By Kathy Arnold


Savannah and the coast are popular holiday destinations; less well-known is the rural hinterland. On our way back to Atlanta, we follow Georgia's Antebellum Trail, a reminder of what Southerners refer to as the War Between the States or even the War of Northern Aggression. During that conflict, nothing was more aggressive than General Sherman's "March to the Sea", an 1864 version of shock and awe. Although the Union army laid waste many communities between Atlanta and the coast, Savannah was spared, as were some of the intriguing towns along this 100-mile-long drive. First up is Macon, where we delve into Georgia's black heritage at the Tubman African American Museum. Despite the array of scientific and artistic achievements on display, perhaps the star attraction is a simple musical instrument. It belonged to a local hero and a sign on it warns: "Do not attempt to play Little Richard's piano. He will know." Music is in the Georgia DNA, from Ray Charles and James Brown to REM and the Allman Brothers. Sadly, Macon's Georgia Music Hall of Fame closed a few years ago, but the city does pay tribute to one of my favourite singers. In a small park by the river sits a bronze likeness of Otis Redding strumming a guitar, while hidden speakers belt out his hits. As we sing along to Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay, two passing girls giggle. They have seen such antics before

From Macon, we leave the Antebellum Trail for the Jarrell Plantation. "Gone with the Wind has done more to educate - or rather mis-educate - than anything else," the ranger tells us at this State Historic Site. "Tara was what we call a show plantation; only 10 per cent were like that. This is the dirt where it really happened." Unchanged since the 19th century, the pinewood buildings include a grist mill, saw mill and cotton gin house, where machines separated fibre from the seeds. Most of what we see is original to the farm, including hundreds of tools. "With 17 children, the Jarrells raised their own farmhands. But until 1865, they also owned about 40 slaves."

Just up the country road is Juliette, a mere blip on the map when the film Fried Green Tomatoes was shot here in 1990. It still is just a hamlet, but the humble Whistle Stop Cafe attracts fans from around the world . Alongside yellow-jacketed construction workers, we order from the chalkboard: "yes" to fried green tomatoes; "no" to the slow-cooked barbeque. "I'm not having that," I joke with the waitress. "I've seen the film."

Back on the Trail, we pass roadside stands selling squash and boiled peanuts. Split rail fences corral cattle and hogs; rows of tall trees mark out pecan plantations; cotton still grows in the red earth. Milledgeville comes as a surprise. Laid out in 1803 "just like Washington DC, but without those dad-gummed diagonal streets!", this was Georgia's state capital for 65 years. And it has the castellated capitol building and Old Governor's Mansion to prove it.