The small, rural town of Altus is a distinctive and important aspect of Arkansas's history and culture. Altus preserves the heritage of German-Swiss immigrants and the art of wine making. Its downtown pays tribute to its coal mining history while offering visitors unique shopping and dining experiences in a classic, small downtown square setting.
In the Arkansas River Valley rich soil gives life to vineyards. Thousands of visitors stop to savor Arkansas's award-winning wines, tour its wineries and soak up the history of Arkansas Wine Country each year. Six wineries – Post Winery, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Mount Bethel Winery, Chateau Aux Arc, Dionysys Wine and Brew, and Neumeier Winery - now operate in the Altus area. Each offers free tours and operates tasting rooms. Some offer extra amenities such as a gift shop, a restaurant, an RV park, or a bed and breakfast inn.
In nearby Paris, Cowie Wine Cellars offers tours and tastings and is home to the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum, which preserves the viticultural past of The Natural State with winemaking artifacts and biographical histories of winemakers. The pastoral landscape of the region, boasts more than 120 years of viticultural history with some historic vineyards run by the fourth and fifth generation descendants of the original wine families.
Arkansas is the oldest and largest grape juice and wine producing state in the southern United States. Drawn by the Benedictine of Subiaco Abbey, a colony of German-Swiss immigrants settled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and began growing grapes in the 1870s at Altus in Franklin County. These early viticulturalists found great potential for grape production in this Arkansas River Valley region with mountains and valleys, and well-draining sandy soil that closely resembled the microclimates that had for centuries nurtured Europe's great wines.
In addition to wine, coal mining is a part of Altus' history. The centerpiece of the square is a beautiful city park containing memorials to coal mining memorial and veterans. In the late 20s and 30s, the coal mines played a very important part of the economy of Altus and a thorough recitation of the region's coal mining history can be found at the town's Heritage House Museum. Surrounding the park are shops containing antiques, collectibles and crafts, as well as restaurants. Enjoy a meal at one of several restaurants on Altus' historic square, such as Kelt's.
Two area churches also attract visitors. In Altus, St. Mary's Catholic Church is a 1902 Roman Basilical style church known for its paintings and ornate gold leaf work. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. About 25 minutes away, the Benedictine of Subiaco draws visitors to experience the beauty and solitude of its grounds, comprised of a sprawling campus of impressive sandstone buildings and a Romanesque-style Abbey Church set amid extensive farmland, finely manicured lawns, gardens and vineyards.
Other prime areas for exploring within an hour's drive are Mt. Magazine State Park, Lake Dardanelle State Park, the Ozark National Forest, and the Mulberry River. Mt. Magazine State Park, the highest point in Arkansas, rises out of the Arkansas River Valley to an elevation of 2,753 feet above mean sea level. The mountain's eight scenic overlooks have traditionally enticed visitors up the mountain. It also offers hang gliding, rappelling, camping, trails, and an extensive butterfly population. A visitor center contains exhibits and a gift shop, while a lodge offers a restaurant, swimming pool, meeting space and upscale rooms. Thirteen cabins flank the lodge.
For added value and fun, plan a tour to the Altus region during one of the annual wine festivals that offers more than a taste of delicious wine in a celebratory atmosphere, but also an experience of family heritage and tradition. Lodging can be found at several bed and breakfast inns and RV parks with traditional hotels just minutes away at Ozark and Clarksville. Or book a night at the bed and breakfast inn at Cowie Wine Cellars about 25 minutes away in nearby Paris. Altus is five miles south of Interstate 40, exit 41, on Ark. 186. Fort Smith is about one hour west, Fayetteville is about one hour north, and Little Rock is about two hours east.