Oak Mountain State Park © Alby Headrick
Alabama lies in the Deep South, as its nickname, the 'Heart of Dixie', proclaims. It is rich in all that the South is known and loved for - natural beauty, down-home food and hospitality - but, unlike much of the South, it also carries the proud legacy of the civil rights struggle. The state was the site of the landmark Montgomery bus boycott and the 'Freedom March' led by Martin Luther King Jr.
Alabama's varying landscape and personality make it a great travel destination for both non-stop activity and laid-back escape. At its southern tip, the sugar-white sand and crystal clear waters of the Gulf Coast beckon; Alabama's beaches, unlike those of neighbouring Florida, are free of amusement parks and large-scale commercialisation. Inland there are the stately antebellum mansions and gardens of Mobile, as well as the rolling farmlands and quiet towns of the southeast.
Further north, the pace of life picks up in sleek Birmingham, with its great jazz, and the Talladega Superspeedway, which can seem like a small city in itself during NASCAR racing events. Alabama's northernmost region is situated at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, overflowing with stunning views, lakes, waterfalls and caverns. In autumn, when the trees blaze red and gold, it is a paradise for campers, hikers and mountain bikers. Alabama has a strong, sometimes fanatical, sports culture as well: it's home to the country's most heated rivalry in American college football, between the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers. During the Iron Bowl, when the two come together in a season-ending clash, the entire state enters into a frenzy of competitive spirit.