• Vacation Guide & Calendar will soon be available
  • New book filled with Alabama road trips
  • Tours of goat cheese creamery Belle Chevre ‘bringing the life back to Elkmont’
  • Study: the main topic of Facebook posts is traveling
  • Singer Roseanne Cash gives props to Muscle Shoals area
  • Hall of Fame attracting visitors again
  • Hall earns Trustees Award from Recording Academy
  • Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours draw record number of visitors
  • Gander Mountain buys land for new Alabama location
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center opens exhibit in Azerbaijan
  • Auburn alum and Apple CEO Tim Cook accepts Auburn award at UN
  • Alabama restaurant makes 100 best restaurants in America list
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Vacation Guide & Calendar will soon be available

State tourism’s 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events will be available at state welcome centers and local tourism bureaus the first week of January.  The 224-page magazine-size publication contains colorful photos and covers the state by geographic regions with an introduction section, a city-by-city listing of attractions and accommodations and profiles of the state’s major cities.  The calendar section lists more than more than 1,400 annual and special events from across the state.

Feature articles include the Year of Alabama Parks, the Farm to Table food movement, Alabama Road Trips and the state’s art scene.  The 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar was produced by publications manager Marilyn Jones Stamps, publication assistant Pam Smith and art director Tommy Cauthen.


New book filled with Alabama road trips

San Francisco Chronicle,, Dec. 12

A new book features a year’s worth of short road trips in Alabama.

“Alabama Road Trips” was produced by the Alabama Media Group in cooperation with Alabama’s tourism department. State Tourism Director Lee Sentell says the book features 52 getaways of two to three days each. They range from the scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway in north Alabama to civil rights attractions in central Alabama and coastal attractions in the south. The road trip guides were written by either veteran tourism department staff or travel writers in each location.

Sentell said Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg wrote the foreword to the book and relates his own story about trips he took with his family growing up in Alabama.

To see the article online, go to:


Tours of goat cheese creamery Belle Chevre ‘bringing the life back to Elkmont’

by Lucy Berrry,, Dec. 16

Tasia Malakasis was an artisan cheesemaker when she acquired the award-winning Limestone County goat cheese factory, Belle Chevre, six years ago.

Now, the Huntsville native, cookbook author and Elkmont entrepreneur is looking to branch into the tourism industry.

Belle Chevre’s gourmet goat cheese products have been so well received across the U.S. and internationally that Malakasis hopes to capitalize on a burgeoning U.S. travel opportunity: agritourism, which focuses on farming or agriculture and has had an economic impact of more than $1 billion for states like Colorado and Kansas.

“It had been my goal really all along to set up a place to have people come through,” she told Monday morning. “We went from about 800 square feet to 8,000 square feet. We increased production space but the majority of the space here was set up to host people.”

Visitors can now take part in $10 self-guided or $12 guided tours of Belle Chevre’s creamery, a facility that previously stored Elkmont-grown and ginned cotton for more than a century and is located about 35 minutes from downtown Huntsville.

Produced by Becky Beamer, the short film, “Tasia and the Cheese Revolution,” won the Alan Hunter Best Alabama Film Award in August during the 15th-annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham and was named the Best Short Documentary at the Asheville Film Festival.

“Agritourism is a new industry,” said Malakasis, who is working with the state departments of agriculture and tourism. “We want to help put a spotlight on it and lead the way.”

Belle Chevre, which has garnered more than 100 national and international awards for its creamery chevre and chevre-based products, recently took home the Dairy Innovation Award for best dessert in Lucerne, Switzerland for its chevre cheesecake.

In February, the small company was also named one of the 50 Best Independent American Food Brands and was featured in The New York Times.

A former Belle Chevre cheesemaker, East Limestone resident Valerie Payne now works as a receptionist and manages the front portion of the creamery.

“The tours are something new,” she said. “They’re bringing the life back to Elkmont. It gives people a way to know and see the things we do and how much we love our product.”

To read the entire article, go to:


Study: the main topic of Facebook posts is traveling, Dec. 16

Travel has found a dominant position in our social lives especially on social media which we use to keep in touch with our acquaintances. A recent study of Facebook users who have been on a vacation in the past year revealed that the most dominant theme of their posts was travel.

Facebook also revealed that their research findings indicated that out of all 3,000 users, whose activities were monitored, 42% of the stories uploaded by them either consisted of the images taken by them during their recent vacation or their plans to go on holiday soon.

It also brought out that over half of the users had posts about travel as one of the top three types of posts leaving pets, family life, babies and even weddings behind.

Statistics tell us that when we are neither travelling nor do we have any plans to do so in near future, we take to this social media giant as recourse. Results show that 83% of users simply enjoy looking at travel pictures posted by their friends and family even when they have no plans to take an inspiration and plan holidays.

More than half of the people who underwent the survey said that it is Facebook that is to be credited for making them dream of holidays even when it is not on the remotest agenda.

Facebook has also emerged as the information companion while people are packing their suitcases for a trip or when they want to book a taxi to the airportNinety-seven % of the people who were studied sought information like weather, travel tips, fares and news from this social media platform.

Another fact revealed by the study is that 91% of those surveyed accepted that they have been unable to disassociate themselves from social media even when on a holiday and needed to check their Facebook updates at least twice a day. Even if they manage to keep away from Facebook during their beach vacation, the first thing 99% of the users do after being back is posting stories about their getaway. Out of these, 32% cannot even wait to get back home and they do it right at the airport.



Singer Roseanne Cash gives props to Muscle Shoals area

Singer Rosanne Cash writes about the Florence area and other great Southern towns in Travel + Lesiure magazine.

“I love little towns with histories, quirky, literary, musical, genteel and revolutionary. The best towns come with great storytellers who have a deep sense of place and time. Of course, a proper Southern town has to have great food. And it should have good music.

“In Muscle Shoals everyone from Aretha to Wilson Pickett recorded at Fame studios (  Right across the river you’ve got Florence, which has one of those beautiful 19th-centry main streets.  John Paul White, from the Civil War, lives there, as does Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes. It’s a musical hotbed, just an awesome place. Plus you’ve got Billy Reid’s store – he’s the hippest men’s clothing designer there is.”


Hall of fame attracting visitors again

by Russ Corey,, Dec. 17

Josh Hobbs didn’t know much about Muscle Shoals music, but after seeing the acclaimed documentary “Muscle Shoals,” he wanted to learn more.

So he and his girlfriend booked a flight and spent the weekend in the Shoals learning about the impact Muscle Shoals and the entire state has had on the music business. Much of what he learned came from the hour or so he spent at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

“I’m in the music business,” Hobbs, 35, said. “I have an independent record label and do some music publishing. I saw the synopsis of (the movie) and was intrigued by it.”

Hobbs said he left the hall of fame impressed by the number of people in the music business that have connections to Alabama.

“I took my time going through it and reading everything,” Hobbs said.

Hall of Fame Manager Dixie Connell said she hopes the hall of fame can attract more people like Hobbs. She said about 650 people have visited the Alabama Music Hall of Fame since it reopened Oct. 18 with financial assistance from the state Tourism Department.

Since its reopening, according to the guest book, visitors have come from Tuscon and Chandler, Ariz., Spring Lake, N.C., Milwaukee, Wis., Chicago, Ill., Beaumont and Valley View, Texas, LaGrange, Ga., Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, Fla., Monument, Colo., Kalamazoo, Mich., Ventura, Calif., Euclid, Ohio, and Rock Hill and Lexington, S.C.

Overseas visitors have come from Melbourne, Australia, Shizaoku, Japan, and London. A note left on the guest book from the United Kingdom reads, “Good stuff. Keep up the good work.”

Dan Hays, director of the Franklin Theater in Franklin, Tenn., visited the hall of fame in early November.

“The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is a treasure trove of the great history, memorabilia and honors to the people and places that have contributed to the musical landscape of our country,” Hays said. “They’ve done a wonderful job in presenting the stories of people and the tools of their art. It’s heartening to know the people of Alabama appreciate their contributions.”

While he realized the museum recently had reopened, Hays said he was impressed with the staff’s knowledge, dedication and future plans.

“It will be wonderful to see new events hosted there and creative ways to spread the words and music of both legends and emerging talents,” Hays said. “The Muscle Shoals area is so rich in its role in shaping the sounds of artists from around the world.”

Connell said she hopes the visitors continue to come. She said there are several tour groups booked to visit the hall of fame this month.

“We’ve been pleased with the turnout,” Connell said. “We’re just getting up and running and haven’t had a lot of time to target groups like we will after the first of the year.”

Connell said the staff will concentrate on targeting more school and church groups. They also want to schedule special events as a way to attract people to the facility. Connell hopes to convince some of the state’s music achievers to volunteer their time to perform at the hall of fame during its regular hours.

“Groups are the key to increasing the number of visitors,” said Bill Newton, acting state finance director and chairman of the hall of fame’s board of directors. “Work is being undertaken to bring more groups, such as school groups, to the hall of fame.”

Connell praised the interest of a group of about 10 volunteers who will assist the staff. Newton said the volunteer group “is an example of community support that is a key to the hall being successful.”

To read the entire article, go to:


Hall earns Trustees Award from Recording Academy

by Steve Wiggins, The Quad-Cities Daily, Dec. 12

Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studio and the central figure of the groundbreaking documentary, “Muscle Shoals”, will receive yet another special salute from the recording industry.

It was just announced this morning in Santa Monica that Hall, Jim Marshall and Ennio Morricone will be honored with Recording Academy’s, Trustees Award. A special invitation-only ceremony will be held during Grammy Week on Sat., Jan. 25, and a formal acknowledgment will be made during the 56th Annual GRAMMYAwards® telecast, which will be held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sun., Jan. 26 and broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network.

“It is a great privilege to recognize such an exceptional group of honorees and celebrate their accomplishments and contributions to the recording industry,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “This astoundingly unique and gifted group have created some of the most distinguished and influential work in our musical history. Their legacies are timeless and legendary, and their creativity will continue to influence and inspire future generations.”

Here is what The Academy media release had to say about Hall:

“Producer, songwriter and music publisher Rick Hall rocked the music industry when he opened the renowned Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., in 1961. A unique story, Hall grew up in a working class family and quit his day-labor jobs to dedicate his time to music. Hall gathered an array of talented songwriters, musicians and producers, and with his own meticulous approach to producing and arranging, created a unique blend of music known as the “Muscle Shoals Sound.” Hall has produced hit records across an array of genres including blues, country, pop, and soul, and many legendary artists have recorded at Fame Studios throughout its illustrious history, including Aretha Franklin, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Little Richard, and Otis Redding. The studio continues operation today, and was recently the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Muscle Shoals.”

To see the article online, go to:


Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours draw record number of visitors
More than 2,800 visitors toured the Governor’s Mansion during the three nights of the Christmas Candlelight Tours.  The tours were held during the first three Monday nights of December from 5 to 7 p.m.

Designers from across the state volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.  More than 500 Christmas ornaments sent in by Alabama fourth-grade students were also used to decorate displays around the mansion.

Governor’s Mansion gift shop manager Leigh Cross said the biggest selling items during the tour nights were food items including Lindsay Farm black-eyed peas sauce from Pike Road, Evelyn’s Gourmet Sauce from Springville and Crown Mulling Spices from Birmingham.  The gift shop is located across the street from the mansion on Felder Avenue and specializes in carrying gift items produced in Alabama.

Alabama Tourism Department staff members also signed copies of their new book Alabama Road Trips at the gift shop on each of the three nights.


Gander Mountain buys land for new Alabama location

by Ty West, Birmingham Business Journal, Dec.4

Gander Mountain has purchased about five acres of property in Gadsden for its sixth Alabama location.

The outdoor sports retailer, which also has stores in Dothan, Florence, Huntsville, Opelika and Tuscaloosa, will open the 52,000-square-foot store next spring in Gadsden’s new River Trace Shopping Center.

Southpace Properties’ Bryan Holt and Tyler Bradford represented Gander Mountain in the transaction.

The new location continues a recent streak of expansion for Minnesota-based Gander Mountain. The retailer has opened more than a dozen locations in the past 18 months – with much of the growth concentrated in the Southeast.

To read this article online, go to:!


U.S. Space & Rocket Center opens exhibit in Azerbaijan

The world premiere of Cradle to Cosmos, an international traveling exhibit, opened this week in Baku, Azerbaijan.  The exhibit is on display at the Haydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan’s capital city.   The history of space conquest since the earliest days all the way to current space exploration models will be on display through February 2014.   More than 100 exhibits including spatial stations, original particles delivered from cosmic space and other planets, pieces and models of satellites, aeronaut suits and accessories are all being highlighted in Cradle to Cosmos.   

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville signed an agreement to help create the exhibit that celebrates Azerbaijan’s first satellite, which was launched into space earlier this year.  After touring in Azerbaijan, the exhibit will move to other European cities such as Brussels and Paris.  Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, was on hand for the opening. She stated, “We are honored to bring the world premiere of this exhibition to Azerbaijan and the award winning Heydar Aliyev cultural center. It is an expression of their heritage in space as a former Soviet state, and their bright future as a space faring independent nation having launched their first satellite this year. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation is inspiring Azerbaijan to lead globally, not just in energy but also in technology.”

The center’s director, Anar Alakbarov, stated, “In particular, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the First Lady of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva, for support in holding this exhibition. This event is possible thanks to the joint efforts and activities of a number of organizations,” Alakbarov said.

Cosmonaut Musa Manarov, a Hero of the Soviet Union, also attended and congratulated everyone on the success of the event opening.   Manarov said of the exhibit, “With the launching of Azerbaijan’s first satellite into space, I think that many young people will look up to the skies, which will be facilitated by the exhibit too.  Many young people will visit the exhibition. And it is possible that many Azerbaijani astronauts and cosmonauts are likely to stand near us soon,” he added.

Dr. Deborah Barnhart was joined in Azerbaijan by Col. (Ret.) Roosevelt Lewis, the newly named chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, the governing board that helps manage the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.


Auburn alum and Apple CEO Tim Cook accepts Auburn award at UN

by Cassie Fambro,, Dec. 15

Auburn graduate and Robertsdale, Alabama, native Tim Cook made a rare speech at the United Nations after the university presented him with a lifetime achievement award.

In a reference to the Iron Bowl, he opened up with saying he may ask for an extra second for his speech.

Then, his tone took a serious note as he accepted the award.

The quality of life award was established 20 years ago to honor Auburn alumni who have made “significant and lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world,” the press release stated.

Cook used the opportunity to discuss gay rights, racism and more in his 13- minute long speech.

On gay rights, Cook said “now is the time to write these basic principles of human dignity into the book of law,” and said that racism has a long way to go, citing a memory of growing up in Alabama and seeing a burning cross.

“I could never understand it, and I knew that Americans and Alabama’s history would always be scarred by the hatred it represented,” he said.

To watch the video of the entire speech, go to:


Alabama restaurant makes 100 best restaurants in America list

by Brent Godwin, Birmingham Business Journal, Dec. 13

Five million restaurant reviews can’t be wrong, can they?  That’s how many reviews were taken into account for OpenTable’s Top 100 Best Restaurants in America list, which includes one well-renown Birmingham establishment.

Birmingham’s Highlands Bar & Grill was the only Alabama restaurant to make the list. The restaurant, led by nationally recognized chef Frank Stitt, is no stranger to high praise.

“These winning restaurants are conducted like great orchestras,” said Caroline Potter, OpenTable Chief Dining Officer, in a press release. “All the players, from chefs and managers to wait staff and sommeliers, have artfully mastered their parts, and every instrument of hospitality, whether it be deft service or imaginative menus, are in harmony with one another to create a symphonic dining experience.”

Stitt and Highlands were the catalyst for “Birmingham’s Food Family Tree”–former chefs that have worked under Stitt that now own or run the kitchen at some of the Magic City’s best eateries.

To see this article online, go to:


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Jan 17-21, 2014          American Bus Association (ABA) – Nashville, TN

Jan. 22-26, 2014         Louisville Boat, RV & Sport Show, Louisville, KY

Jan. 23-27, 2014         Cincinnati Travel, Sports & Boat Show, Cincinnati, OH

Feb. 14-23, 2014          Indianapolis Boat, Sports & Travel Show, Indianapolis, IN

Feb 16-20, 2014           National Tour Association (NTA) – Los Angeles, CA

Feb. 23-26, 2014          Travel South Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV

Mar. 11, 2014                 2014 Tourism Bash, RSA Activity Center, Montgomery

Mar. 27-30, 2014         Nashville Southern Women’s Show, Nashville, TN

April, 2014                      ATD Workshop in Tuscumbia, exact date TBA at a later time

May 3-6, 2014                Alabama League of Municipalities, Mobile, AL


The Alabama Tourism Department News is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry. The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

Alabama Tourism Department