Located on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, Florence, Ala., was named in 1818 after Florence, Italy, by the town's original surveyor. Gen. Andrew Jackson was among the buyers who purchased the first 180 lots in the community that soon became a thriving textile center. Regrettably, nearly all the industrial base was destroyed during the Civil War because the town repeatedly changed hands between Confederate and Union forces. Today, as one of the largest and most progressive cities in North Alabama, Florence is home to the University of North Alabama, as well as host to numerous art and music venues, historic sites and a calendar of events to highlight the best of it all.
Why go now: Now that summer's sweltering heat and humidity are past, take advantage of the South's “pleasant season,” which is not necessarily disconnected from Southeastern Conference football. And because the holidays are upon us, you'll find plenty of boutiques to shop. My favorite — not just in Florence, but anywhere I've been this year — is Billy Reid (www.billyreid.com), a clothing store stocked with luxury goods for men and women. Beautiful fabrics, exquisite construction and classic style in the context of “cool community.”
Spend your day: Muscle Shoals, Ala., next door neighbor to Florence, is hallowed ground for music buffs. Start out with a studio tour at FAME (http://www. fame2.com), where during the past 50 years, they have been involved with recording or publishing records that have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide – including “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Otis Redding, plus artists Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Redding, the Osmonds, Jerry Reed, Alabama, Mac Davis, the Gatlin Brothers, Bobbie Gentry and many others. More recently, FAME has recorded projects for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Matisyahu, Band of Horses, Drive by Truckers, Bettye Lavette, Cyril Neville the Civil Wars and Jamie Johnson.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame (http://www.alamhof.
Florence, Ala., is bordered by the Tennessee River and Pickwick Lake.