Spring Travel 2015
Give the steel steed a tune-up because it’s time to hop in the car and enjoy a getaway. Mountain views, beachfront balconies, and fun-filled towns. They’re all just a drive away.
By LINDA LAMB, KATIE MCELVEEN and KATHERINE PETTIT
Banner Elk, North Carolina
It’s known as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, but in Spring, this beautiful small town is just as appealing as when it’s filled with snow bunnies. Hiking and cycling are popular and a number of clubs welcome visitors to join in their excursions. Maps are available from the chambers of commerce. Rhododendron and mountain laurel begin to blossom. With some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies, the views are nothing short of spectacular.
Blue Ridge Village Resort offers super accommodations, with and indoor pool and amazing vistas. Canoeing and kayaking are close by, along with great sightseeing options and unique shopping. Accommodations can include private decks and mountain views, as well as whirlpools to help you unwind after a day of hiking along the Appalachian Trail, or perhaps around the resort area. All amenities in place assure visitors of the perfect getaway. Nature lovers will delight in being so close to Pisgah National Forest, as well as Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain – one of the most amazing areas to be found – anywhere. Of course, lounging by the pool while enjoying majestic scenes may be excitement enough. Just ask the knowledgeable staff to help you and yours plan events that will guarantee good times, in a beautiful resort.
Shoppers, be sure to make a stop at WingN’it, a beautiful little eclectic shop located downtown inside the “The Little Red Caboose.” You’ll find charming home décor items, and perfect gifts for you and your friends. Think garden ornaments and flags, eclectic decorations and all things to feed and invite your feathered friends to stop at your deck or yard and enjoy a gourmet snack, or perhaps a new home. A huge selection of bird feeders guarantees that you’ll find the perfect fit as a gift, or to take back home. As for squirrels, they have feeders, as well as bird feeders which discourage the little rascals from pilfering all the seed. Green friendly, with many items made in the U.S., it’s a fun stop along your way. (If you visit Banner Elk in winter, visit the owners’ other business, Snow Toys, a great ski shop that’s a cut above most rental stores with great personal service.)
When it’s time to dine, you can’t go wrong at The Painted Fish Café and Beer Bar, where you’ll find familiar dishes with a twist, including rabbit and waffles, or perhaps Southern style pecan-crusted trout. Chef Tom Jankovich, is an exquisitely experienced food-artist who believes in the simple concept of truly good food—always with a twist.
It’s an upscale experience, in a casual, inviting atmosphere. Wash it down with artisanal beer or you may prefer a glass of wine from a boutique winery known to just a few. Children will enjoy a crème vanilla soda or a Boylen root beer. If you’re in town on a Sunday, don’t miss their brunch. For a very unique and fantastic taste experience, we recommend the sweet potato waffles foster or perhaps their salmon Hasherole, covered in Hollandaise sauce, of course. Hint: if there remains a chill in the air, you can still enjoy dinner al fresco with their heated outdoor dining area.
Another strong option is Jackalope's View Restaurant at Archer’s Mountain Inn, where you can enjoy spectacular views with your tantalizingly delicious cuisine and superb wine list. Perched near the top of Beech Mountain, and once the mountain retreat of legendary football coach Paul Dietzel, it’s now a superb restaurant and lodge. Plan a night of it and begin with a Jackalope's Juice Martini, followed by their oven-roasted escargot. Delicious! Entrees are creative and include Hoisin Short Ribs, Scottish Salmon, Crispy Duck Breast and Beef Tenderloin. Save room for their blueberry bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce – devine!
Banner Elk: 828.898.5398, townofbannerelk.org; The Painted Fish: 828.898.6800, paintedfishcafe.com; WingN’it: 828.898.5008, wingnitnc.com; Blue Ridge Village Resort: 828-898-9737, festiva-blueridge.com; Jackalope's View: 828.898.9004, archersinn.com/restaurant
If Virginia is for Lovers, then Charlottesville is for lovers of history, wine, beautiful rolling countryside and a vibrant art scene. It’s a lovely drive into the hills that attracted Thomas Jefferson to build Monticello, his beloved mountaintop home. (It’s the only home in America which has been recognized by the United Nationals as a World Heritage Site.) Any visit to the area should begin with plenty of time to marvel at the building and grounds. Take a guided tour or you will miss some of the treasures. Between April and October, there are tours of the outdoor gardens and plantation that’s well worth your time. Afterwards, buy a bottle of wine, or perhaps some seeds from his garden. The Gift shop is well-stocked with goodies.
For your accommodations, consider the Boar’s Head, the official hotel for the University of Virginia. Their rooms offer an inviting retreat and the balconies invite a morning cup of coffee and quiet time.
There’s a strong arts and entertainment scene, with live music for all tastes, performed by talented musicians who love the area and its cultural amenities. Plan to stop by The Southern with its unique venue. You’ll love the ambience.
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, disc golf, and horseback riding, and if the weather’s a bit warmer, consider tubing, canoeing, kayaking and rafting. Soar above the earth with hot air ballooning, high ropes courses and skydiving. Walking trails cover historic areas, and range from amateur strolls, to hikes guided by survivalists.
For a dining splurge, head to the Ivy Inn Restaurant, positioned in a lovely historic home, with a garden patio for dining when the weather demands it. The menu changes daily, but it’s always seasonal and sourced for quality and taste.
Remember, this town belongs to the University of Virginia Cavaliers. It’s still a college town, which means high energy and rocking good times.
Charlottesville: visitcharlottesville.org; Boar’s Head Inn: boarsheadinn.com; The Ivy Inn: ivyinnrestaurant.com
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
With its 200-foot-tall SkyWheel Ferris Wheel, picturesque boardwalk and spate of restaurants and activities, Myrtle Beach is re-emerging as a top destination for families. Start with a new show: All That, the tireless clogging sensation from “America’s Got Talent” performs on Thursdays at Carolina Opry. Then there’s golf. You already know that Myrtle Beach is a top golf destination, but did you know that Miniature Golf was invented here? Try Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf, where the two-18-hole courses are tricked out with caves, an animated Tinkerbell, a pirate ship and even a smoking scull. Afterwards, fuel up at Garden City Pier, where you can sit at the counter and order a famous fried hot dog at Sam’s Corner, then stroll over to the Painter’s Homemade Ice Cream for cones in flavors like Birthday Cake, Devil’s Food Cake, Coconut and Chocolate Almond in addition to the old standbys. Kids also love the giant aquarium at the Horry County Museum in Conway (it was featured on Animal Planet’s “Tanked”), they can also check out creepy medical instruments from the turn of the century and dioramas of South Carolina wildlife. There’s plenty for adults, too, like Jack Thompson’s historic photos of Myrtle Beach and a well-curated collection of military uniforms and other clothing from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Instead of a hotel, consider renting a beach houseâ€•both Surfside Realty and Flipkey offer dozens of options. Pick up fish to cook at home from the fish shack in Conway, it’s located under a live oak tree behind the Kingston Presbyterian Church, or head to Sea Captain’s House for hush puppies, fried flounder and coleslaw. visitmyrtlebeach.com
Now that the Sewanee Inn has reopened at the gateway to the University of the South’s 13,000-acre domain, there’s one more reason to visit this gorgeous mountain retreat perched high atop the Cumberland Plateau. Dark wood and native stone offer a soothing backdrop for public areas; book-walled nooks outfitted with coffee tables, leather armchairs and huge windows encourage quiet reflection. For the best views – mountains, trees, golf course – book one of the balconied corner rooms on the second floor of the Inn.
Sewanee is a mecca for hikers, who flock to the tiny town each spring to walk through clouds of woodland wildflowers, and past waterfalls surging with winter snowmelt toward awe-inspiring views of green valleys, rocky outcroppings and endless sky. When you’re not hiking, drive to the Memorial Cross, a huge and moving monument perched on the edge of a cliff; visit All Saints Chapel, a 19th-century Gothic church complete with turrets, stained-glass windows and ornate stonework located on the main campus or pop into Locals Gallery, which features the work of 13 local artists.
Sandwiches, salads and cold beer are a traditional lunch at Shenanigan’s; get there early for a prime seat on the sun-splashed porch. For dinner, head to IvyWild. Chef Keri Moser’s sophisticated takes on regional staples like pork loin, which is brined in cider, roasted and served with caramelized bacon, crunchy pistachios and sweet cherries are becoming new classics.
Sewanee Inn: sewanee-inn.com; IvyWild: ivywildsewanee.com
“Stroll the squares. I never get tired of them,” advised a friend who lived in Savannah for years.
Ah, the famous squares – with their hanging moss, picturesque live oaks, welcoming benches and historic statues of forgotten heroes. As you walk around Savannah, you’re constantly encountering these gorgeous green spaces that give the city its park-like ambience.
Don’t linger in the squares too long, though, because there’s much to do and see in a city rich in colonial, Revolutionary War and Civil War history. You might want to start with a guided trolley tour of the Historic District – and if possible, stay there. Then you can stop off later at interesting homes and churches, the bustling River Street tourist district or the nearby City Market.
Try Desposito’s for great local seafood, the Crystal Beer Parlor for delicious burgers and homemade potato chips, and Leopold’s (founded in 1919) for scrumptious ice cream. For a Southern-style feast, try Mrs. Wilke’s Dining Room on Jones Street – but expect to stand in line.
Did you read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”? Be sure to stop by the Mercer-Williams House, where you can imagine the kinky carryings-on of that novel and movie.
Your shopping options range from quilts and linens to paintings, artsy jewelry and unusual spices (the Salt Table). For a glimpse of the coast, take a little drive east to Tybee Island with its lighthouse and adjacent museum. visitsavannah.com
Boone, North Carolina
There’s so much to see and do around Boone in all seasons. Although ski season has wound down, March Madness offers end of the season low rates for skiing at Ski Beech, Ski Sugar and Appalachian Ski Mountain. Hawks Nest offers snow tubing and also features the longest zipline in the region, open year-round (weather permitting).
Once Spring officially arrives, Tweetsie Railroad opens on April 11, giving the entire family a fun way to experience the wild, wild west.
A springtime visit would have to include a trip to Grandfather Mountain, with its magnificent views and occasionally surprising weather. Bring a warm jacket and camera, just in case you spot black bears, deer, river otters, cougars, or perhaps, predatory birds.
At Grandfather, you can take behind-the-scenes tours of animal habitats, as well as naturalist guided tours of trails and forest area. At 11am each day, members of the naturalist staff take weather and climate observations in front of the Fudge Shop (and enjoy a piece of chocolate heaven). For hikers, consider the tough, three-mile hike up the mountain, or the 13-mile Tanawha Trail. Try entering from the parking area at popular Rough Ridge Overlook on the Parkway (milepost 302).
Linville Caverns is a great attraction in any weather! It’s all underground. An easier walk is the trail around Bass Lake, which also offers access to the Moses Cone Estate. The trail also connects to the entire 26-miles of former carriage trails at the estate (for adventurers with more endurance).
During your stay, a must-visit is the Gamekeeper Restaurant, where owners Ken and Wendy are known for interesting and delicious interpretations of Southern classics. The menu changes seasonally blending the traditional with the exotic, satisfying both meat and veggie lovers. With a menu that offers unexpected delights, such as ostrich, grilled bison hanger steak, grilled elk rack chops, rabbit and mountain trout. And save room for Wendy's Bread Pudding, a local favorite. Need accommodations? Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis is famous for luxurious hospitality and gourmet dinners. In Boone, consider the Lovill House Inn, a consistent AAA Four Diamond Award winner.
Boone:exploreboonearea.com; The Gamekeeper: 828.963.7400, gamekeeper-nc.com; Mast Farm Inn: themastfarminn.com
Bluegrass and bourbon, horses and history: Kentucky’s second-largest city offers those pleasantries plus burgeoning options for foodies.
Horse lovers, start at Keeneland Race Track, which a Kentucky-born friend pronounces “one of my favorite places in the whole world… even the queen of England has been there.” The Keeneland gift shop (open all year) has a superb selection of equestrian-themed clothing, jewelry and decorations. And among many places to gaze on grazing horses, the Kentucky Horse Park has almost 50 different breeds as well as equestrian museums and exhibits.
For history enthusiasts, Lexington offers hours of fascinating browsing. There’s the restored Shaker Village, the Hunt-Morgan House and Civil War museum, the Waveland plantation historic site and the estate of Henry Clay (1849-1952). Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood home features many of her personal possessions.
A carriage ride might give you ideas about where to dine – with options ranging from down-home barbecue to exotic Ethiopian. One sweet stop popular with locals is North Lime Coffee & Doughnuts.
If you’re up for a picturesque drive, Lexington food and culture writer Alan Cornett suggests Wallace Station, on the Old Frankfort Pike in nearby Versailles. It offers delectable pastries and sandwiches, such as an “inside out” version of a Kentucky specialty, the “hot brown” — turkey, ham, tomato, bacon and a tasty touch of Mornay sauce.
Finally, what’s a Kentucky trip without a sip or two of bourbon? Ask about visiting one of the distilleries along the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Lexington: visitlex.com; Kentucky Bourbon Trail: kybourbontrail.com; Wallace Station: wallacestation.com
Beech Mountain Resort, North Carolina
Beech Mountain Resort’s trails cover a wide range of skill levels, challenging ATV riders from novice to pro. The trails, scenic lift rides, the Beech Tree Bar and Grille, and the new 5506 Skybar will be open this summer every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from June through September. Scenic lift rides to the Skybar are also available to patrons.
The Skybar is the highest in the East. It’s a glass roundhouse named for Beech Mountain’s superlative elevation and offers food and beverage service in comfort. A new observation deck is ideal for relaxing with friends.
Beech Mountain Resort’s newly constructed disc golf course offers a challenging and unique design. Play nine holes with one lift ride, or play a full eighteen, requiring three lift rides.
A great craft brewery in Western North Carolina is delighting those who love beer. Located in the Alpine Village, Beech Mountain Brewing Co. has the capacity to brew up to 100 gallons per day and will be open year round to serve skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers and other resort visitors.
The brewery features three distinct ales created on-site, with consulting from award-winning brewer Will Young of Blind Squirrel in nearby Plumtree. Heading the list of beers is the 5506 Pale Ale, followed by the Cream and Scotch Ales available by the pint or the growler. Flight tastings are also available, along with brewery tours, which include a pint and a keepsake glass. Beech Mountain Brewing Co. is open Thursday through Sunday. beechmountainresort.com
Hendersonville and Henderson County
Whether you’re looking for great entertainment, great adventure, or just a great view, Hendersonville and Henderson County, NC, just several short hours away, has something for everyone as warmer weather arrives.
Take in a comedy, drama or fantastic musical at Flat Rock Playhouse, the official state theater of North Carolina. For show information or tickets, visit their website.
If it’s the outdoors you crave, make a visit to The Carl Sandburg Home, located beside the Playhouse. Enjoy a guided tour around the National Historic Site, (don’t miss his 10,000 books, still on display), or you can simply walk through the grounds, and greet the descendents of Mrs. Sandburg's dairy goat herd.
Take in the downtown and enjoy some tunes at Rhythm & Brews, a music series scheduled for the third Thursdays of May, June, July, August and September. A free event, the concert series brings an exciting line-up of bands to the district. The venue for the concert series is the Azalea Lot in Historic Downtown Hendersonville, which sits adjacent to King Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues in downtown.
Hendersonville: historichenderonville.org; Flat Rock Playhouse: flatrockplayhouse.org