A common pursuit brought Richard and Joan Barkley to their second home in northeastern Mississippi. The retired couple from St. Michael, Minn., took a 7,000-mile loop in their 50-foot trawler from Florida to New York, through the Erie Canal and Great Lakes and then down the Mississippi. Several boating friends told the Barkleys about Pickwick Pines Resort near Iuka, Miss., and they purchased a second home there in 2006.
Many residents there are called "half-backs," Richard said, because they've left Florida due to hurricanes but have not made it all the way back home to the Southeast or Midwest. Northeastern Mississippi, where the Barkleys live half of the year, enjoys Southern weather but is too far inland for hurricanes. Still, the hilly location, at the highest point in Mississippi, is popular for year-round boating, fishing, hunting and golf. According to Richard, the pastoral area near the Tennessee River, with its hills and cotton fields, is not well known except to locals. Best of all, the warm-weather destination costs about 30 to 50 percent less than Florida or Arizona, he said. "I don't know where else you can buy a second home so economically."
The Pickwick Pines resort, with about 200 homes, offers maintenance-free living and amenities such as pools and tennis courts. The Barkleys also rent out their home in Minnesota (www.homeaway.com/181117). Because they spend so much time in Mississippi, they live on their boat if a renter wants the house while they're at the resort.
Distance: From the Twin Cities, they sometimes fly into Memphis or Nashville (each about a two-hour flight), but usually drive the 15 hours to Iuka.
Best part: Their boating friends at the resort, the friendly, laid-back Mississippi lifestyle, great views of the hills. It's easier to get friends and relatives to visit in Mississippi than in Minnesota.
Worst part: Summer's heat. It can top 100 degrees daily for two weeks at a time.
Fall and winter fun: Golf at the nearby Robert Trent Jones courses, hiking and driving along the rivers and the heavily treed hills, deer and bear hunting, going to Shiloh National Park about 30 minutes away.
Furnishings: People think of North Carolina for furniture deals, but Tupelo, Miss., was the beginning of furniture manufacturing in the United States. The deals are just as good as in High Point. "We furnished [the home] nicely but very inexpensively," said Richard.
Area must-see: The Space Museum and Huntsville Botanical Garden in Huntsville, Ala. (an hour's drive), the town of Corinth (30 minutes away) for its rich Civil War history. Every Thursday night in the spring and summer, a free bluegrass gathering takes place on the Corinth courthouse steps. The locals walk over in bib overalls, play their dulcimers, clog and dance. Across the street, Mississippi's oldest pharmacy serves fountain sodas and root beer floats.