Ancient Indian footpath evolves into scenic motorcoach route

TUPELO -- The flower-sprigged and forested Natchez Trace Parkway, a popular motorcoach route that runs 445 miles from Nashville, Tenn., to Natchez, Miss., is one of the top five scenic drives in the South, according to readers of Southern Living magazine.

The Mississippi segment (313 miles long) begins as you enter the state's northeast corner, between Iuka and Belmont. Markers are posted along the way to help drivers navigate. The speed limit is 50 mph.

What began 8,000 years ago as an Indian footpath connecting tribes in the Natchez area with others near Nashville has become a favorite among motorcoach passengers and tourists employing private conveyances, including bicycles.

Although most of the bed-and-breakfasts in the historic towns along the way are too small to accommodate groups, buses are welcome at the many motels in adjacent towns.

At one time this was a wagon road, but the old Trace is now a modern parkway, open year-round for motorists, hikers and cyclists.

It is operated by the National Park Service and is headquartered in Tupelo, which also happens to be the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

After a stop at the visitors' center and an overnight in downtown Tupelo, travelers can go to the Mockingbird Inn, located across the street from the school Presley attended.

The Mockingbird Inn is rated among the top 10 bed-and-breakfasts in Mississippi and has queen-sized beds in its seven guest rooms.

Room rates range from $65 to $95 per night for two people, Sundays through Thursdays, and $75 to $125 per night on Fridays and Saturdays. The Mockingbird pays a 10% commission to travel agents.

Proprietor Sandy Gilmer was a travel agent in Chicago for five years before moving south.

She and her husband, Jim, both world travelers, decorated each room in the style of a different region of the globe.

Venice, Mackinac Island, Paris, Athens, Africa, Sanibel Island and Bavaria are reflected in the decor and furnishings.

Call (601) 841-0286 or send e-mail to [email protected]

.com for more information.

For motorcoach travelers, Tupelo has numerous motels, and they are listed by the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 533-0611.

At the Natchez Trace's northern end, outside of Nashville, travelers will find historic towns, antebellum homes and Civil War battlefields.

The Trace cuts across the northwest corner of Alabama on its route to Mississippi.

Here the terrain flattens out and the trees and shrubs take on a more Southern flavor.

In Mississippi, the Trace passes French Camp and Kosciusko, towns that began and grew up alongside the road.

The route continues past Jackson into the Deep South.

A detour will take visitors into Vicksburg, which has a Civil War battlefield and four casino hotels.

Back on the road, between Port Gibson and Natchez, travelers will find numerous antebellum homes.

One of the oldest in Natchez is the Gov. Holmes House, built in 1794 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was the home of the last governor of the Mississippi Territory and the first governor of the state of Mississippi.

It is now a bed-and-breakfast and features period furnishings, porcelain, paintings and Oriental carpets.

Its current owner, Robert Pully, worked at New York City's Algonquin Hotel for 32 years (from 1953 to 1986), starting as a desk clerk and working his way up to manager before retiring.

This bed-and-breakfast does not welcome small children.

The room rate is $110 per night and includes breakfast for two, a tour of the city and tax. The agent's commission is 10%.

The Gov. Holmes House can be reached at (601) 442-2366.

For a list of motels in Natchez that accommodate buses, contact the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 647-6724.

Natchez is also home to the Lady Luck Casino Hotel and the Natchez Pilgrimages.

Twice a year -- in the spring and fall -- Natchez Pilgrimages offers a tour of more than 30 antebellum homes and Victorian inns.

The annual Christmas Pilgrimage has been discontinued.

The tours feature hostesses in period costumes and include live evening performances.

Tours of historic homes and other attractions are available year-round.

Natchez Pilgrimages can be reached at (800) 647-6742.

The visitors' center in Tupelo advises those planning to travel the Trace, especially cyclists, to plan in advance because the National Park Service does not permit signs advertising food and lodging along the parkway.

Maps can be picked up at the visitors' center.

Brochures with a limited list of accommodations and eateries also are available there.

Natchez Trace Parkway
Address: 2680 Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, Miss. 38801
Phone: (800) 305-7417

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