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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The 10 best ways to see the real States

Rev your bike, strum a chord, hit that trail, says Sarah Barrell. There's a whole other country out there

1 Roswell, New Mexico

Why go? Join the 150,000 Americans who travel across the country each year to Roswell's UFO Festival (1-4 July 2004). This cult community celebration of the supposed crash of a UFO near Roswell in 1947 knocks little green spots off Nevada's area 51. Expect alien costume parades and parties and earnest conferences on alienology. Extend the weekend with a trip to Santa Fe, arts hub and home to an opera festival (July-August).

Where to stay: The Inn of the Five Graces (001 505 922 0957; www.fivegraces.com) is an elegant Spanish Colonial adobe hacienda. Doubles from $295 (£164) per night.

How to get there: American Airlines via Dallas, Continental via Houston or Newark, or Delta via Atlanta. The best fares can often be secured through discount agents such as Trailfinders (www.trailfinders.com; 020-7938 3939), Bridge the World (020-7916 0990; www.bridgetheworld.com), Flightbookers (020-7757 2444; www.ebookers.com) or Travel Bag (0870-900 1350; www.travelbag.com).

Further information: Contact the New Mexico tourist information in the UK (01329-665 777; www.newmexico.org).

2 Austin, Texas

Why go? A happening liberal college town with great nightlife and a thriving live music scene, Austin is in most respects as far from cowboy country as LA or New York. A southern refuge for artists, musicians and writers, the capital of Texas won't have tourists doing their frantic rounds but is simply a darn good place to hang out. Austin also hosts the unique South by Southwest Festival, which annually draws the biggest names in "alt-country" (alterative country/blues) and "borders" music - a hip hybrid of US alt-country and contemporary Mexican. This year's festival starts on Wednesday and runs to next Sunday. Little Richard headlines, along with The Thrills, The B-52s, Papa Roach, Athlete, and The Scissors Sisters.

Where to stay: The Austin Motel, a retro 1950s billet with a cute kidney-shaped pool, on the edge of town (001 512 441 1157; www.austinmotel.com). Doubles from $50 (£28).

How to get there: Continental flies to Austin from Gatwick, via Newark, Houston and Cleveland. Delta flies from London City and Gatwick via Paris, Charles De Gaulle, Atlanta and Cincinnati.

Further information: South by Southwest Festivals (001 512 467 7979; www.sxsw.com); Austin Convention and Visitor Bureau (001 512 474 5171; www.austin360.com).

3 The Presidentials, New Hampshire

Why go? Not for the election but the tallest and most impressive mountains in New England. The Presidentials stand at the heart of New Hampshire and represent the best leaf-peeping terrain. The Appalachian trail, through the heart of the range, is beloved of hikers but almost any road in this rugged region offers spectacular views. Mount Washington Auto Road and Kancamagus Highway afford jaw-clanging panoramas.

Where to stay: Mount Washington Hotel (001 603 278 1000; www.mtwashington.com), at the western foot of the mountain, is the smartest hotel in the area with doubles from $369 (£205) per night.

How to get there: Boston is the nearest international airport. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American, Continental and United all fly direct from UK. British Airways Holidays (0870-243 3407; www.baholidays.com) and Virgin Holidays (0870-220 2707; www.virginholidays.com) can arrange fly-drive deals.

Further information: New Hampshire Tourism (001 800 386 4664, www.visitnh.gov); Discover New England, in the UK (0870-264 0555, www.discovernewengland.org).

4 The Southern Rockies

Why go? Beyond the international flash of ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail, there are quiet, quirky little mountain towns. Try Redstone, Colorado, "the Ruby of the Rockies", or, just to the south, Dunton Hotsprings. This is a gold-rush town, renovated by an inspired hotelier into a rustic resort for well-heeled outdoor types. It's located in Telluride, a valley overlooking the Four Corners, where mountains of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet.

Where to stay: The 100-year old Redstone Inn (001 970 963 2526; www.redstoneinn.com) has cottage-style rooms from $60 (£33) per night.

Dunton Hot Springs (001 970 882 4800; www.duntonhotsprings.com), 12 original miners' cabins with outdoor hot tubs, costs from $250 (£139) each per night full board (two-night minimum).

How to get there: The closest international airport is Denver. British Airways, Delta, Continental and United fly there via Cincinnati, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Houston or Chicago.

Further information: Colorado tourist information, contact Cellet Travel Services, UK (01564 794999; www.colorado.com).

5 Charlotte, North Carolina

Why go? A cool small city with southern charm and an artistic flair, non-stop flights from London make Charlotte easily accessible while leaving it its off-the-beaten-track atmosphere. The city is well within striking distance of the "real" Cold Mountain, partial setting of the recent film and great place for panoramic road trips. Follow the twisting Blue Ridge Mountain parkway to spot soaring views of the mountain itself with plenty of short hiking trails, and camp sites and lodges en route for the adventurous.

Where to stay: Many of Charlotte's hotels are aimed at conference travellers, but the Morehead Inn (001 704 376 3357; www.moreheadinn.com) in the Dilworth neighbourhood is a colonial revival b&b that retains some of the home comforts of this former private estate. Doubles from $125 (£69).

Getting there: British Airways flies non-stop from London to Charlotte.

Further information: For the North Carolina Division of Tourism, call Cellet Travel Services, in the UK (0870 533 3123, www.visitnc.co.uk).

6 Paradise, Arizona

Why go? A road trip from Tucson to Tombstone on the Old Spanish Trail goes via the Saguaro National Park, a 100,000-acre reserve famous for its iconic wiggly cacti. Follow State Highway 80 for about 75 miles (along the route of the Old Spanish Trail, formerly the main highway across the southern US) and you'll pass some curious roadside attractions before ending up in Tombstone, the site of the OK Coral. Paradise, above Tombstone in the mountains of the Coronado National Forest, is an 1880s silver-mining town. Here you'll be confronted by Cave Creek Canyon's vast red-rock walls, as impressive as those in the parks of Zion or Yosemite, but with fewer tourists.

Where to stay: Tucson is home to some of America's most luxurious spa hotels. Try the Miraval Spa Resort (001 520 825 4000; www.miravalresort.com) with doubles from $495 (£275) per person, per night, including full-board accommodation, one spa treatment, use of all resort facilities and transfers from Tucson airport.

How to get there: British Airways flies direct from Heathrow to Phoenix (about 100 miles north of Tucson). Both American and United Airlines offer services to Phoenix and Tucson via Chicago.

Further information: Arizona Office of Tourism (001 866 275 5816; www.arizonaguide.com).

7 San Diego, California

Why go? If you've done LA, the Californian wineries and San Francisco, the next stop has to be San Diego. The most instantly likeable coastal spot in southern California, San Diego has almost constant sunshine, smog-free beaches, plus galleries and nightlife in its historical Little Italy district. And it's only 20 miles from Tijuana.

How to get there: British Airways offers non-stop flights to San Diego from London. Airlines flying from London to LA (about 100 miles away) include Air New Zealand, Continental, United, Virgin and British Airways.

Where to stay: The W Hotel (001 619 231 8220; www.whotels.com) opened last year in Little Italy, and has arty sea-themed décor, with doubles from $199 (£110) per night.

Further information: California Tourism in the UK (0906 5770032; www.visitcalifornia.com); or log onto www.signonsandiego.com.

8 Memphis, Tennessee

Why go? The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened last year in the dilapidated southern part of "America's music capital". It is named after the record label that produced so much talent in the 1960s that this part of town became known as Soulsville, USA. The "Stax sound" produced monster hits, including Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" and Otis Redding's "The Dock of the Bay". The museum looks set to revitalise Memphis, which, while known as the "home of the blues", "birthplace of rock'n'roll", and site of Elvis Presley's old home Graceland, may have seen better days.

Where to stay: Virgin Holidays (0871 222 0306; www.virginholidays.co.uk) offers a two-week fly-drive to Memphis from £899 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick to Memphis and 14 nights room only at the Heartbreak Hotel.

How to get there: There are no non-stop flights to Memphis.

Further information: The Stax Museum (001 901 946 2535; www.soulsvilleusa.com); The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (001 901 543 5300, www.memphistravel.com).

9 Louisville, Kentucky

Why go? Better known for the Kentucky derby (16 April to 2 May), Louisville has gained more cult attention lately for Lebowskifest (18-20 June 2004), an annual celebration of all things Lebowski. This homage to "The Dude" (the off-beat American par excellence from the 1998 Coen Brothers' film, The Big Lebowski), includes costume contests, screenings, bowling competitions and far too many White Russians.

Where to stay: The official hotel for Lebowskifest is the Executive West Hotel (001 502 367 2251; www.exwesthotel.com), next door to the festival bowling alley where there will be unlimited bowling and free shoe rental for ticket holders. Rooms from $56 (£31) per night.

How to get there: There are no non-stop flights to Louisville from the UK.

Further information: Tickets for Lebowskifest 2004 will be available online from April (www.lebowskifest.com/3rdannual.asp).

10 Sturgis, South Dakota

Why go? The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally started 60 years ago as a small road race and now attracts a quarter of a million bikers. Harley-riding chief executives from Milwaukee (where the Harley-Davidson was born) pull up beside teenagers from Iowa on second-hand Hondas for the biggest celebration of the open road in America. The festival (9-15 August, 2004) sends chapters of bikers on competitions and cruises to such hallowed American sights as Mount Rushmore and the spooky Badlands National Park.

Where to stay: Most bikers use Sturgis's many camp grounds - and pretty much every private yard, house and outhouse rented out by locals. In the old Gold Rush town of Deadwood, just outside Sturgis, try the grand 19th-century Bullock Inn (001 605 578 1745; www.heartofdeadwood.com) which offers doubles for $30-$95 (£17-£53) a night.

How to get there: Harley Davidson offers bike rental at destinations across the USA, starting from around $80 a day. Harley-Davidson Rentals at www.hdrentals.com or contact the Harley-Davidson Motor Company (0870 904 1450). There are no non-stop flights from the UK.

Further information: Sturgis Motorcycle Rally information (001 605 642 8166,

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