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Sleep in at Alabama’s Grand Hotels

 Singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Jimmy Buffet have recorded “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Here are five of many memorable Alabama hotels and resorts scattered around the state that may have your tour clients humming the 1934 jazz standard after an overnight stay.


Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa


Stepping into the Battle House is like a trip to Europe. Take a gander at the French and English furnishings and fabrics laced with the vibrant colors of Spain, Africa and the Caribbean — all places that influenced Mobile’s development. A Tiffany glass skylight dome creates an instant memory, and four striking paintings mark the Beaux Arts-style lobby. The paintings are of bygone rulers of France, England, Spain and the U.S., nations whose flags have flown over Mobile.

The first Battle House Hotel (named for the Battle family, not for any conflict) opened in 1852 and attracted guests such as Stephen A. Douglas, Henry Clay, Oscar Wilde and Winfield Scott. It burned in 1905 and its replacement became a centerpiece in Mobile’s civic life. However, it declined decades later and closed in 1974. It was shuttered for 30 years until completion of a glorious renovation in 2007.

Try to arrange a visit with “Mr. George” (George Moore on his birth certificate), the hotel’s historian. He worked at the hotel before its 1974 closure and became a key hospitality ambassador when it reopened.

The Battle House is in the heart of Mobile’s entertainment district. Dozens of restaurants line nearby Dauphin Street, and attractions within walking distance include the Gulfquest Maritime Museum, the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum. Mobile is Alabama’s oldest city, making a good case that Mobile is the birthplace of Carnival (better known as Mardi Gras) in North America.

Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa


Across Mobile Bay from the Battle House is the quiet world of Fairhope and several companion communities — and the 500-acre sanctuary known as the Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa.

With a heritage that began in 1847, its sense of hospitality and grace earned it the nickname of “the Queen of Southern Resorts.” The earliest guests arrived by steamboat. Access is easier these days. Name practically any celebrity, star athlete or world leader who appreciates a laid-back retreat — from Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie, from Margaret Thatcher to Colin Powell — and that luminary has enjoyed the Grand Hotel.

The Grand Hotel is a member of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and a 15-acre practice facility called the Experience is a perfect place for a group’s long-ball contest or a putting challenge. Tennis, swimming, spa retreats, excursions on Mobile Bay or quiet strolls under more than 150 live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are additional diversions.

The Grand Hotel has played important roles in American history, in part because it is so strategically located. Of particular note was the Army Air Corps’ use of the hotel in World War II as a training base. (To show respect to the venerable property, the soldiers shed their combat boots while in the hotel to protect the hardwood floors guests walk on today.)

A tradition all guests enjoy is a program every afternoon called Grander Grit and Glory. It honors the hotel’s wartime history and concludes with a bang — literally — when a cannon is fired at the edge of Mobile Bay.

Hotel at Auburn University


Travelers can relive some of the vibes of their college years by staying at the Hotel at Auburn University in Auburn. Even if they have no ties to the university, being in a college town is a distinctive American experience.

The hotel’s connections to the university are both obvious and subtle. Among the obvious ones is the bronze War Eagle statue in the middle of the lobby. The fierce-looking bird is one of Auburn’s several symbols. Subtler is a restaurant, Ariccia Cucina Italiana, named for the town in Italy that is home to an Auburn study-abroad program. Auburn students are another connection. More than half of the hotel’s staff is Auburn students getting hands-on experience in hospitality management.

Take time to stroll through the hotel’s conference center. The diverse artwork in the public spaces is commissioned pieces from artists who are Auburn graduates or are Alabama natives.

“The hotel’s biggest draw is that everything in Auburn is so close at hand,” said Todd Scholl, director of sales and marketing, noting that casual dining is right next door in a private-sector establishment called the HEY Day Market. Nine chefs have individual operations serving Cuban sandwiches, Malaysian street noodles, Southern California-inspired tacos and more.

The university’s landmark building, Samford Hall, is within sight and is perfect for an only-in-Auburn photo. Just a half-mile from the hotel is an especially quiet retreat. It is the Davis Arboretum, a 13.5-acre botanical garden laced with miles of walking trails. It focuses on native plants. Look for the Founder’s Oak, which is more than 150 years old.

Wind Creek Atmore


Wind Creek Atmore, located an hour northeast of Mobile on the Alabama-Florida line, has hundreds of resort attractions, starting with 1,600 gaming machines at a vibrant casino and a concert stage that attracts popular entertainers. Beyond gaming and name entertainment, Wind Creek has several other group-friendly attractions and activities.

Among them are a full-service spa and a 16-lane bowling facility. The bowling facility staff can help a tour leader organize a private tournament, which can lead to good exercise and perhaps some bragging rights if anyone even comes close to bowling a perfect game. Resort guests also have access to the Atmore Country Club’s nine-hole, par-35 golf course.

A culinary destination simply called Kitchen has special appeal for small groups. Groups of up to 16 participants develop a special menu with the resort’s chef, and then everyone works with the chef and two assistants preparing that menu for a communal table.

“You are very likely to prepare dishes quite different from what you would ever make at home,” said Samantha Cooper, casino relations marketing director. “An experience at Kitchen is both tasty and memorable.”

While at Wind Creek, learn about the resort’s connection to the Poarch Creek Indians, descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation that once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia. The Poarch Creeks were not removed from their tribal lands in the area, and connection to their reservation land goes back more than two centuries.

Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa


Barely 15 miles separate the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa from downtown Birmingham, but the two destinations are worlds apart in atmosphere and feel. The pastoral setting for the resort that is one county south of the city is a stark contrast to the high-rise buildings and traffic of downtown.

Each of the resort’s 259 rooms has a private balcony with placid views of the rolling Alabama countryside. For many visitors, the most appealing view is of the resort’s 18-hole course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The resort says it is the fifth longest in the world (8,191 yards). Ten holes lie beside two significant lakes that are connected by a waterfall dropping 80 feet between the ninth and 18th greens.

A renovation project is underway on the Ross Bridge course, and the course will reopen for play this fall. A golfing neighbor is just a mile away. That is another stop on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the three-course Oxmoor Valley complex.

Beyond golf, guests enjoy multiple dining opportunities, a full-service spa, a 24-hour fitness center, and indoor and outdoor saltwater swimming pools. The resort also provides a home base for exploring the immediate vicinity — especially natural attractions such as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Oak Mountain State Park.