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What to Do, Where to Go in Back-Roads Alabama

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

GETTING THERE: Continental, Delta and Northwest offer connecting service to Mobile Regional Airport, in southern Alabama, from all three Washington airports, starting at $281 round trip.

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WHERE TO STAY: Near Fairhope, the sprawling Marriott Grand (1 Grand Blvd., Point Clear, 251-928-9201, http://www.marriott.com), extensively renovated after Hurricane Katrina, has rooms starting at $240. Fairhope itself teems with small bed-and-breakfasts, including the Fairhope Inn & Restaurant (63 S. Church St., 251-928-6226, http://www.thefairhopeinn.com), where rates start at $120. Newbern has one three-room inn, the Bailey's Bed & Breakfast (8687 Alabama Hwy. 61, 334-624-4477, http://www.travelhero.com, search "Newbern"); rates start at $60. There isn't a whole lot above the motel level in Demopolis, but nearby Eutaw is home to the Attoway Davis Cottage Bed and Breakfast (822 Mesopotamia St., 205-372-9878, http://www.bedandbreakfastwestalabama.blogspot.com), where rooms start at $90 a night. Or stay on Route 43 to Tuscaloosa, about an hour north of Demopolis, home to the University of Alabama and a variety of hotels in all ranges. Florence is full of quaint B&Bs, mostly in the historic districts that circle downtown. Check out the Limestone House (601 N. Wood Ave., 256-765-0365, http://www.thelimestonehouse.com) , a 1915 Georgian Revival mansion, and the Veranda on Walnut (414 N. Walnut St., 256-767-3929, http://www.verandaonwalnut.net), both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rates start at $100 and $85, respectively.

WHERE TO EAT: In Fairhope, Guy's Gumbo Shack (212 1/2 Fairhope Ave., 251-928-4100, http://www.guysgumbo.com), a local culinary landmark that reopened in a new location a couple of years ago, serves great gumbo. Thirty minutes south of Mobile, Mary's Place (5075 Hwy. 188, Coden, 251-873-4514, http://www.marysplaceseafoodrestaurant.com) serves seafood with a Creole touch. The lunch buffet is $9.20 Monday-Saturday, $9.55 on Sundays; the Friday and Saturday night seafood buffet is $19.95-$25.95. In Florence, the local lunch counter, Trowbridge's (316 N. Court St., 256-764-1503), is the dining hot spot in town.

WHAT TO DO: The Southern Writers Reading festival, which focuses on Southern storytelling, takes place in Fairhope the weekend before Thanksgiving each year. For information about next year's event, e-mail karin@pageandpalette.com. Also in Fairhope, Page and Palette (32 S. Section St., 251-928-5295, http://www.pageandpalette.com) is the premier local bookstore. In and around Newbern, you can find the 80 architectural projects sponsored by the Rural Studio. Maps are available at the Newbern office (8448 Alabama Hwy. 61, 334-624-4483, http://www.cadc.auburn.edu/soa/rural-studio). A favorite project is Auburn University's Rural Heritage Center (330 Fourth Ave., Thomaston, 334-627-3388, http://www.crafts-of-alabama.com). The fashion shop Billy Reid (438 N. Seminary St., Florence, 256-767-4692) sells the same updated homespun styles in Florence that its designer sells in New York and Dallas. Also in Florence is Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum House (601 Riverview Dr., 256-740-8899, http://www.wrightinalabama.com). It's open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays 1-4 p.m. Admission $8, seniors and students $5. Florence is also home to the W.C. Handy Home, Museum & Library (620 W. College St., 256-760-6434, http://www.florenceal.org/cultural/artsandmuseums.html). The log cabin, Handy's boyhood home, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission $2, students 50 cents. The Helen Keller home, Ivy Green (300 W. North Commons, Tuscumbia, 256-383-4066, http://www.helenkellerbirthplace.org), is open Monday-Saturday 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Sundays January-March. Admission $6, ages 5-18 $2. Half-hour tours of the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (3614 Jackson Hwy., Sheffield, 256-783-2641, http://www.muscleshoalssound.org) are available for $10; call to arrange. Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is at 719 U.S. Hwy. 72 west, 256-383-0783, http://www.coondogcemetery.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: City of Florence information, http://www.florenceal.org; Fairhope, http://www.cofairhope.com; Alabama Tourism Department, http://www.alabama.travel.

-- C.R.


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