It’s widely known as the “Heart of Dixie,” with magnolias, catfish and luscious landscapes. Yet, the real Alabama is an amazing mosaic of contrasts, more than 600 years after the Spaniards arrived in 1519. The region was in constant struggle for 250 years while the British, French and Spanish jockeyed for control, to finally land as an American state 300 years after first being settled. Mobile has the oldest Mardi Gras celebration which began in 1703. Since then, music and celebration has continued to run through Alabama’s heritage. Bob Seger’s signature song “Old Time Rock and Roll” hailed from Muscle Shoals. W. C. Handy, credited with inventing the blues was not from Memphis, he was from Florence. Musicians from California say there’s a “soul” in Alabama they can’t find in Los Angeles which makes the music richer and more authentic. There’s a Hank Williams Trail outside of Montgomery which interestingly, was the location of the first capital of the Confederate States of America and the place where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous speech on the Alabama capital steps. As one end of the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights Trail, the city at the center of civil rights. The US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Bellingrath Gardens, the Alabama Gulf Coast and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail all add to the appeal. As you travel, be sure to indulge in the 100 Things You Want to Eat in Alabama Before You Die – regional and ethnic cuisine at its finest. Depending on the season, the temperature can range from 104 degrees to four below zero, but the southern hospitality never varies. Take your time to explore the Alabama Byways, spanning the state from the Lookout Parkway in the north to the coastal Alabama’s Coastal Connection, enjoying the culture and heritage you’ll find along the way.