Some summer fun in sweet home Alabama

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 9, 2007

This summer, Alabama has something to celebrate. Our state is only one of a handful that reported increases in tourism over the past five years.

And one of those places drawing tourism dollars is very close by.

According to the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel (ABTT), Greenville's own Cambrian Ridge is part of the number-one state tourist attraction charging admission – the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. An estimated 500,000 golfers played RTJ's courses in 2006.

Other attractions in the top ten for 2006 include the Birmingham Zoo; the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; Alabama Adventure in Bessemer; Huntsville Botanical Gardens; McWane Center in Birmingham; Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Birmingham; Montgomery Zoo; Birmingham Children's Theatre and Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.

Along with these familiar sites, new attractions abound this summer in sweet home Alabama. With gas prices spiraling upward, why not consider sight-seeing in your home state?  Here's a preview of some of the fun, beauty, excitement and adventure to be experienced in the Heart of Dixie.

First, let's go two hours to the south to the historic port city of MobileŠ

Sleeping beauty awakes

For decades, a once majestic 19th century hotel stood empty and neglected in the heart of Mobile.  Built in 1852, and re-built in 1908, the Battle House Hotel once served as a gathering place for southern high society and visiting luminaries such as Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson and Babe Ruth. The historic hotel, shut down in 1974, was purchased by the Retirement Systems of Alabama in 2002 and completely renovated. The 236-room hotel, which retains its Victorian beauty while incorporating the latest in comforts, including a full spa, re-opened May 11 as The Battle House, A Renaissance Hotel.

&#8220This is a gorgeous place people are going to want to spend a weekend in. It's fabulous what's been done with the hotel,” said Ami Simpson of the ABTT.

Learn more about The Battle House at

The hotel is within walking distance of the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, currently showing the blockbuster exhibit &#8220A Day in Pompei.”

Check it out at

Also nearby are the Carnival Museum, featuring colorful exhibits of original Mardi Gras costumes (, and the Museum of Mobile, currently showing &#8220Captive Passage,” a compelling exhibition of 200 objects and images interpreting the trans-Atlantic slave trade, until Sept. 3,

By air and by water

A mile from The Battle House, helicopter rides are a new feature enjoyed at the USS Alabama Battleship Park. One and two-person helicopter rides aboard a Bell 47 are offered: an eight-minute ride over the wetlands and downtown Mobile, and a shorter rider over the battleship park. The park also re-opened its aircraft pavilion in May after damage from Hurricane Katrina forced its closing. Rare aircraft from WW II to Iraqi Freedom have all been restored.  Visit for more info.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a new attraction north of the Battleship Parkway: the Five Rivers-Alabama's Delta

Resource Center,

The center gives visitors a chance to experience 250,000 acres of delta, wetlands, and woods formed by the convergence of five rivers: Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee and Blakely.

Do you like to canoe or kayak? Check out the floating docks at Bartram's Landing. This free pier offers disability access and a retail store.

A separate powerboat landing accommodates boats up to 30 feet in length, and charters are available for airboats and other craft.

&#8220This wonderful new addition to Alabama's places of tourism also includes a 4,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a reception hall and a nature center,” said Simpson.

&#8220The center features winning images from the 2007 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest in a show from June 8 through July 9. You'll be able to enjoy the best in natural beauty.”

A 30-minute drive across Mobile Bay will take you to the picturesque city of Fairhope. 

CNN named Fairhope as one of the &#8220Top Ten romantic escapes” for 2007, describing it as &#8220an idealized, movie-set small town.”

The town has plenty of public beach and park land for visitors to enjoy.

A favorite haunt of artists, Fairhope has added a whimsical touch this summer with &#8220Art Takes Flight.”

Festooned and brightly painted, resin and fiberglass pelicans created by local artists can be sighted on street corners, hanging from balconies and perched in front of businesses until July, when they will be taken down, touched up and exhibited throughout the month of September at the Eastern Shore Art Center. On September 29, a &#8220Buy, Buy Birdie” auction will be held, with all monies going to support the art center.

Folk art treasures

The crescent of rich, black soil through mid-Alabama is known as &#8220The Black Belt,” but its fertility in producing gourmet food, folk artists and fascinating history is less well-known - and makes for a delightful discovery for travelers.

The Marengo County town of Thomaston, population 383, offers visitors a gourmet meal and locally-made arts and crafts and food products at the Rural

Heritage Center. Pepper jelly and kudzu jelly share space with pottery, pine-needle baskets, homemade soaps, folk art paintings and hand-woven textiles.

Chef Robert Crawley makes the 90-minute drive from Montgomery to the tiny town twice a week to train local citizens how to cook dishes such as Pain Perdu, Fried Green Tomato Benedict, and Chicken Pontalba served at Mama Nems.

The restaurant opened last November, serving Friday supper and Sunday brunch, with plans to expand to Saturday evening.

The Heritage Shoppe gift store is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. M-F, and Sunday, noon to 2:30 p.m. See

There's plenty more to explore in Alabama this summer.

To learn more, contact the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel at or 1-800-ALABAMA (252-2262).