Snow blankets the mountains, and fires pop and crackle in the fireplaces around Blowing Rock and Boone this time of year. While it's technically off-season for tourists, skiers and romance seekers know it's one of the best seasons to experience North Carolina's High Country.
Friday: Blow Into Blowing Rock
You'll love strolling through Blowing Rock, a charming town with a lively Main Street full of shops. Duck into The Bob Timberlake Gallery, where you'll find the North Carolina native and internationally known artist's traditional paintings, furniture, and gifts.
After 3 p.m. check in to your room at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock (1-800-243-8652 or www.chetola.com). This time of year, lodge room rates start at $114 during the week and $139 on weekends and include breakfast. Named for the Cherokee word meaning "haven of rest," the resort carries a rich history, but you'll be most interested in its newest project, the Bob Timberlake Inn (rates start at $175). Last winter, Chetola fully renovated the upper floors of its 1846 Manor House Estate House to offer eight estate rooms, all designed by the artist.
Step right downstairs for dinner at The Manor House Restaurant. The menu features a classic cuisine, including our favorites, the Jack Daniel's steak ($30) and the veal piccata ($26).
Saturday: A Booming Time Around Boone
Drive to King Street, one of the main drags in downtown Boone, and stop for breakfast at the Boone Bagelry ( 262-5585). You have to try a toasted bagel with olive-pimiento spread ($2.45).
Now you're ready to wind up Beech Mountain to Ski Beech Resort (1-800-438-2093 or www.skibeech.com). With 15 slopes and the highest elevation of any ski resort in eastern North America (5,506 feet), it's our favorite place to ski. The slopes are less crowded between 8:30 and 11 a.m. (2 p.m. is the busiest time), so get your lift ticket early ($40 half-day, $50 full day).
Once you've had your fill of the slopes, grab a bite on your way down the mountain at Fred's General Mercantile and Backside Deli ( 387-9331). Snag a table out in the sunroom to enjoy a burger ($5.49) and a couple of homemade cookies (89 cents each).
You can't leave Boone until you visit one of Appalachian State University's gems, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts ( 262-3017 or www.turchincenter.org). The 40,000-square-foot center curates classical and contemporary art exhibits in a variety of media.
Make dinner reservations in advance at the Old Jailhouse, where chef and owner Tina Houston specializes in Indian cuisine ( 262-5000). Now, we know this may be new culinary territory you're exploring, so our recommendation (and Tina's) is the Meat Thali ($19.50), a platter with three entrées, enough for two to share. This perfect Indian introduction includes Lamb Vindaloo, Chicken Kashmiri, and Shrimp Korma accompanied by dahl, which is a split pea soup, chapati (unleavened flat bread), basmati rice, and Samosa (pea-and-potato pastry with date-and-raisin chutney).
Sunday: Fishing for Fun in the Mountains
Set out for a morning drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Remember to keep it below 45 mph, and, if it has snowed, call (828) 298-0398, or visit www.nps.gov/blri/ to check accessibility.
Back in Boone, settle in for brunch at Coffey's ( 264-3663). All the menu items are made from scratch and range from $7 to $12. We liked the gingersnap waffles ($7).
Head west from town, out State 105 to the little community of Foscoe, and stop in at Staffordshire Antiques (1-888-768-8677). Owner Michael Hegarty carries mostly English and French antique furniture, accessories, and architectural pieces.
Before leaving the area, schedule a half-day, all-equipment-included, fly-fishing excursion ($125 per person) with Foscoe Fishing Company & Outfitters ( 963-6556). Their Orvis-endorsed instructors will help you find the brown and rainbow trout, even in the off-season, no matter your skill level. Because tourists aren't around as much this time of year, you may just have the river all to yourself.
With more than 36 years of ski patrol experience, Gil Adams of Ski Beech shares some tips for the first-timer.
- If you've never skied, take at least one lesson before you begin. Ski Beech offers group ($17 per hour) and private ($42 per hour) lessons daily.
- Know your limits. Don't attempt to ski beyond your ability.
- Wear layers: an outer shell of wind- and waterproof material over insulated clothing.
- Wear sunglasses or goggles for the glare and to protect your eyes from snow or rain.
- Wear heavy, waterproof gloves every time you ski, regardless of temperature.
- Wear a hat, especially one that protects your ears.
- The rooms at The Inn at Ragged Gardens feature lavish decor.
- Main Street is the hub for shopping and dining.
- Sonny's Grill serves up hot ham biscuits and sweet potato pancakes.
We wish we could tell you Blowing Rock, tucked into the mountains of western North Carolina, was a secret. The truth is that many descend on the town this month when it's thriving with autumn's color and cool days. Despite its popularity, the small-town charm remains intact. Here are just a few of the local jewels you'll find when you visit.
The Center of Activity
Stroll the sidewalks of Main Street for the best shopping around. Watch Larry and Cyndi Ziegler pour and carve candles at High Country Candles ( 295-9655), one of a cluster of shops in the Martin House, built in the 1860s. Their hand-carved ($14 to $42), jar ($10 to $22), and pillar candles ($13 to $30) come in a variety of scents. As you can imagine, Baked Apple Crisp and Russian Tea are the most popular ones right now.
You'll have to do a little exploring to find one of our favorite shops in Blowing Rock. De Provence et d'ailleurs ( 295-9989) sits in a little shopping center a block off Main Street. "If you ask someone where the French shop is, they'll point you in the right direction," says owner Danielle Tester. The shop (whose name translates "from Provence and elsewhere") offers antiques, soaps, figurines, dinnerware, and other home decor items.
An Old-Fashioned Downtown Diner
For 50 years, Sonny's Grill ( 295-7577) on Main Street has served hungry diners. Inside, you'll find only a few tables and some stools around the bar. Be ready to wait, or at the very least be prepared for a tight squeeze--especially on the weekends. But breakfast here is worth it. While they are known for their ham biscuits ($1.70 a piece), try a stack of sweet potato pancakes ($4) so wide they'll just about hang over your plate's edge.
Stay the Night
Because this is the area's high season, be ready for pricey lodging options. The Inn at Ragged Gardens is expensive, but the richly decorated rooms and cozy ambience offer an elegant experience that is worth it. The stay also includes a full gourmet breakfast. Rates range $140-$310; (828) 295-9703.
For a more affordable option, consider Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock. From basic but comfortable hotel-style rooms to multi-bedroom condos, Chetola presents a family resort atmosphere with children's programs and activities. Rates start at $91; 1-800-243-8652.
Blowing Rock perfectly blends its quiet, peaceful nature with a variety of things to see and do. While it's certainly not undiscovered, the town's allure will make you happy to discover yourself here.