fountain. It’s a must-see spot in town and a place where one can relax enjoy seeing the Georgia sun go down.
Savannah definitely capitalises on its haunted past as when night falls you’re bound to spot tourists on one of the many local ghost tours. During our ghosts tour our guide takes us to some of Savannah’s haunted sites and tells us some eerie legends.
He also gives us the heads up that room 314 at Marshall House has the most reported paranormal activity and that if we hear stomping through the corridors at 3am it is likely to be the ghost of a wounded soldier searching for his amputated leg.
With my room number being 316 it’s no surprise I sleep with one-eyed shut while constantly thinking ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghost, well not in Savannah because this city is just too charming.’
How to get to Fort Lauderdale
British Airways flies three times a week from London Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale’s Hollywood International Airport. Return fares start from £378 per person in World Traveller, £895 per person in World Traveller Plus and £1699 in Club World.
BA2169 departs from Gatwick at 09:25 and arrives at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at 13:45 while the BA2168 will leave Fort Lauderdale at 17:00, arriving into Gatwick at 06:30 the next day.
Where to stay?
Double rooms at Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa from £149 per night. Book at www.marriott.com
Double rooms at Loews Atlanta Hotel from £113. Book at loewshotels.com/Atlanta
Double rooms at The Marshall House, Savannah, from £145 per night. Book at marshallhouse.com
For information about exceptional and unexpected travel experiences in the United States, head to VisitTheUSA.co.uk.
For information about Fort Lauderdale, please visit www.sunny.org
For information about Georgia, please visit www.exploregeorgia.org